Atwater v. City of Lago Vista

Published date01 May 2003
DOI10.1177/1043986203251619
Date01 May 2003
Subject MatterArticle
10.1177/1043986203251619ARTICLEJournal of Contemporary Criminal Justice / May 2003Walker, McKinnon /ATWATER v. LAGO VISTA
Atwater v. City of Lago Vista
Police Authority to Make Warrantless Misdemeanor Arrests
JEFFERY T. WALKER
KRISTI M. MCKINNON
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Since the early 1990s, the Supreme Court has increased the influence of the police through a
series of court cases. Atwater v.City of Lago Vista held that the Fourth Amendment does not for-
bid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense punishable only by a fine.This case will be
discussed as it relates to the current climate of policing and the Supreme Court. The potential
implications for police and the public will also be addressed.
Keywords: police; law; warrantless arrest; Fourth Amendment
Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s had the effect of expanding the
authority of police. Although the primary area of expansion related to
automobile stops, especially as they applied in the war on drugs (see
Hemmens, 2002), there was also some strengthening of police powers in
warrantless arrests. Before the decision in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista
(2001), misdemeanor arrests for minor trafficviolations had not been directly
addressed by the Supreme Court, although common law (arguably) pre-
vented officers from making warrantless arrests for misdemeanor offenses.
Atwater gave police the authority to arrest the driver of a vehicle for viola-
tions punishable only by a monetary fine (Urbonya, 2001). In doing so, the
Supreme Court interpreted the Fourth Amendment in a broader sense and
widened the authority of police in traffic-related stops (Urbonya, 2001).
Following the decision in Atwater (2001), there was a plethora of media
articles and other opinion pieces both supporting and criticizing the decision.
Expectedly, there were also a number of legal reviews of the case. None of
239
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 19 No. 2, May 2003 239-252
DOI: 10.1177/1043986203251619
© 2003 Sage Publications

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