ATWATER v. CITY OF LAGO VISTA

Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
99-1408
Petitioner 
Atwater
Respondent 
City of Lago Vista
Advocates
(Et al., as amici curiae, supporting the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Under Texas law, it is a misdemeanor, punishable only by a fine, either for a front-seat passenger in a car equipped with safety belts not to wear one or for the driver to fail to secure any small child riding in front. In 1997, Gail Atwater was driving her truck in Lago Vista. Neither of Atwater's children, who were sitting in the front seat, was wearing seatbelts. Lago Vista policeman Bart Turek observed the violations and pulled Atwater over. Ultimately, Atwater was handcuffed, placed in jail, and released on bond. Atwater then filed suit alleging that Turek's actions had violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. In granting the city summary judgment, the District Court ruled the claim meritless. In affirming, the en banc Court of Appeals held that the arrest was not unreasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes because no one disputed that Turek had probable cause to arrest Atwater, and there was no evidence the arrest was conducted in an extraordinary manner, unusually harmful to Atwater's privacy interests.

Question 

Does the Fourth Amendment, either by incorporating common-law restrictions on misdemeanor arrests or otherwise, limit a police officer's authority to arrest without warrant for minor criminal offenses?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for City of Lago Vista, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 4: Fourth Amendment

No. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice David H. Souter, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine. "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," wrote Justice Souter for the Court. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissenting opinion argued that the Court's decision "neglects the Fourth Amendment's express command in the name of administrative ease" and thus "cloaks the pointless indignity that Gail Atwater suffered with the mantle of reasonableness."

Cite this Page
ATWATER v. CITY OF LAGO VISTA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 15 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1408>.
ATWATER v. CITY OF LAGO VISTA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1408 (last visited September 15, 2014).
"ATWATER v. CITY OF LAGO VISTA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 15, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1408.