Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Williams v. Ward

decided: April 19, 1988.


Appeal from an order and judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Constance Baker Motley, Judge) declaring that defendants' detention of plaintiffs and members of their class beyond a period of twenty-four hours without judicial probable-cause determinations violated the fourth and fourteenth amendments, and enjoining defendants, except in exceptional circumstances, from taking more than seven hours to complete steps necessary and incident to arrests of class members and from detaining class members beyond a period of twenty-four hours without judicial probable-cause determinations.

Winter and Mahoney, Circuit Judges, and Stewart,*fn* District Judge. Stewart, District Judge (dissenting).

Author: Winter

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

Under current procedures in New York City, a person who is arrested without a warrant first appears before a judicial officer at an arraignment in the City's Criminal Court. At that arraignment, the arrestee is afforded counsel, a probable-cause determination is made, pretrial release conditions are set, plea bargains are often struck, and charges may be dropped. Over one-third of such arrestees have their cases finally disposed of at arraignment. The rub is that arrestees must often sit in jail for more than two days before the arraignment. The plaintiffs in this case challenge the length of such detention, arguing that a prompt probable-cause determination should be made after each arrest.

Appellees brought this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) on behalf of themselves and all persons in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens who are arrested without warrants and who are detained by the City without a probable-cause determination by a judicial officer. Appellees sought a declaration that the length of time that class members are detained before probable cause is determined constitutes a violation of the fourth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution as interpreted in Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 43 L. Ed. 2d 54, 95 S. Ct. 854 (1975). Appellees also requested an injunction directing appellants to conduct probable-cause hearings promptly after completion of the necessary "administrative steps incident to arrest," id. at 114, and to refrain from engaging in practices that delay completion of such administrative steps. After conducting a trial on stipulated facts, Judge Motley held that detention of class members beyond a period of twenty-four hours violated their constitutional rights. Williams v. Ward, 671 F. Supp. 225, 226 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). The district court accordingly enjoined appellants, "except in exceptional circumstances," "from taking more than seven hours to complete steps necessary and incident to the arrest of plaintiffs and members of their class." The district court also enjoined appellants, "except in exceptional circumstances," "from holding in their custody any plaintiff or member of their class beyond a twenty-four period without a probable cause determination before a state judge." Because we disagree with the district court's interpretation of the relevant Supreme Court cases, we reverse.


According to the parties' Stipulated Statement of Facts, 671 F. Supp. at 228-36, in "virtually all" criminal cases in New York City, suspects who are arrested without warrants receive a probable-cause hearing before a judicial officer only at their arraignment before a "local criminal court" pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 110.10(2)(a) (McKinney 1981). In New York City, the "local criminal court" in which arraignments are conducted is the Criminal Court of the City of New York, see id. § 10.10(3)(b); N.Y. City Crim. Ct. Act § 41 (McKinney Supp. 1987), which is part of the "unified court system" of the State of New York. See N.Y. Const. art. 6, § 1. The Criminal Court is supervised by the administrative board of the state judicial conference, which consists of the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals and the presiding judges of the state's four Appellate Divisions. The New York State Legislature and the state's Office of Court Administration determine both the number and assignment of judges in the Criminal Court and provide for the cost of operating the courts. Id. art. 6, §§ 28, 29. The City provides and pays for the maintenance and operation of courthouses and their physical plants. The Mayor of the City of New York appoints individuals to Criminal Court judgeships but has no power over the number of such judgeships.

The process by which arrestees presently make their way from the streets of New York to an arraignment courtroom is long and complex. The details of this process, however, are not in dispute. The parties agree that, in general, the initial eleven to fifteen hours after a warrantless arrest are consumed by police functions that include searching and securing the arrestee and ultimately transporting him to the central "booking" facility for the county in which the arrest was made. The New York City Police Department maintains these facilities, which are open twenty-four hours each day, in New York, Bronx, Kings and Queens Counties. The booking facilities in Queens and Bronx Counties are located in the courthouses of those counties; in New York and Kings Counties, however, the facilities are located approximately one-half mile from their respective courthouses.

Upon making a warrantless arrest, a New York City police officer first conducts a frisk search of the arrestee at the scene of the arrest. The officer then transports the arrestee to the officer's precinct stationhouse and later to a central booking facility. Occasionally, an officer may transport the arrestee directly to the booking facility. In the vast majority of cases, however, the police search and secure the arrestee at a precinct stationhouse, where the arresting officer reviews the arrest with a supervising police official to determine the appropriateness of the arrest, the charges to be filed and the need for additional investigation. The arresting officer also prepares a complaint arrest report, a property voucher form, and other forms that may be needed. In addition, the officer completes a handwritten copy of an "On Line Booking System" ("OLBS") arrest report either at the precinct or at the central booking facility.

