Can You Arrest Someone for an Infraction ?
An arrest for an infraction is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
In Atwater v. City of Lago Vista (2001) 532 U.S. 318, 323-324, the plaintiff in a federal civil rights action was stopped while driving her car for a seat belt violation. The plaintiff was arrested. She filed suit pursuant to title 42 United States Code section 1983 alleging she was subject to an unreasonable seizure. (Id. at p. 325)
After reviewing its search and seizure jurisprudence, the United States Supreme Court held: "Accordingly, we confirm today what our prior cases have intimated: the standard of probable cause 'applies to all arrests, without the need to "balance" the interests and circumstances involved in particular situations.' Dunaway v. New York (1979) 442 U.S. 200, 208.
If an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender." (Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, supra, 532 U.S. at p. 354; see Brendlin v. California (2007) 551 U.S. 249, 263, fn. 7; Maryland v. Pringle (2003) 540 U.S. 366, 370.)
The fact that a state or federal statute does not permit an arrest is irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment reasonableness calculus. (Virginia v. Moore (2008) 553 U.S. 164, 167, 169, fn. 2, 172 defendant arrested in violation of a Virginia statute that required only a summons be issued for driving with a suspended license; Whren v. United States (1996) 517 U.S. 806, 815 District of Columbia regulation limiting authority of unmarked police car to make a stop irrelevant to Fourth Amendment reasonableness issue; Cooper v. State of California (1967) 386 U.S. 58, 60-61 state forfeiture law irrelevant as to whether the car search was reasonable.)
Also, the California Supreme Court, citing Atwater along with federal authority, held in the context of an arrest for a fine only offense, Vehicle Code section 40302, subdivision (a), "We conclude, in accordance with United States Supreme Court precedent, that custodial arrests for fine-only offenses do not violate the Fourth Amendment and that compliance with state arrest procedures is not a component of the federal constitutional inquiry." (People v. McKay (2002) 27 Cal.4th 601, 605; see People v. Hardacre (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 1292, 1301.)
In People v. Gomez (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 531, 534-536, 538-540, the defendant was stopped at 4:50 p.m. for a traffic violation, failure to wear a seatbelt, and he refused to consent to a search of his car. The defendant was then "detained" as part of an on-going narcotics investigation while the detectives awaited the arrival of police dog trained to alert to controlled substances. The narcotics dog did not arrive at the scene of the "detention" until 6:05 p.m. (Id. at pp. 535-536.)
The Court of Appeal, citing among other cases, Atwater and McKay, addressed the effect of the unreasonably prolonged 1 hour, 15 minute detention:
"It is irrelevant that a seatbelt violation typically would result in a brief detention for purposes of issuing a citation. Our sole concern is whether defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were violated by being subjected to a de facto arrest that originated with the traffic stop. 'Probable cause to arrest exists if facts known to the arresting officer would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to entertain an honest and strong suspicion that an individual is guilty of a crime. ' (People v. Kraft (2000) 23 Cal.4th 978, 1037.)
It is undisputed Detective Floren had probable cause to believe defendant violated a traffic law. He thus had probable cause to arrest defendant on that basis. That probable cause did not evaporate simply because Detective Floren also detained defendant for purposes relating to the narcotics investigation." (People v. Gomez, supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 539.)