Block v. Rutherford

RESPONDENT: Rutherford
LOCATION: Men’s Central Jail

DOCKET NO.: 83-317
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 576 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 03, 1984

Alvin J. Bronstein - on behalf of Respondents
Frederick R. Bennett - on behalf of Petitioners

Facts of the case

The appellants served their pretrial sentence in the Los Angeles County Central Jail. The authority of jail prohibited the visits of wives, children, or other guests to prisoners. The administration also forbade to observe the conduction of the unscheduled searches of their cells for inmates, after which many of the personal detainee`s things were disappeared or demolished. The respondents brought the claim before the district court affirming that these rules contradicted with their rights under the Civil Code of the USA.

The judge confirmed the position of the plaintiffs that the prisoner`s right on the visit with families had the high importance that the threats that these meetings could cause. The judgment stated that the convicts for lower-degree crimes should possess the possibility to have visited if they are retained in prison for the term more than the month. The district trial in Block vs. Rutherford underlined that they also should be presented during the examination of their cells staying on some distance that would provide the possibility to see the process. The prison administration appealed, but the court confirmed the position of the previous judgment.

The case brief underlines that the lawsuit of Block v Rutherford was revised by the Supreme Court of the USA to resolve the issue whether the rules of Central Jail infringed the prisoner`s rights or whether it was explained to maintain the security. The court approved that such jail policy had the objective reasons and was explained by the frequent cases of the breach of security because of the visits with pretrial detainees. Such actions were not considered as the breach of the constitutional guarantees, especially of the Fourth Amendment. Because they had the legitimate purposes as were aimed to maintain the secure work of the officials. The judges cited Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 to prove that the jail administration was empowered to enact such rulings to preserve the security and order.

The case study of Block vs. Rutherford concludes that the court ordered the certiorari to revise the issue whether pretrial prisoner possessed the constitutional guarantee to have meetings and to be presented during the process of irregular searches of their cells exercised by the prison employers.


Was the Los Angeles County Central Jail's practice of prohibiting detainees from having contact visits and from being present while their cells were searched reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective?

Media for Block v. Rutherford

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1984 in Block v. Rutherford

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Block against Rutherford.

Mr. Bennett, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Frederick R. Bennett:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This matter is before this Court on a petition for certiorari to the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed two injunctive orders concerning operational aspects of the Los Angeles County men's central jail, a 5,000 inmate facility operated by the sheriff of the County of Los Angeles.

The first order required the sheriff to select up to 1500 inmates from the 5,000 inmate population who he determined presented the least likely opportunity or risk of escape or drug potential and to permit them to visit in a setting where they could touch, kiss and embrace their visitors, a practice that has been referred to in the courts as contact visitation.

The second order required the sheriff to permit inmates to observe routine cell searches and to ask questions during the searches.

This is a large jail, as a reflection of the size of the County of Los Angeles, which encompasses over 4,000 square miles and a population approaching eight million people.

That's roughly half the size of the State of Maryland, with about twice that state's population.

William H. Rehnquist:

Just this one jail, that's over 4,000 square miles?

Frederick R. Bennett:

No, the County is 4,000 square miles.

William H. Rehnquist:

Oh, I'm sorry.

Frederick R. Bennett:

Although all male inmates are centralized at one facility, in part because of the size of the County and because of some duties that are imposed upon the sheriff under state law.

He is required to accept the prisoners from the police departments of the 82 independent cities within the County of Los Angeles.

He has no discretion to refuse them, and is required to transport on a daily basis one-fifth of that jail's population to 26 separate jurisdictional courts located throughout the wide expanse of the County and bring them back again at night.

The jail has a high turnover.

It receives over 200,000 prisoners a year.

The stay for most of these is quite short because of the state's rather liberal pretrial release statutes, primarily with regard to misdemeanants.

Most inmates stay within the facility less than ten days.

On the other hand, there are longer-term inmates within the facility.

These are primarily persons accused of more serious felonies, that are involved in protracted criminal process and appellate process, and they may serve between two and four months or longer between arrest and sentencing.

The Court's order with regard to--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Bennett, when you say they're involved in appellate process, you mean perhaps a motion to suppress that's appealed prior to trial, that sort of thing?

Frederick R. Bennett:

--It could be that.

We have really three classes of prisoners within the jail as far as are relevant here.

Many of these inmates when they're arrested are picked up on warrants from many of the courts around the jurisdiction.

They may be sentenced on one charge, awaiting trial on another.

The state sometimes leaves those sentenced inmates with us during some appellate processes before they may be transferred to a state prison facility.

So it is possible, in both appeals and writs, which is a common practice in the California courts, that they could be involved in appellate process.

John Paul Stevens:

But they're not members of the class, are they?

Isn't the class just pretrial detainees?