United States v. Salerno Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Respondent, Salerno, in connection with his ties to la cosa nostra, was arrested on charges of various RICO violations. This action arose when he challenged the fact that he was detained without bail.

Facts of the case

The 1984 Bail Reform Act allowed the federal courts to detain an arrestee prior to trial if the government could prove that the individual was potentially dangerous to other people in the community. Prosecutors alleged that Salerno and another person in this case were prominent figures in the La Cosa Nostra crime family.


Whether pre-trial detention of a potentially dangerous criminal is punitive and therefore and unconstitutional deprivation of liberty without due process of law.


In an opinion, written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court found that such a detention is regulatory and, when there are sufficiently compelling governmental interests the detention of dangerous persons can be justified because of the threat posed to society by their release.


“The Supreme Court of the United States held that the contested provisions of the Act, which allowed pretrial detention if the Government demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence after an adversary hearing that no release conditions would reasonably assure the safety of any other person and the community, did not, on their face, violate the substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment or the excessive bail clause of the Eight Amendment. The Court also noted that the fact that the  Act might operate unconstitutionally under some conceivable set of circumstances was insufficient to render it wholly invalid. The Court concluded that defendants failed to shoulder their heavy burden to demonstrate that the Act was “”facially”” unconstitutional.”

  • Case Brief: 1987
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Salerno
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 481 US 739 (1987)
Argued: Jan 21, 1987
Decided: May 26, 1987