UNITED STATES V. SALERNO, 481 U. S. 739 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987)

United States v. Salerno

No. 86-87

Argued January 21, 1987

Decided May 26, 1987

481 U.S. 739


The Bail Reform Act of 1984 (Act) requires courts to detain prior to trial arrestees charged with certain serious felonies if the Government demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence, after an adversary hearing, that no release conditions "will reasonably assure . . . the safety of any other person and the community." 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e) (1982 ed., Supp. III). The Act provides arrestees with a number of procedural rights at the detention hearing, including the right to request counsel, to testify, to present witnesses, to proffer evidence, and to cross-examine other witnesses. The Act also specifies the factors to be considered in making the detention decision, including the nature and seriousness of the charges, the substantiality of the Government's evidence, the arrestee's background and characteristics, and the nature and seriousness of the danger posed by his release. Under the Act, a decision to detain must be supported by written findings of fact and a statement of reasons, and is immediately reviewable. After a hearing under the Act, the District Court ordered the detention of respondents, who had been charged with 35 acts of racketeering activity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that § 3142(e)'s authorization of pretrial detention on the ground of future dangerousness is facially unconstitutional as violative of the Fifth Amendment's substantive due process guarantee.


1. Given the Act's legitimate and compelling regulatory purpose and the procedural protections it offers, § 3142(e) is not facially invalid under the Due Process Clause. Pp. 481 U. S. 746-752.

(a) The argument that the Act violates substantive due process because the detention it authorizes constitutes impermissible punishment before trial is unpersuasive. The Act's legislative history clearly indicates that Congress formulated the detention provisions not as punishment for dangerous individuals, but as a potential solution to the pressing societal problem of crimes committed by persons on release. Preventing danger to the community is a legitimate regulatory goal. Moreover, the incidents of detention under the Act are not excessive in relation to that goal, since the Act carefully limits the circumstances under which detention may be sought to the most serious of crimes, the arrestee is entitled to a prompt hearing, the maximum length of detention

Page 481 U. S. 740

is limited by the Speedy Trial Act, and detainees must be housed apart from convicts. Thus, the Act constitutes permissible regulation, rather than impermissible punishment. Pp. 481 U. S. 746-748.

(b) The Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the Due Process Clause categorically prohibits pretrial detention that is imposed as a regulatory measure on the ground of community danger. The Government's regulatory interest in community safety can, in appropriate circumstances, outweigh an individual's liberty interest. Such circumstances exist here. The Act narrowly focuses on a particularly acute problem -- crime by arrestees -- in which the Government's interests are overwhelming. Moreover, the Act operates only on individuals who have been arrested for particular extremely serious offenses, and carefully delineates the circumstances under which detention will be permitted. Pp. 481 U. S. 748-751.

(c) The Act's extensive procedural safeguards are specifically designed to further the accuracy of the likelihood-of-future-dangerousness determination, and are sufficient to withstand respondents' facial challenge, since they are more than "adequate to authorize the pretrial detention of at least some [persons] charged with crimes." Schall v. Martin, 467 U. S. 253, 467 U. S. 264. Pp. 481 U. S. 751-752.

2. Section 3142(e) is not facially unconstitutional as violative of the Excessive Bail Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The contention that the Act violates the Clause because it allows courts essentially to set bail at an infinite amount for reasons not related to the risk of flight is not persuasive. Nothing in the Clause's text limits the Government's interest in the setting of bail solely to the prevention of flight. Where Congress has mandated detention on the basis of some other compelling interest -- here, the public safety -- the Eighth Amendment does not require release on bail. Pp. 481 U. S. 752-755.

794 F.2d 64, reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 755. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 481 U. S. 767.

Page 481 U. S. 741

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