According to police regulations, if the time necessary to complete these procedures is expected to exceed two hours, the police must take the arrestee's fingerprints at the precinct. Under such circumstances, the regulations require that the fingerprints be transported by automobile to the appropriate central booking facility, prior to the arrival of the arrestee, for electronic transmission to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services ("DCJS"). In turn, DCJS uses the fingerprints to retrieve the arrestee's prior criminal record, if any. Despite the regulations, however, an arrestee's paperwork and fingerprints are usually not taken to a central booking facility until the arrestee is taken there. On average, the arrestee arrives at a central booking facility four to six hours after arrest.

Once an arrestee is taken to a central booking facility, the police photograph the arrestee, take the arrestee's fingerprints (if not already taken), search and secure the arrestee, and conduct further supervisory review of the charges to be brought against him. In addition, the police enter information from the OLBS arrest report into a computer (with the arresting officer present for consultation) and electronically transmit fingerprints and other identification data to DCJS to obtain the suspect's "rap sheet," consisting of his criminal record and outstanding warrants. In general, the processing of arrestees at central booking facilities takes between one and two hours. Once the arresting officer has completed his duties at the central booking facility, the officer proceeds immediately (without waiting for the return of a rap sheet from DCJS) to the district attorney's Early Case Assessment Bureau (commonly known as the "complaint room"), where the officer is interviewed in order to assist in the preparation of an accusatory instrument.

In New York, Kings and Bronx Counties, fingerprints and other information are transmitted to DCJS by laser facsimile equipment and are received in Albany within thirty seconds of transmission.*fn1 In Queens, the police use "datalog" equipment that is capable of providing fingerprints and other information to DCJS in either nine or fourteen minutes, depending on the type of datalog equipment used. Although laser transmission is faster, datalog transmission provides better resolution. Regardless of the method of transmission used, however, the pace at which transmissions to DCJS are made and rap sheets are returned depends on the number of police personnel available to take fingerprints, the number of police and DCJS machines available to transmit and to receive fingerprints and other information, the number of persons available to operate such machines, and the amount of equipment available to transmit and receive rap sheets. In addition, delays may occur if the quality of the fingerprints, or of their electronically reproduced images, is poor. DCJS informs the police that a fingerprint is not readable within minutes after the prints are received and read by DCJS personnel. Once DCJS receives a readable set of prints, the police receive "rap sheets" in an average of three hours.

Along with a criminal history of the arrestee, a rap sheet contains both a list of outstanding warrants and a list of alleged aliases. Because information received from DCJS is often incomplete or dated, the police confirm the warrants and aliases received from DCJS by comparing this information with records of the New York State Office of Court Administration. This confirmation procedure takes approximately one hour. Once warrants and aliases are confirmed, a police messenger delivers copies of the rap sheet and the OLBS arrest report to the complaint room. Meanwhile, the arrestee is interviewed at the central booking facility by Criminal Justice Agency ("CJA") employees. They use material from interviews and rap sheets to assess applications for pretrial release and to determine whether the arrestee is eligible for release at the arraignment hearing.

Although New York law is silent on the participation of district attorneys in the preparation of accusatory instruments (and in many counties outside New York City they are prepared by local police officials), in the vast majority of cases in New York City accusatory instruments are prepared by the district attorneys who work in the complaint room. In addition, prosecutors perform a variety of other functions in the complaint room. The district attorneys assess the charges against arrestees by interviewing the arresting officer and other relevant persons. The district attorneys decide whether cases should be sent to a grand jury and prepare various notices required by New York's Criminal Procedure Law, such as notices of requests for alibi witnesses; notices of statements, physical evidence and identification; and notices of intent to present the case to a grand jury. Finally, based upon an evaluation of available evidence, the district attorneys assess the strength of cases. For example, prosecutors in the complaint room often determine acceptable pleas. Alternatively, if a district attorney finds that there is an insufficient basis for a prosecution, he will decline to prosecute and will direct that the arrestee be released. On the other hand, if the district attorney elects to prosecute, a complaint and other notices are typed, and the arresting officer attests to the complaint.

When the sworn complaint, rap sheet and CJA report for a given arrestee finally become available, the police department usually assembles four copies for distribution to the court, defense counsel, prosecutors and police. These documents are subsequently delivered to the docket room of the Criminal Court. In New York County, where the docket room never closes, the Criminal Court will not accept an arrestee's papers until the arrestee himself arrives at the courthouse. This policy is intended to facilitate the coordination of an arrestee's arrival at the arraignment court with delivery of the documents pertaining to his case. The policy nevertheless may foster some delay, because detention space in New York City courthouses is limited.*fn2 In Kings, Queens and Bronx Counties, where the docket rooms are closed between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. each morning, the police deliver an arrestee's papers to the appropriate docket room regardless of whether the arrestee has arrived at the courthouse. Consequently, in those counties, the production of arrestees in the courtroom may not always be coordinated with the delivery of their papers.

