Recently in Searches and Seizures Category

December 11, 2013

The D.C. Circuit Holds That A Judge In D.C. Cannot Authorize A Bug in Maryland

The United States government thought that Lonnell Glover was a drug dealer. They tapped his phone, but he spoke in code so they couldn't get any evidence on him that way.

The government knew that Mr. Glover liked to talk in his truck, as so many Americans do. So they decided to get authorization from a judge to put a bug - a little microphone - in his truck.

The bug was authorized by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. The truck, at the time, was at Baltimore Washington International Airport (or, more accurately, Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport).

bug-1411396-m.jpgThe bug picked up some conversations, not in code, that strongly suggested Mr. Glover is a drug dealer. He was convicted, and, on appeal, challenged the validity of the wire tap because it was authorized by a federal judge in D.C. for a car in Maryland.

The D.C. Circuit, in an opinion by Senior Judge Silberman, reversed, in United States v. Glover.

Eighteen U.S.C. section 2518(3) allows a federal district judge to:

"authoriz[e] or approv[e] interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting (and outside that jurisdiction but within the United States in the case of a mobile interception device authorized by a Federal court within such jurisdiction)."

Does this language let a federal judge in Washington, D.C. authorize a wire tape for a wire that's not in Washington, D.C.?

That parenthetical is not a model of clarity. Here's how the D.C. Circuit parses it:

To be sure, the parenthetical phrase is somewhat ambiguous. It seems reasonable to read the words "such jurisdiction" in the phrase as referring back to the jurisdiction in which the judge is sitting; i.e., in this case, the District of Columbia, since the provision mentions no other jurisdiction. It is also possible that the phrase, by implication, refers to the jurisdiction in which the mobile interception device is installed.

So, could the parenthetical be read to say that a federal judge in D.C. could authorize the interception of conversations in Maryland for an investigation being run by the U.S. Attorney's Office in DC? The D.C. Circuit says no - it doesn't work with the rest of the language of the section:

Under either reading, the parenthetical makes clear that a judge cannot authorize the interception of communications if the mobile interception device was not validly authorized, and a device cannot be validly authorized if, at the time the warrant is issued, the property on which the device is to be installed is not located in the authorizing judge's jurisdiction. A contrary reading would render the phrase "authorized by a Federal court within such jurisdiction" completely superfluous.

The government has a response to this.

It argues that:

The government points to a handful of cases in which courts have found that an "interception" under Title III takes place at both the location of the listening post and at the location of a tapped phone. The government argues that in light of these cases, we should recognize that an issuing court has the power to authorize covert, trespassory entries onto private property, anywhere in the country, for purposes of placing surveillance equipment. The only jurisdictional limitation the government acknowledges is that the listening post must be located in the issuing court's jurisdiction.

It's like the argument the government frequently makes about wire fraud venue - any place that the wire goes through is an appropriate location for venue. If you email from California to Nevada, but the email goes through a server in Virginia, the government has argued that you can be tried in Virginia. Though it's a little odder here - the government, of course, controls where the listening post sits.

The D.C. Circuit doesn't go along with the government here - noting that the "listening post" language is just not in the statute.

Finally, the government asks the Court to ignore the jurisdictional problem because of the "good faith" exception to the warrant requirement. The D.C. Circuit gives this argument short shrift:

The government's last refuge is a plea that we recognize the government's "good faith" and, therefore, import a good faith exception to Title III's remedy of suppression. The Supreme Court has done so regarding Fourth Amendment violations, see United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 911 (1984), where there is no explicit textual remedy. Here, of course, Congress has spoken: The statute requires suppression of evidence gathered pursuant to a facially insufficient warrant.

The convictions were reversed, and the wiretapped conversations are suppressed.

February 22, 2013

The Supreme Court Says A Seizure Isn't Incident To A Search That Happened A Mile Away

Someone told the police that Chunon Bailey sold drugs. Worse, he sold drugs and had a gun at his house at 103 Lake Drive in Wyandanch, New York.

