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Pro Bono Clients Win Victory in Eighth Circuit Appeal of St. Louis County’s “Wanteds” Warrantless Arrest Program

Paul, Weiss won a reversal of an entry of summary judgment in the Eighth Circuit in our long-running class action challenging the “Wanteds” program of St. Louis County, Missouri, on behalf of putative class representatives who were arrested and detained under this program. Wanteds are a policing practice through which St. Louis County police officers have the power to execute warrantless arrests and detain suspects for up to 24 hours based on the officers’ own assessment of probable cause, and without any judicial oversight. Wanteds operate like warrants in that any officer—including those with no personal knowledge of the underlying facts of the alleged crime—can arrest an individual on a Wanted.

The district court had dismissed our clients’ individual and class claims under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, finding that Wanteds are constitutional where the issuing officers had probable cause. Paul, Weiss challenged that finding, arguing that, because Wanteds are functionally identical to warrants but lack the constitutional protections of court-issued warrants, the Wanteds system is always unconstitutional.

The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s finding in part, agreeing that Wanteds are problematic and cannot be protected under the Fourth Amendment’s collective knowledge doctrine. Notably, the circuit court reversed a grant of qualified immunity to one defendant officer and reversed the entry of summary judgment on class certification. But the panel also found that, because there may be occasional instances where Wanteds could be constitutional (where the Fourth Amendment would otherwise allow warrantless arrests), they could not find the practice facially unconstitutional. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Paul, Weiss has been leading this effort with co-counsel Arch City Defenders and the Center for Constitutional Rights since 2016. The Paul, Weiss appeal team included, among others, litigation associate Ameya Ananth. Several individuals have made invaluable contributions over the years, including litigation partner Jay Cohen and associate Eric Abrams.

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