Powell v. Nevada
511 U.S. 79

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OCTOBER TERM, 1993

Syllabus

POWELL v. NEVADA

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NEVADA No.92-8841. Argued February 22, 1994-Decided March 30,1994

Petitioner Powell was arrested on November 3, 1989, for felony child abuse. Not until November 7, however, did a Magistrate find probable cause to hold him for a preliminary hearing. The child in question subsequently died of her injuries, and Powell was charged additionally with her murder. At the trial, the state prosecutor presented prejudicial statements Powell had made to the police on November 7. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court, sua sponte, raised the question whether the 4-day delay in judicial confirmation of probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment, in view of County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U. S. 44, which held that a judicial probable-cause determination must generally be made within 48 hours of a warrantless arrest, and that, absent extraordinary circumstances, a longer delay is unconstitutional. The state court decided that McLaughlin was inapplicable to Powell's case, because his prosecution commenced prior to the rendition of that decision.

Held: The Nevada Supreme Court erred in failing to recognize that McLaughlin's 48-hour rule must be applied retroactively, for under Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U. S. 314, 328, "a ... rule for the conduct of criminal prosecutions is to be applied retroactively to all cases, state or federal, ... not yet final" when the rule is announced. Although the 4-day delay here was presumptively unreasonable under McLaughlin, it does not necessarily follow that Powell must be set free or gain other relief. Several questions remain open for decision on remand, including the appropriate remedy for a delay in determining probable cause (an issue not resolved by McLaughlin), the consequence of Powell's failure to raise the federal question, and whether introduction at trial of what Powell said on November 7 was "harmless" in view of a similar, albeit shorter, statement he made prior to his arrest. Pp. 83-85.

108 Nev. 700,838 P. 2d 921, vacated and remanded.

GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., joined, post, p. 85.

Michael Pescetta argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.


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Dan M. Seaton argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

Miguel A. Estrada argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Harris, and Deputy Solicitor General Bryson.*

JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103 (1975), we held that the Fourth Amendment's shield against unreasonable seizures requires a prompt judicial determination of probable cause following an arrest made without a warrant and ensuing detention. County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U. S. 44 (1991), established that "prompt" generally means within 48 hours of the warrantless arrest; absent extraordinary circumstances, a longer delay violates the Fourth Amendment. In the case now before us, the Supreme Court of Nevada stated that McLaughlin does not apply to a prosecution commenced prior to the rendition of that decision. We hold that the Nevada Supreme Court misread this Court's precedent: "[A] ... rule for the conduct of criminal prosecutions is to be applied retroactively to all cases, state or federal, ... not yet final" when the rule is announced. Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U. S. 314, 328 (1987).

*Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Utah et al. by Jan Graham, Attorney General of Utah, Carol Clawson, Solicitor General, and J. Kevin Murphy, Assistant Attorney General, Grant Woods, Attorney General of Arizona, John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney of Connecticut, Robert A. Marks, Attorney General of Hawaii, Larry EchoHawk, Attorney General of Idaho, Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, Chris Gorman, Attorney General of Kentucky, Richard p. Ieyoub, Attorney General of Louisiana, Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General of Montana, Fred DeVesa, Attorney General of New Jersey, Susan B. Loving, Attorney General of Oklahoma, Lee Fisher, Attorney General of Ohio, and T. Travis Medlock, Attorney General of South Carolina; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger.


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