That someone was a confidential informant.

The police took that tip and got a search warrant for 103 Lake Drive.

The police were getting ready to go into his house - they had set up outside and were watching it.

They saw Mr. Bailey leave the basement apartment at 103 Lake Drive and get in a car. Two officers followed the car as it drove away. The rest of the search team started searching the house.

A mile away, the cops pulled Mr. Bailey over. They ordered him out of the car and patted him down. They found a ring of keys in his pocket.

They then put him in handcuffs and told him that he was being detained incident to a search warrant at 103 Lake Drive - a mile away.

Inside the house they found a number of things that were unlawful to possess. He was charged in the Eastern District of New York with possessing those things.

Detention Incident to a Search Warrant

1038828_u_s__supreme_court_2.jpgNormally, when the police execute a search warrant, they can hold people who are inside the house that's being searched. Even though holding someone is a "seizure" that generally not only allowed under the Fourth Amendment, there's an exception when the person was held while the police execute a search warrant.

Mr. Bailey's case is a little off that mark though.

Sure, if the cops bust in to your house, it makes sense that they'd want to make sure you don't come after them with a gun or take a magnet to all of your hard drives. And the best way to do that is make sure you're not near a gun or a magnet - which will require a little bit of detention.

So courts are sensitive to that and allow the police to detain someone - even though any detention is a "seizure" within the scope of the Fourth Amendment as a part of executing a search warrant. The Supreme Court said that's ok in Michigan v. Summers.

Though, Mr. Bailey's case, the limits of a detention incident to the execution of a warrant grew way beyond what the rule had allowed in the past - following a guy away from his house, stopping him a mile away, and bringing him back just so he could be "incident" to his place being searched.

Nonetheless,

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Bailey's detention was proper and affirmed denial of the suppression motion. It interpreted this Court's decision in Summers to "authoriz[e] law enforcement to detain the occupant of premises subject to a valid search warrant when that person is seen leaving those premises and the detention is effected as soon as reasonably practicable." 652 F. 3d 197, 208 (2011).

Happily for Mr. Bailey, we have a Supreme Court.

The Court, in United States v. Bailey, held that Mr. Bailey was not detained as a part of a search that was happening a mile away from a place he was trying to leave.

One opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, said this was because the Fourth Amendment balancing of harms that's necessary to figure out if a seizure is "reasonable" cuts against this kind of search. Another opinion, written by Justice Scalia, said this was because Summers announced a bright line rule that just doesn't apply to this case.

But, in the end, Mr. Bailey's detention was not lawful.

February 12, 2013

You Can't Suppress The Body, But You Can Suppress The Fake ID Used To Find The Body

The Supreme Court has said that you can never suppress the body of a person accused of a crime - the person's identity is not able to be kept out of evidence, even if that identity is the result of an unlawful arrest or search.

This is a huge issue in illegal reentry cases. If a person is deported then returns to this crime, that's illegal reentry. If the person is deported after having been convicted of certain kinds of felonies - whoa buddy, that's illegal reentry after having been convicted of an aggravated felony.

In light of the Supreme Court's rule about how you can't suppress the body of the person accused, many people who handle illegal reentry cases find them massively depressing. If you can't suppress the person's identity, even if the knowledge comes from an unlawful search, then you've gutted the Fourth Amendment for people accused of illegal reentry.

Yet, in United States v. De La Cruz, the Tenth Circuit said that a motion to suppress should have been granted when the subject of the motion to suppress was whether a man's identification was taken against his Fourth Amendment rights.

1337574_clean_my_car_3.jpgMr. De La Cruz Was in the Wrong Place

Three ICE agents were staking out Gill's Truck Wash in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were looking for a man who they thought was in the country illegally. The truck wash wasn't open yet.

A car pulled up with tinted windows. A passenger got out. The agents got a one or two second glimpse of the person driving the car.

They decided that the person driving the car may be the guy they're looking for.

They pulled the car over.

The car was not driven by the man they were looking for - instead, it was driven by Enrique De La Cruz.

