Ricci v. Arlington Heights

RESPONDENT: Arlington Heights
LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 97-501
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 613 (1998)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 1998
DECIDED: May 04, 1998

David A. Strauss - on behalf of the Respondent
Kenneth N. Flaxman - on behalf of the Petitioner
Patricia A. Millett - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondent

Facts of the case

Randall Ricci owns Rudeway Enterprises, a telemarketing business. After the Arlington Heights police department determined that Ricci lacked the required business license and that one of Ricci's employees had an outstanding warrant, officers went to Rudeway Enterprises to arrest the employee. While arresting the employee, the officers also searched Ricci's business papers without a warrant. Subsequently, Ricci was arrested for violating Section 9-201 of the Village of Arlington Heights Code of Ordinances, which makes it unlawful to operate a business without a license. Ultimately, Ricci filed a claim that the officers violated his civil rights by subjecting him to a full custodial arrest for committing a fine-only offense. The District Court dismissed the claim. Finding the arrest reasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes, the Court of Appeals rejected Ricci's argument that a full custodial arrest for violation of a fine-only ordinance is constitutionally permissible only if the violation involves a breach of the peace.


May police officers who do not have a warrant arrest someone for a violation of a fine-only ordinance?

Media for Ricci v. Arlington Heights

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1998 in Ricci v. Arlington Heights

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 97-501, Randall Ricci v. The Village of Arlington Heights.

Mr. Flaxman.

Kenneth N. Flaxman:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The petitioner was arrested because he was operating a business without having first obtained a license from the respondent.

Respondent's policy required its police officers to make a full custodial arrest of petitioner.

Although we challenge the mandatory nature of respondent's policy, our primary contention is that the Fourth Amendment does not permit a full custodial arrest for a fine-only infraction on the same basis as in felony cases.

That is--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Mr. Flaxman, what do you mean by full custodial arrest?

This man was not handcuffed, he wasn't fingerprinted, he wasn't put in a holding cell.

Kenneth N. Flaxman:

--What I mean is what is what the Court said in Gustafson v. Florida, that a full custodial arrest is when you're taken into custody, when you can be subjected to an inventory search, when the area around you can be searched, when you're subject to up to 48 hours of post-arrest processing.

In this case the arrest was not as severe as it could have been, but I don't think the Court has ever engaged in balancing the severity of an arrest.

An arrest is an arrest is an arrest.

The Court has never made distinctions between them.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, if an arrest is an arrest is an arrest, your proposition that the commonlaw traditionally has not allowed arrests for misdemeanors is patently false.

We've had several cases up here involving the arrest of motorists.

Kenneth N. Flaxman:


Antonin Scalia:

I mean, arrest means to stop the person.

Kenneth N. Flaxman:

--Well, in the most recent case--

Antonin Scalia:

Isn't that a seizure, when they stop a car?

Kenneth N. Flaxman:

--Well, that's temporary questioning.

In Whren the Court was very careful, I think, not to say that Mr. Whren was being arrested.

The Court said Mr. Whren was being subject to a temporary stop for questioning, and during that questioning evidence was found.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, in your case do you think--

--You appeal to the common law.

Do you think the common law makes that distinction between a seizure that is an arrest in the technical sense that you're telling us and the seizure that is not an arrest in that technical sense?

Kenneth N. Flaxman:


I think the nightwalker statutes, allowing detention of suspicious people, is the detention for investigation that is... survives today in Terry v. Ohio, but the common law I think was very, very clear that an arrest as the way of initiating a prosecution was reserved for felony cases or for nonfelony cases where there was breach of the peace committed in the officer's presence.

Antonin Scalia:

So you say the nightwalker statute was not an exception, then, to the misdemeanor--

Kenneth N. Flaxman:

It was not an arrest provision.

It was a detention provision, an investigative stop provision.