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Wash. U. J. L. & Pol'y.


This Article advances a simple claim in need of enforcement in this country right now: no person may be arrested for an alleged violation of civil, as opposed to criminal, law. Indeed, courts have long interpreted the Fourth Amendment as prohibiting arrest except when probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is the person who committed the crime. However, in many places police take citizens into custody without a warrant for the non-criminal conduct of allegedly breaking civil laws. This unfortunate phenomenon received national attention in St. Louis, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen shot by City of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during a pedestrian stop in 2014.1 The tragic incident resulted in angry protests targeted at local government and police for their history of problematic police practices used primarily against poor and minority residents. But in a cruel irony, such public calls for reform around municipal ordinance enforcement were met with further widespread arrests. Arrests that we believe were, and are, wholly unlawful.2