Mr. De La Cruz was dropping off his brother Armando. In the backseat of the car sat Mr. De La Cruz's wife and his mother in law. They were joined by Armando's wife.

The agents asked Mr. De La Cruz if he was the man they were looking for. They compared the way he looked to the picture they had of the other man. Mr. De La Cruz was not the other man.

The agent, figuring that he had already pulled the guy over, asked Mr. De La Cruz for his identification. Mr. De La Cruz gave them a fake id. They used the fake id to figure out who he is. Turns out he was in the country illegally - after having been previously deported.

The Tenth Circuit

The Tenth Circuit found that this stop and search violated Mr. De La Cruz's rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The interesting part, though, is what they held about whether he's allowed to complain about the stop.

As the Tenth Circuit set it up

In Lopez-Mendoza, a case addressing civil deportation hearings, the Supreme Court noted that "[t]he 'body' or identity of a defendant or respondent in a criminal or civil proceeding is never itself suppressible as a fruit of an unlawful arrest, even if it is conceded that an unlawful arrest, search, or interrogation occurred." Id. at 1039. Lopez-Mendoza, however, does not "exempt[] from the 'fruits' doctrine all evidence that tends to show a defendant's identity." Rather, Lopez-Mendoza's "statement that the 'body' or identity of a defendant are 'never suppressible' applies only to cases in which the defendant challenges the jurisdiction of the court over him or her based upon the unconstitutional arrest, not to cases in which the defendant only challenges the admissibility of the identity-related evidence."

So, Mr. De La Cruz can challenge the admissibility of the fake id at his trial. That fake license was taken in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, so it won't come in at trial.

February 6, 2013

If A Person Ought To Have A Franks Hearing, Then They Ought To Have A Franks Hearing; Pre Franks Is Not Franks Enough

In a criminal case, most lawyers need to figure out what motions to file. A big part of this is to sit down with the government's evidence and try to figure out what parts of the government's case came from something that violated the constitution.

It's frustrating when some part of the evidence came from a search warrant - challenges to search warrants are tricky, because a judge already signed off on the warrant. It's not to say it can't be done, it's just different than challenging, say, if the FBI ran into a client's office and took a bunch of stuff without a warrant.

Sometimes you can challenge a warrant if the affidavit in support of the warrant clearly didn't establish probable cause to think there was going to be evidence where the cops searched.

The trouble with that is that normally the district court judge won't let you examine any witnesses to rule on the issue - if part of the point of filing pretrial motions is to learn more about the government's case and learn more about what their witnesses are going to be like, then this kind of a challenge to a warrant doesn't get you what you want.

file000265247244.jpgAnother thing you can do, though, is challenge the warrant because the cops lied or left something out of the application for the warrant that was really important. This is called a Franks challenge.

As the Seventh Circuit explained in United States v. McMurtrey,

In Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), the Supreme Court held that when a defendant makes a substantial preliminary showing that the police procured a warrant to search his property with deliberate or reckless misrepresentations in the warrant affidavit, and where such statements were necessary to the finding of probable cause, the Fourth Amendment entitles the defendant to an evidentiary hearing to show the warrant was invalid.

So, when is it that a person bringing a Franks challenge has made that preliminary showing? That's the subject of United States v. McMurtrey.

But first, the Seventh Circuit explains what the district court's options are when a Franks challenge to a warrant has been made:

A district court that is in doubt about whether to hold a Franks hearing has discretion to hold a so-called "pre-Franks" hearing to give the defendant an opportunity to supplement or elaborate on the original motion. Though permissible, this procedural improvisation is not without risk, as the sparse case law indicates. In such a pre-Franks hearing, the natural temptation for the court will be to invite and consider a response from the government. However, the court should not give the government an opportunity to present its evidence on the validity of the warrant without converting the hearing into a full evidentiary Franks hearing, including full cross-examination of government witnesses. We emphasize that the option to hold such a limited pre- Franks hearing belongs to the district court, not the defendant. If the defendant's initial Franks motion does not make the required "substantial preliminary showing," the court need not hold a pre-Franks hearing to provide the defendant a further opportunity to do so.

