Law School Case Brief
Albright v. Oliver - 510 U.S. 266, 114 S. Ct. 807 (1994)
Where a particular constitutional amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of government behavior, that amendment, not the more generalized notion of “substantive due process,” must be the guide for analyzing these claims.
Upon learning that Illinois authorities had issued an arrest warrant charging him with the sale of a substance which looked like an illegal drug, petitioner Albright surrendered to respondent Oliver, a policeman, and was released after posting bond. At a preliminary hearing, Oliver testified that Albright sold the look-alike substance to a third party, and the court found probable cause to bind Albright over for trial. However, the court later dismissed the action on the ground that the charge did not state an offense under state law. Albright then filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Oliver deprived him of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment – his “liberty interest” – to be free from criminal prosecution except upon probable cause. The District Court dismissed on the ground that the complaint did not state a claim under § 1983. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that prosecution without probable cause was a constitutional tort actionable under § 1983 only if accompanied by incarceration, loss of employment, or some other "palpable consequence." Albright sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.
Was prosecution without probable cause a constitutional tort actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983?
In a plurality decision, the Court held that the claim was to be considered under the Fourth Amendment, not substantive due process, which did not afford petitioner relief. The Court reasoned that petitioner's surrender to the authorities constituted a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Court explained that where a particular amendment provided an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular government behavior, that amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, was the guide for analyzing such claims. The Court expressed no view as to whether petitioner's claim could have succeeded under the Fourth Amendment because that question was not presented in the petition for certiorari.
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