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United States v. Contreras

October 31, 1985

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
VICTOR CONTRERAS, DEFENDANT- APPELLANT



Appeal from an order directing pretrial detention entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Bartels, Judge), in which the filed indictment was the sole basis for concluding that probable cause existed under § 3142(e) of the Bail Reform Act of 1984. Affirmed.

Author: Pierce

Before: FRIENDLY, PIERCE and PRATT, Circuit Judges.

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

Section 3142(e) of the Bail Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3141 et seq. (Act), provides that a rebuttable presumption arises that no condition or combination of conditions can assure the appearance of the defendant or the safety of the community of "the judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed an offense for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed in the Controlled Substances Act." (emphasis added). The question presented here is whether the judicial officer must hold an evidentiary hearing in order to determine whether probable cause exists or whether he may draw this conclusion solely from the fact that an indictment by a grand jury charging such an offense has been filed against a defendant. We hold that the filing of an indictment charging a defendant with an offense as set forth in § 3142(e) suffices to enable the judicial officer to make a probable cause finding, and we therefore affirm.

BACKGROUND

On July 25, 1985, the appellant, Victor Contreras, was arraigned before Judge John R. Bartels in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, following the filing of an indictment charging the appellant and a co-defendant with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and a substantive count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Upon arraignment, the appellant pleaded not guilty hand the government moved for a detention hearing pursuant to §§ 3142(f)(1)(C) and (2)(A) of the Act.

At the detention hearing, the district judge found that there was probable cause to believe that appellant had committed narcotics offenses punishable by a prison term of at least ten years, thus triggering the § 3142(e) presumption of flight. He rested this finding upon the mere filing of the indictment charging appellant with such offenses. After considering the evidence presented by each side, the district judge concluded that appellant should be detained because he had failed to rebut the § 3142(e) presumption and because the Government had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that no condition or combination of conditions would reasonably assure appellant's appearance at trial.*fn1

Appellant maintains that the district court erred in its interpretation of § 3142(e) of the Act when the court held that the finding of probable cause that appellant committed the predicate narcotics offenses necessary to trigger the Act's rebuttable presumption of flight was conclusively determined by the filing of the indictment. Appellant contends that a judicial officer must make an independent determination as to the existence of probable cause in order to meet the requirements of § 3142(e), regardless of the grand jury's return of an indictment.

Discussion

Clearly, § 3142(e) of the Act states that the presumptions of flight and danger arise only after the "judicial officer finds" probable cause. What is unclear is whether the judicial officer must conduct an evidentiary hearing in order to make an assessment as to the existence of probable cause or may simply rely upon the indictment. The relevant legislative history provides little direction on this point. Congress sought to provide adequate procedural safeguards in the Act in order to satisfy constitutional requirements, yet did not wish to establish burdensome procedural obstacles to the Act's implementation. hence, Congress adopted the probable cause standard rather than the "substantial probability" test then present in the District of Columbia's pretrial detention statute. See S. Rep. No. 225, 98th Cong., 1st Sess. 18, reprinted in 1984 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 3182, 3201. Congress noted the "burden of meeting the 'substantial probability' requirement" and concluded that the probable cause standard is "constitutionally sufficient in the context of ordering pretrial detention." Id. The Senate Judiciary Committee stated that:

the fact that the judicial officer has to find probable cause will assure the validity of the charges against the defendant, and . . . any additional assurance provided by a 'substantial probability' test is outweighed by the practical problems in meeting this requirement at the stage at which the pretrial detention hearing is held.

Id. Initially, this seems to suggest that Congress envisioned an independent judicial assessment would be made in all cases; however, a footnote attached to that test implies that the judicial officer may rely upon other determinations of probable cause. It reads:

Because of the requirements of Rules 4(a) and 5(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal procedures, probable cause that the defendant committed the offense with which he is charged must be established either prior to, or at the time of, the initial appearance. Furthermore, the issue of probable cause will subsequently be reexamined in the course of a preliminary hearing or in proceedings leading to the filing of an indictment.

Id. at n.57. Thus, it is unclear whether Congress intended to require an evidentiary hearing on the issue of probable cause for § 3142(e) purposes once an indictment has been filed. In our view, to interpret the Act as requiring such a hearing would contravene established congressional ...


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