Lopez’s Appeal (Part 4 of 5)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit handed down a decision on September 22, 2006 in the case of Joseph Lopez v. City of Chicago, and Chicago Police Detectives Jennifer Delucia, James Daefont, Daniel Jacobs, and Hector Vergara. You can read about the basis for the appeal here, Part I. In their decision the US Court of Appeals handed down a strong rebuke to Federal Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan and a strong victory to Lopez. Lopez’s civil suit had three major claims:

Unconstitutional conditions of confinement This claim is the most complicated part of the trial and appeal to understand. At trial, both parties agreed that the Fourth Amendment covered Lopez’s confinement and treatment during his warrantless arrest. Judge Der-Yeghiayan disagreed with this point and instead “evaluated Lopez’s unconstitutional conditions claim using the more demanding “deliberate indifference” standard applicable to convicted prisoners’ claims of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and similar claims of pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment,” (US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 10). This use of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment greatly increased the burden of proof needed by Lopez to show that the police acted with deliberate indifference to a “serious hazard created by the conditions of his confinement. The Fourth Amendment only “requires that the defendants conduct was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances,”” (US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 10).

The US Appellate Court believed that Judge Der-Yeghiayan was wrong to use the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because the Fourth protects against unreasonable searches and seizure; however, a warrantless arrest is a seizure. Also, under US Supreme Court precedent setting case of Gerstein, the Fourth Amendment was extended to require a judicial determination of probable cause as a “prerequisite to extended restraint of liberty following arrest,” (US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 10). The US Appellate Court ruling states that the record does not reflect why Judge Der-Yeghiayan chose to use the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when neither party to the case introduced evidence of either amendment applying to the case at hand. This demonstrates that Judge Der-Yeghiayan had weighed the evidence and looked outside the court record in front of him to decide the fate of Lopez’s case. In the City’s response to Lopez’s appeal, they “changed their tune” and adopted Judge Der-Yeghiayan’s reasoning that both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments applied and the Fourth did not apply. This flip-flop of arguments was not lost on the US Appellate Court as they stated their dislike for this tactic. The US Appellate Court reversed Der-Yeghiayan’s ruling on the issue of the unconstitutional conditions of confinement and sent the case back to the trial court for a new trial. The US Appellate stated that there was ample evidence in the record if the jury were to believe Lopez’s testimony to more then get over the hurdle that the Fourth Amendment requires.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress To prove this claim Lopez needed to establish the following:

  • That the defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous.
  • That the detectives’ intended their conduct to inflict severe emotional distress or knew there was at least a high probability their conduct did in fact cause Lopez severe emotional distress.
  • That the detectives’ conduct did in fact cause Lopez severe emotional distress.

(US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 14).

On this issue the defendants admit that Judge Der-Yeghiayan erred by not letting this issue go to the jury. However, they did state that there was no evidence to infer intent by the detectives. The US Appellate Court countered this claim by once again pointing to Lopez’s testimony about being fed only once during his 5 day ordeal. The detectives did not attempt to counter this claim by saying they thought others had fed him. The detectives instead testified that they did indeed feed Lopez on a regular basis; however, they could provide no receipts for the fast food they stated was purchased for Lopez with their own money. The US Appellate Court ruled that these statements are incompatible and that either the detectives or Lopez were lying. In their ruling the US Appellate Court stated “Lopez’s evidence at trial essentially painted a picture of interrogators subjecting a captive suspect to several days of dire physical deprivation in order to coerce a confession,” (US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 15). For these reasons stated here and others the US Appellate Court reversed Judge Der-Yeghiayan’s ruling and sent this issue back to the trial court for retrial.

Unconstitutional duration of confinement This claim was somewhat undefended by the City of Chicago at trial with the exception that they stated exceptional circumstances forced the extended detention of Lopez. In the City’s argument, they citied that they were investigating the death of a 12 year old shot in a drive by shooting. Also, the City documented that Lopez’s extended detention was due to his providing the police originally with a false name, alibi, and then a false confession. The City claims that if Lopez had not provided false information, he would have not been held past the 48-hour time limit. The US Appellate Court, unlike Judge Der-Yeghiayan, didn’t buy into this line of reasoning. The US Appellate Court stated strongly in their decision that upon the arrest the clock on the responsibility for providing the hearing is solely running on the City and cannot be affected by the actions of the arrestee. “Police may postpone a Gerstein hearing for a reasonable amount of time to “cope with the everyday problems of processing suspects through an overly burdened criminal justice system,” (US Appellate Court, 2006, p. 16). A Gerstein hearing is a hearing in front of an independent judicial officer that is to determine whether the police have probable cause to further detain a suspect.

The US Appellate Court stated unequivocally that a defendant’s actions cannot affect the clock that starts running at the time of arrest. The City was arguing that they needed further time to investigate the case then they would have normally because of the lies Lopez provided them. The US Appellate Court states that the City cannot hold a suspect to further investigate the crime in question. They must have enough evidence at the time of arrest to provide a suspect a Gerstein hearing without the need for further investigating the crime. When the City introduced, and then later Judge Der-Yeghiayan relied on Lopez’s confession as a reason for the extended detention neither the City or the Judge was honestly representing the facts. Lopez’s first false confession occurred approximately 60 hours into his detention, approximately 12 hours past the limit for a Gerstein hearing. By the time the police had obtained Lopez’s first false confession they had exceeded the constitutional time limits to hold a suspect without providing a probably cause hearing. I say first false confession because the confession they retrieved from Lopez at the end of his illegal detention led the police and prosecutors to charge Lopez was also false. The US Appellate Court found Lopez’s case so persuasive that they believed Lopez was entitled to judgment on the issue of his illegal detention as a matter of law; thus, only the determination of the damages was remanded back to the trial court. This installment of the Chicago Justice Blog is part IV OF VI. In next week’s installment, we will be covering the issue of how the practices that create the conditions Lopez was held in become an everyday occurrence. The real tragedy of the Lopez case is that it is not a rare occurrence but an everyday pattern and practice of the organization. The Dunn case demonstrates that this practice has been part of the way the Chicago Police Department conducts business since at least the early 1980s. The Dunn case also demonstrates that after the Lopez trial the Chicago Police still had not halted the practice.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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