Law enforcement officials are praising a new Supreme Court decision that allows a gap of up to 48 hours between someone's arrest and a court hearing to determine whether the arrest was valid.

"We're definitely pleased. The flexible approach adopted by the court is sound," said Steven Michaels, a Hawaii deputy attorney general who in behalf of 24 states had urged the justices to uphold a 48-hour waiting period.By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court said such a wait is constitutional.

The vote of Justice David H. Souter, the court's newest member, proved the tie-breaker.

"Some delays are inevitable," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the court. "In our view, the Fourth Amendment permits a reasonable postponement . . . while the police cope with the everyday problems of processing suspects through an overly burdened criminal justice system."

The Constitution's Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable police arrests.

The four dissenters said waiting 48 hours is too long for people who may have been arrested by mistake.

Such a hearing should be held immediately after an arrested person is booked, and never more than 24 hours after the arrest, they said.