Albright v. Oliver – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 114 S. Ct. 807, 127 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1994), Albright was charged with selling illegal drugs and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The evidence supporting the charge was questionable.

The police relied upon the uncorroborated testimony of an informant who had proved unreliable on more than 50 occasions.

In truth, prosecutors had never successfully prosecuted anyone she had implicated in a drug crime. Albright, 510 U.S. at 293-94 (Stevens, J., dissenting).

In Albright's case, the informant misidentified the substance allegedly sold to her as cocaine, when in fact it was baking soda. Id. at 293-94.

In addition, the informant eventually admitted that she may have misidentified Albright as the person who sold her the "illegal" drugs. Id.

Commenting later on the grounds for the arrest, the Seventh Circuit observed: "To arrest a person on the scanty grounds that are alleged . . . is shocking." Albright v. Oliver, 975 F.2d 343, 345 (7th Cir. 1992).

Albright turned himself in to Illinois authorities after learning that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Albright, 510 U.S. at 268.

When the charges against him were later dropped because they did not state a claim under Illinois law, Albright sued, arguing a violation of his "substantive right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be free from criminal prosecution except upon probable cause." Id.

In a plurality opinion, the Supreme Court held that Albright's § 1983 claim based on substantive due process was not actionable. 510 U.S. at 268, 275.

The Supreme Court stated that for § 1983 claims based on malicious prosecution, "substantive due process may not furnish the constitutional peg on which to hang such a 'tort.'" 510 U.S. at 271 n.4.

The Court reasoned that rather than expand the "scarce and open-ended" guideposts of substantive due process to protect persons against unwarranted prosecutions, the Court would look to the Fourth Amendment for a more "explicit source of textual protection" that goes "hand in hand" with the pretrial deprivations of liberty encountered when a prosecution is initiated without probable cause. 510 U.S. at 271-72, 274-75.