I've never seen a district court order a pre-Franks hearing. Now I kind of want to see one - it looks cool. The government doesn't get to talk, but the defense lawyer does. Awesome. It's like the inverse of a grand jury proceeding.

In Mr. McMurtrey's case, there were two affidavits in support of the warrant. They contradicted each other. So one had to be wrong.

At least one.

So, Mr. McMurtrey made a sufficient showing to get a Franks hearing.

That's not quite what the district court wanted to do though.

As the Seventh Circuit explained it

Rather than hold a full Franks hearing, however, the district court held a truncated pre-Franks hearing. The district court permitted the government to offer additional evidence to explain the discrepancies in the affidavits. That evidence should have required a full Franks hearing, yet the defendant was not permitted full cross-examination on the government's new evidence. The court then relied on the untested government evidence to find that the defendant had failed to make a showing sufficient to obtain a full Franks hearing.

Indeed, the defense lawyer started to cross the cop on his affidavit but was shut down on the grounds that the district court wasn't having a Franks hearing.

Because the court didn't give Mr. McMurtrey his full hearing, the case was remanded and his conviction was vacated.

December 18, 2012

The Eighth Circuit On How To Get Your Stuff Back After The Government Takes It Using A Search Warrant

There's little judicial attention paid to folks who have their stuff taken by the police executing a search warrant - and who want it back later.

Thankfully, just in time for Christmas, the Eighth Circuit breaks out with United States v. Bailey.

1382778_old_brick_cell_phone.jpgNot George Bailey And Perhaps Not A Wonderful Life

In 2003 Mr. Bailey was arrested in Minneapolis on prostitution-related charges. Some of his personal items - a wallet, a cell phone, and $2,000 in cash - were taken pursuant to a search warrant.

He was prosecuted - and convicted - in federal court in Minnesota of transporting someone across state lines for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.

He filed an appeal and lost.

It's hard out there for a pimp.

He still wanted his stuff back.

Mr. Bailey Goes (back) To Court

He filed a motion under Rule 41. As the Eighth Circuit explains,

Rule 41 provides that a person "aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure" or "deprivation of property" may seek the return of the property by filing a motion in the district where the property was seized. Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g). The court must receive evidence on "any factual issue necessary to decide the motion," and if it grants the motion it must order the government to return the property.

The government told the judge that Mr. Bailey's stuff was returned to the Minneapolis police department - the federal government didn't have Mr. Bailey's things any more.

Mr. Bailey appealed, saying that he had a right to a hearing.

The Eighth Circuit agreed and sent the case back. If a man has a right to a hearing, said the Eighth Circuit, then the man ought to get a hearing.

That was not this case.

Mr. Bailey Gets A Hearing

On remand, Mr. Bailey got his hearing - he didn't get one witness, the AUSA who presided over the trial is now a state judge in Minnesota. Mr. Bailey wanted to subpoena her but the district court refused. She sent a letter saying she didn't know anything about where Mr. Bailey's wallet, cash, and cell phone went.

But a number of other folks did testify. They said that Mr. Bailey's things went back to the Minneapolis police department.

The supervisor of the Minneapolis police department said that they searched the Minneapolis police property room and didn't find Mr. Bailey's things.

Mr. Bailey Wants To Be Made Whole

After the testimony ended, the government asked the court to dismiss the proceeding. There was no evidence the government had anything that they could return, so the government argued the motion had to be dismissed.

Mr. Bailey asked that the district court convert his case to a claim for damages. The government lost his stuff, and he wanted to be paid for it.

The district court said no, saying that it had "completed its assigned responsibility by the remand."

One has the sense that the district court was not enthusiastic about this case.

Every Time A Defendant Wins An Appeal An Angel Gets Its Wings

Mr. Bailey appealed.

