At a Glance
On November 1, 2022, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the lower court decision, but also suggested arrests based on Wanteds are unconstitutional in the majority of cases.
- Angelo Guisado
- Baher Azmy
- Omar Farah
- Darius Charney
Arch City Defenders (St. Louis) and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
Dwayne Furlow, Ralph Torres, Howard Liner
For many years, St. Louis and surrounding Missouri counties have permitted police officers to issue the equivalent of a statewide arrest warrant into an electronic database, designating an individual for immediate summary arrest for up to 24 hours at a time, without ever seeking a judicial determination of probable cause. This practice is known in St. Louis as issuing a “wanted”. Wanteds are used for serious state-level crimes and minor code violations alike, including traffic offenses. In some cases, wanteds seem to be issued merely because officers want to take custody of an individual for questioning. It is unclear how long a wanted may stay in the system – potentially months or even years. Evidence suggests law enforcement makes arrests on the basis of the existence of wanteds without first confirming that they are still valid or that the wanteds themselves are supported by probable cause, as required by the Fourth Amendment. The wanted system operates in St. Louis with no judicial oversight, despite the widespread nature of the practice. Indeed, it appears that there are approximately 2 million wanteds in the statewide database.
In its March 4, 2015 report on Ferguson, Missouri, the Department of Justice was strongly critical of the “wanted” system.
Furlow v. Belmar, pending in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, challenges the so-called wanteds system as used in St. Louis County, Missouri because it routinely leads to unconstitutional arrests of area residents, the majority of whom are Black. The case raises several claims based on foundational constitutional provisions, including violation of the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights stemming from their wrongful seizure and arrest; violation of their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent under unwanted police questioning, and violations of their Fourteenth Amendment rights for depriving plaintiffs of their liberty without due process of law.
The Furlow case continues the Center for Constitutional Rights' long legacy of racial justice litigation and advocacy at a critical political moment in the U.S., especially as it relates to inequity in law enforcement practices and accountability.