Gerstein v. Pugh

PETITIONER:Richard E. Gerstein, State Attorney for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida
RESPONDENT:Robert Pugh, Nathaniel Henderson, Thomas Turner, Gary Faulk on their own behalf and on behalf of other similarly situated
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 73-477
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 420 US 103 (1975)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1974
REARGUED: Oct 21, 1974
DECIDED: Feb 18, 1975

Bruce S. Rogow – for respondents
Leonard Mellon – for petitioner
Paul L. Friedman – for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
Raymond L. Marky – for the State of Florida, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court

Facts of the case

Robert Pugh and Nathanial Henderson were arrested in Florida and charged with felony and misdemeanor charges not punishable by death. Pugh was denied bail and Henderson was unable to post a $4,500 bond, so both remained in custody. Florida law only required indictments for capitol offenses, so Pugh and Henderson were charged only by information, without a preliminary hearing and without leave of the court. Florida courts previously held that filing an information foreclosed an accused’s right to a preliminary hearing, and that habeas corpus could not be used except in exceptional circumstances.

Pugh and Henderson filed a class action against Dade County officials, claiming a constitutional right to a preliminary hearing on the issue of probable cause. The district court certified the class and held that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments give all arrested persons charged by information the right to a preliminary hearing. The Florida Supreme Court adopted new rules in an attempt to fix the problem, but on remand, the district court held the rules still violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The court also prescribed detailed procedures to protect that right. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, modifying minor portions of the district court’s prescribed procedures.


Does a person in state custody have a constitutional right to a preliminary hearing?
Does a U.S. District Court judge have jurisdiction to interfere in a state criminal proceeding on the question of preliminary hearings?

Media for Gerstein v. Pugh

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 25, 1974 in Gerstein v. Pugh

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 18, 1975 in Gerstein v. Pugh

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the court in No. 73-477, Gerstein against Pugh will be announced by Mr. Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

This case involves a Florida procedure where an arrest is made without a warrant.

The suspect may then be charged upon information about a prosecuting attorney and held in jail pending the other steps in a criminal process.

These steps usually include a bail hearing, the arraignment and the trial itself.

We hold today that the information filed by the prosecutor standing alone is not sufficient to justify detention pending trial.

Rather, the Fourth Amendment requires a fair and reliable determination of probable cause as a condition to any significant pretrial restraint on liberty.

Moreover, this determination must be made by a judicial officer promptly following arrest.

But we do not however accept respondent’s argument that a full adversary hearing with counsel, confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses is required by the constitution at this stage.

The determination of probable cause for detention is merely the first step in the elaborate criminal justice system designed to safeguard the rights of those accused of criminal conduct.

At this initial stage we think a mini-trial is not required by the constitution and indeed is not necessarily in the interest of either the suspect or society.

Accordingly and for the reasons more fully set forth in our opinion filed today we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision in this case by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed an opinion concurring in parts 1 and 2 of the Court’s opinion and concurring in other respects as to parts 3 and 4.

Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Brennan, and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined him.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Powell.