The Eighth Circuit held that

We have previously considered whether compensatory damages are available under Rule 41 when the government has lost or destroyed a defendant's property. See United States v. Hall, 269 F.3d 940 (8th Cir. 2001). In Hall, the federal government had improperly disposed of a pickup truck and a waterbed which had been seized from the defendant. Id. at 941. Since the property could no longer be returned, the district court granted damages equal to the fair market value of the items. Id. Although such an award was not authorized under Rule 41 itself, "the court should grant the movant . . . an opportunity to assert an alternative claim" under a statute which authorizes money damages against the government. Id. at 943.

So the law in the Eighth Circuit is clear - if the government loses your stuff you get to ask for the fair market value of it.

The district court was, apparently, not familiar with Hall.

The case was remanded to figure out what Mr. Bailey's damages would be.

I assume the next appeal in this case will be over the value of a cell phone purchased in 2003. Stay tuned!

June 13, 2012

The Tenth Circuit Offers A Recent History Of Fake Drug Checkpoints And The Fourth Amendment

No one likes a liar.

Well, almost no one. Chief Judge Kozinski seems to like liars, at least some of the time.

But, generally, lying leaves a bad taste in our societal mouth. This is true even when the police do the lying.

1377780_highway_in_the_sky.jpgDriving Through Rural Kansas

Dennis Neff was driving through rural Kansas on the interstate around noon in late July. He passed signs that warned of a drug checkpoint ahead in Spanish and English. The signs warned that drug dogs were in use.

Instead of continuing to the checkpoint, Mr. Neff pulled off at the next exit onto Spring Creek Road.

Spring Creek Road is "a rural, gravel road speckled with residences but no businesses."

It may go without saying that Mr. Neff was not from around those parts.

The Police Lied

As it happens, there was no drug checkpoint. That would have taken time, resources, and money.

Instead, the police were watching who pulled off onto Spring Creek Road to avoid the drug checkpoint, especially cars that didn't seem to be from the area.

A trooper in a marked police car followed Mr. Neff's car after it turned off onto Spring Creek Road. Mr. Neff passed a driveway, then turned into a second driveway.

As he started to back his car out of the second drive way to turn around, back in the direction of the interstate, he saw the trooper.

The trooper said later that Mr. Neff looked startled to see him.

Mr. Neff tried to drive back toward the interstate, but the trooper ordered him to stop. The trooper approached Mr. Neff's car, pulled him out and gave him a pat down search. He found nothing.

Mr. Neff, pretty close to immediately after the pat down, told the trooper that he was carrying a crack pipe.

In a search of the car a few minutes later, they trooper found seven kilogram-sized bags of cocaine in the car.

The District Court Proceedings

Mr. Neff was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

He filed a motion to suppress, challenging his stop. At the hearing, the trooper explained why he thought he had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Mr. Neff:

The reason I stopped him is they got off the interstate after seeing the drug check lane ahead signs, it was a Shawnee County car went into a rural Wabaunsee County area, pulling into a driveway where I don't think the vehicle belonged, the surprised look that the driver gave me, the short time that they stayed there, the surprised look that he gave me. I thought something is very suspicious about this that I didn't really care for or didn't like. Therefore, I stepped out of the vehicle when he pulled out. That's when I stopped them.

The district court thought that was good enough and denied the motion. Mr. Neff convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

The Appeal to the Tenth Circuit

In United States v. Neff, the Tenth Circuit reversed.

The standard is well-known, but here's how the 10th Circuit explained it,

This case presents the familiar question of what level of proof is required to establish reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. As a general matter, "police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity 'may be afoot,' even if the officer lacks probable cause." United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 30). In reviewing an investigatory stop for reasonable suspicion, we must consider "the 'totality of the circumstances' of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a 'particularized and objective basis' for suspecting legal wrongdoing." United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981)). While certain facts, taken in isolation, may be "quite consistent with innocent travel," these facts may, in the aggregate, add up to reasonable suspicion.

Of course, an actual drug checkpoint is unconstitutional - according to the Supreme Court in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond.

