SAN FRANCISCO -- Police in California may not take into custody someone cited for a mere infraction unless the person lacks identification or refuses to sign a written promise to appear in court or provide a fingerprint, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The decision by the U.S. 9thCircuit Court of Appeals clears the way for a man arrested for trespassing to obtain financial compensation from San Francisco for being hauled to the police station and searched before being released.
An infraction, which is less serious than a misdemeanor, is punishable by a fine and does not appear on a criminal record.
Wednesday’s ruling stemmed from the 2000 arrest of Erris Edgerly after San Francisco police spotted him standing inside a playground near a housing project where he did not live. The fenced playground had “No Trespassing” signs at each entrance.
The police did a pat-down search and then took Edgerly to a police station, where he was searched again. No contraband was found, and police released him with a citation for trespassing. He was never prosecuted for the alleged offense.
Edgerly sued San Francisco and its Police Department for false arrest and an illegal search in violation of his civil rights. A district judge ruled that Edgerly’s arrest was proper, and a jury determined he had not been strip-searched.
In overturning the lower court’s decision on the arrest, a three-judge 9th Circuit panel said California’s penal code does not permit someone to be taken into custody for an infraction unless the person lacks identification or refuses to sign a paper to appear in court or provide a fingerprint.
The ruling, written by Judge Raymond C. Fisher, directed the district court to permit Edgerly to have his claim for damages heard by a jury.