(CN) – The 7th Circuit lifted a two-hour limit on how long Chicago police can spend booking people for offenses punishable by fines but not jail time. “[I]t is very hard to justify an inflexible two-hour rule,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote.
The ruling reverses U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman’s imposition of the two-hour cap after a class action accused the city of taking too long to book suspects for “fine-only offenses.”
Of the city’s 1 million arrests from 2000 to 2004, about 36,000 were for fine-only offenses such as disorderly conduct, gambling, peddling without a license or walking a dog without a leash, according to the ruling.
Police typically only detain people for fine-only offenses if the suspect is unable or unwilling to provide identification that would allow police to write a ticket.
Suspects argued that police should take no longer than two hours to book and release them on fine-only offenses. Longer detentions were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment, the class claimed.
Judge Gettleman agreed and imposed the two-hour cap, but the federal appeals court in Chicago pointed out that his ignored all justifications for delay, no matter how reasonable.
“If so many people are arrested at once that officers on duty in the stationhouse are overwhelmed and a queue develops, that’s irrelevant,” Easterbrook wrote of Gettleman’s ruling. “If a person is too drunk or high on drugs to make a voluntary decision to accept the conditions of the bond … or is ill and receiving emergency medical treatment, that’s irrelevant too.
“Given the contextual nature of analysis under the Fourth Amendment, it is very hard to justify an inflexible two-hour rule,” Easterbrook concluded. “More than hard. It is impossible.”
The circuit court lifted the two-hour cap and decertified the class action on the basis that “one detainee’s circumstances differ from another’s.”