In Patterson v. City of Yuba City, the Ninth Circuit today asks the California Supreme Court to answer, under state law, whether “a finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing preclude[s] a false arrest claim?” The Ninth Circuit says, “the California Courts of Appeal have split on the issue, inhibiting our ability to ‘predict how the [California Supreme Court] would decide,’ as we are bound to do.” Later in its order, the federal appeals court sounds even more desperate for an answer, asserting, “we are left at an impasse.”

The Ninth Circuit panel might want the Supreme Court’s answer, but its order hints at the outcome it prefers. The court says the issue involves, among other things, “a criminal defendant’s ability to adequately contest the issue of probable cause at a preliminary hearing as a matter of California practice” and notes, “it may often be contrary to a criminal defendant’s interest to fully challenge the prosecution’s evidence of probable cause by testifying at the preliminary hearing.”

The Supreme Court should let the Ninth Circuit know by the beginning of May — give or take — whether it will answer the question, but it probably will.

There are currently two other Ninth Circuit requests waiting for (likely positive) Supreme Court responses. (Here and here.)

[March 9 update: The Supreme Court has docketed the Ninth Circuit’s request.]