But the "ruse" drug check point is a clever twist - maybe that's ok!

As the Tenth Circuit explained, fake drug checkpoints v.1.0 worked like this:

In the wake of Edmond's rebuke of suspicionless drug checkpoints, some lawenforcement organizations began the practice of setting up ruse drug checkpoints. In what may be understood as the first generation of post-Edmond drug checkpoints, police would set up "drug checkpoint ahead" signs on the highway but then operate a full-scale checkpoint at the next (likely rural) off-ramp. The theory behind this alteration was that the police would have an element of individualized suspicion for every vehicle that took that ramp because there were few "legitimate" reasons for using an exit in an isolated area.

The Eighth Circuit said these are generally not ok - here's how the Tenth Circuit summarized the Eighth Circuit's opinion:

The court recognized that while the modified program differed from the practice in Edmond, the same constitutional problems persisted. While some drivers may have taken the exit to avoid police conduct, that did not "create individualized reasonable suspicion of illegal activity as to every one of them." Id. "Indeed, as the government's evidence indicated, while some drivers may have wanted to avoid being caught for drug trafficking, many more took the exit for wholly innocent reasons--such as wanting to avoid the inconvenience and delay of being stopped or because it was part of their intended route."

Mr. Neff was caught in version 2.0 of the fake drug checkpoint - one has to love the way law enforcement innovates. Version 2.0 is some signs in front of a rural road that no one would want to turn off on (perhaps including those who lived along it).

This turned out not to be ok.

The Tenth Circuit, agreeing with the Eighth Circuit, noted that

a driver's decision to use a rural highway exit after seeing drug checkpoint signs may serve as a valid, and indeed persuasive, factor in an officer's reasonable suspicion analysis. (listing as one valid factor that "the defendants took an exit which was the first exit after a narcotics check lane sign, and an exit that was seldom used"). But standing alone, it is insufficient to justify even a brief investigatory detention of a vehicle.

There wasn't anything else present that tipped things over the edge into reasonable articulable suspicion for the court of appeals. Indeed,

The connection between the checkpoint signs and Neff's decision to use the nearby Spring Creek Road exit was tenuous. There was no testimony that Neff suddenly swerved to make the exit, changed lanes abruptly, or otherwise drove erratically in response to the signs.

As to Mr. Neff's decision to turn around in a driveway:

Neff's decision to turn around in a driveway is plausibly evasive. The government suggests turning around in the driveway was part of Neff's pattern of evasive conduct, but without some evidence Neff was even aware of the trooper's presence, his turning around in the driveway provides minimal support to justify the stop. In contrast, the defendant in Carpenter realized he was being followed, made a U-turn, and pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Similarly, Neff's "startled look" adds little of value to the equation. Exhibiting surprise at the sudden appearance of an officer on a rural road is hardly comparable to . . . "nervous, evasive behavior."

So, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the stop was not permissible.

These facts, when taken together, do not fairly suggest that Neff was attempting to evade police. To be sure, an officer is "entitled to make an assessment of the situation in light of his specialized training and familiarity with the customs of the area's inhabitants." But even considering the totality of the circumstances, Neff's conduct conformed to the patterns of everyday travel.

Because he shouldn't have been stopped in the first place, Mr. Neff's conviction was vacated, and he is free to go.

According to the BOP webpage, he was released from custody on Monday.

May 18, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Holds That If The Police Prevent Your Car From Legally Moving, They Have Seized You

Last year came to be known as the year that the Fourth Amendment rose again in Richmond, Virginia.

The Fourth Circuit held that police conduct violated the Fourth Amendment here, here, here, here, and here.

Last week, the Fourth Circuit did it again.

230777_view_of_richmond.jpgFrederick Jones was driving three of his friends through Richmond Virginia. They were in a car with New York license plates. They were all African-American.

Two police officers spotted them and started to follow their car. Because the area was known as a place where people sell drugs, and because the men were in a car with out of state plates, and because, as one officer put it "the people in the vehicle didn't belong there" they were followed.

