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Warrantless Arrest Warrants Prompt Probable Cause Hearing, Abused Innocent Detainee Prevails

Mistakenly accused Chicago resident Joseph Lopez was arrested with probable cause after a witness identified him in a shooting that killed a 12 year old boy. After the actual murderer confessed, Lopez filed suit for constitutional violations. The court bypassed the jury and granted the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law. The ruling was reversed on appeal.

Lopez was arrested without a warrant. The detectives handcuffed him to a ring three feet off the ground attached to a wall in an interrogation room with no toilet or running water for four days and nights. He was allowed to urinate once and was fed one bologna sandwich with water after two and a half days. He couldn't sleep due to lack of circulation in his arm. A police practices expert later said such detention should only be for "short durations" not to exceed "eight hours." After 60 hours, disorientation set in and "voices" told him to confess. When his false confession contradicted forensic evidence, he was called a liar. After four days the State Attorney approved murder charges.

Two days later the real murderer confessed and Lopez was released. In a § 1983 action, Lopez's claims related to conditions of confinement and intentional infliction of emotional distress were not presented to the jury. The judge denied them as "at best negligent conduct" and granted the defense's motion for judgment as a matter of law.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that a prompt judicial determination of probable cause following a warrantless arrest is a core Fourth Amendment requirement and the state had failed to demonstrate emergency delay. The appeals court held that the district court erred in not letting the jury determine the conditions of confinement and distress claims, and remanded the case for a new trial. See: Lopez v. City of Chicago, 464 F.3d 711 (7th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Lopez v. City of Chicago