The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a man a new chance to sue the city of Joliet and its police officers who arrested him on trumped-up charges and kept him in jail for nearly seven weeks.
The 6-2 ruling ordered the federal appeals court in Chicago to reconsider a lawsuit filed by Elijah Manuel. Police arrested him in 2011 and falsely claimed he was in possession of the illegal drug known as Ecstasy.
According to Manuel's complaint, he was a passenger in his brother's car when they were pulled over for failing to signal a turn. He said an officer pulled him from the car, threw him to the ground, kicked him, handcuffed him and subjected him to racial slurs. He said he was arrested and taken to jail for having pills in his pocket that the officer claimed were Ecstasy.
Manuel denied they were illegal drugs, but the officer in his arrest report said he "knew the pills to be Ecstasy."
At the station, a technician suspected the pills were not Ecstasy, but the officer told a judge they were illegal drugs and Manuel was sent to jail and charged with a felony. An Illinois police lab confirmed the pills were not illegal drugs but vitamins, yet despite that report, Manuel was held for seven weeks before he was released.
The lower courts said his claim of unlawful arrest was too late and that he could not sue for unlawful detention under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.
Writing for the high court, Justice Elena Kagan said the Fourth Amendment applies not just to arrests but also to when suspects are detained. She said Manuel could bring a claim of wrongful detention because the judge's order holding Manuel for trial "lacked any proper basis."
"That means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights," Kagan said.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying Manuel's case was a malicious prosecution claim that could not be brought under the Fourth Amendment.
Tribune Newspapers contributed.
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