Once an arrestee's papers are filed in the docket room, clerks of the Criminal Court assign an arraignment docket number to the case and place the case on an arraignment part calendar. Although this calendar serves a record-keeping function, it is generally not used by the court to call cases or to determine the order in which persons are arraigned. Once a case receives a docket number, a clerk from the docket room delivers the paperwork concerning the case to the courtroom. A police official then directs that an officer transport the arrestee from a precinct, central booking facility or courthouse detention facility, as the case may be, to "feeder pens" located behind the courtroom in which the arraignment is to be conducted. On the way to the feeder pens, the police take official photographs ("mug shots") of arrestees accused of felonies or certain misdemeanors. As is true each time that custody of the arrestee is transferred among police officers or between the police and the Department of Correction (which operates the courthouse detention facilities), ledger entries record the transfer of arrestees to the feeder pens.

As of September 1986, there were five daily arraignment sessions ("parts") in New York County. Three of these arraignment parts, including a part reserved primarily for alleged misdemeanants who have been issued desk appearance tickets, were scheduled for the day shift. The evening shift and the night ("lobster") shift were each allotted one arraignment part, and additional parts were conducted when the need arose. In Queens and the Bronx, the Criminal Court conducted two parts during the day, two during the evening and additional parts when necessary. In Brooklyn, the court conducted three parts on weekdays (two during the day and one in the evening) and two (day and evening) on Saturday and Sunday. Arraignment parts were thus held every day of the year, and in New York County there was at least one part open during every hour of each day. In Bronx, Kings and Queens Counties, however, there were no arraignment parts during the lobster shift, which runs approximately from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Once the arrestee is placed in a feeder pen adjacent to the arraignment courtroom and his court papers are delivered to the courtroom, the arrestee becomes available for an interview with defense counsel. Under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 170.10(3) (McKinney 1982), an arrestee has a right to the assistance of counsel at his arraignment. Moreover, under N.Y. County Law §§ 722, 722-b (McKinney Supp. 1988), the City of New York is responsible for providing counsel for persons who are charged with crimes in the City but who cannot afford a lawyer. At the arraignment, the Criminal Court assigns either The Legal Aid Society, under the terms of a contract between the Society and the City, or private counsel under terms set forth in Section 722-b, to represent indigent defendants. In practice, however, appointed counsel represent arrestees who are not indigent, because the court generally does not undertake a determination of an arrestee's indigency before conducting an arraignment. The Legal Aid Society represents seventy percent of the arrestees who are not represented by privately retained counsel.*fn3

After The Legal Aid Society receives a copy of an arrestee's papers, the Society begins to prepare a file on the case.*fn4 A Legal Aid Society lawyer interviews the arrestee after the arrestee arrives in the feeder pen adjacent to the courtroom. At the interview, defense counsel attempts to elicit as much information as is necessary about the arrestee's case, his criminal history and his eligibility for bail. The Legal Aid lawyer prepares the case to the extent necessary to allow him (1) to advise the arrestee on the desirability of any disposition offered at the arraignment, (2) to advise the arrestee on the possibility of testifying before a grand jury under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 190.50(5) (McKinney 1982), (3) to respond to any request for bail made by the district attorney, and (4) to assess the need for any further investigation after arraignment. Although The Legal Aid Society does not maintain records of the time that its lawyers take to prepare a case for arraignment, the parties have agreed that, in Kings County, a good estimate of an average figure would be twenty minutes. Statistics produced by the Criminal Court indicate that, in New York County, during a sample period between October 13 and October 19, 1986, the daily average time elapsing between (1) Legal Aid's receipt both of an arrestee's court papers and of notice that the arrestee was available for interview, and (2) Legal Aid's announcement that the case was ready for arraignment, ranged from approximately 78 minutes to 138 minutes. The median time, however, was only forty-eight minutes.*fn5

A case is ready for arraignment and is called by the court clerk after the Legal Aid lawyer finishes interviewing his client and taking whatever other investigatory steps may be necessary. Assistant district attorneys negotiate and strike plea bargains and make bail recommendations at arraignments. More than a third of the arrestees have their cases finally disposed of at arraignment.

The typical arraignment, including those at which a final disposition is reached, takes between five and ten minutes, and the Criminal Court may process as few as thirty or as many as one hundred cases in a single session. Cases listed on an arraignment part calendar may be postponed until another session if the cases are not ready for arraignment during the shift. Statistical summaries of arraignment times for selected periods are set forth in Appendices A and B.


Plaintiffs' original complaint was filed at approximately 11:00 a.m. on February 7, 1985. Named as defendants were the City of New York, its police department, police commissioner, department of correction, commissioner of correction and mayor. The complaint alleged that plaintiff Charles Lewis had been arrested by New York City police at 1:00 a.m., and plaintiffs John Williams, Leonard Altman and Anthony Richards at 1:15 a.m., on February 6, 1985 in New York County. Plaintiffs alleged that they remained in custody at the time that the complaint was filed,*fn6 and had not been afforded a probable-cause determination before a judicial officer. They sought relief on their own behalf and on behalf of a class of all persons arrested in New York County. Plaintiffs also alleged that, between January 1, 1984 and January 31, 1985, the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.