In the light of the late afternoon, the police followed the men in a marked police car.

The men pulled onto a one-way private road that ran along an apartment building. They parked their car.

The police car pulled past them on the road and stopped, blocking anyone from driving past. If the men wanted to leave in their car, they would have had to back up the one-way street the wrong way.

The men in the car got out. Mr. Jones stayed with the car by the driver's side door. Everyone else went into the apartment building.

The police got out of their car and walked up to Mr. Jones. They instructed him that they needed to talk to him. They asked him to lift his shirt and to let them pat him down. He did.

They asked for his driver's license. He didn't have one.

They told him he was then under arrest for driving without a license. When they searched him again as a part of the arrest, they found a gun in his pants, and some marijuana. He was charged with possessing a firearm as a drug user. (though, what about this Fourth Circuit case?)

He filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which was denied. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed, in United States v. Jones, finding that he was seized by the officers when they approached him for Fourth Amendment purposes, so that the evidence was obtained illegally.

The court of appeals was moved by the way the officer parked.

We agree that when an officer blocks a defendant's car from leaving the scene, particularly when, as here, the officer has followed the car, the officer demonstrates a greater show of authority than does an officer who just happens to be on the scene and engages a citizen in conversation.

The court of appeals also thought the way the officers approached Mr. Jones also made it plain to him that he couldn't leave. Some times, officers approach and ask permission to talk to a person. That isn't what happened here.

Rather, in speaking to Jones, the officers clearly continued their show of authority. According to [the officer] himself, 'right when' he 'made contact' with Jones, he asked Jones to "lift [his] shirt" to see whether Jones possessed a weapon. Not satisfied with the shirt lift, [the officer] then asked Jones to consent to a pat down search, further implying that the officer suspected that Jones--a person the police had followed onto private property--might be armed. Thus, their immediate verbal exchange with Jones did nothing to lessen a reasonable person's suspicion that he was the target of a criminal investigation, and, in light of the totality of the circumstances, only enhanced it.

For those reasons, the Fourth Circuit concluded that

Thus, the totality of the facts in this case requires us to conclude that the officers detained Jones before they had any justification for doing so. For two police officers in uniform in a marked police patrol car conspicuously followed Jones from a public street onto private property and blocked Jones's car from leaving the scene. The officers then quickly approached Jones by the driver's side of his car -- letting two other vehicle occupants walk away--and nearly immediately asked first that he lift his shirt and then that he consent to a pat down search for weapons. Although the uniformed officers did not draw their holstered weapons or use a threatening tone, these circumstances would suggest to a reasonable person that the officers were not "treating the encounter as 'routine' in nature," but rather that the officers were targeting him because he was engaged in "illegal activity." See Gray, 883 F.2d at 322-23. Any one of these facts on its own might very well be insufficient to transform a consensual encounter into a detention or seizure, but all of these facts viewed together crystallize into a Fourth Amendment violation.

The Confederacy may never rise again, but it's nice to see the Fourth Amendment is coming back in Richmond.

May 3, 2012

The Eighth Circuit Holds That Omaha Police Can't Run Into A Hotel Room Without A Warrant Even When They Just Finished A Very Exciting Chase And Are Proud Of Themselves For Finding The People They Were Looking For

It must be hard for the police to be hot on a chase, then have to slow down to get a warrant.

But, even though the police are excited from being on the trail of a suspected drug mule, the Eighth Circuit held, in United States v. Ramirez, that just because the police are hurrying to get their man, they still have to get a warrant to search his room.

1144233_vacancy.jpgThe Great Omaha Goose Chase

A Greyhound bus traveling across the country stopped in Omaha for a rest break. We don't know how, but the police arrested two men from the bus for having heroin in their shoes. The men flipped quick, and told the police that they were traveling with at least one more man who also had heroin in his shoes.

The police went looking for the third man.

They found some luggage from the bus that no passenger claimed - in one of the bags was a photo ID of a man named Hector Cruz.

The bus driver said he was missing five passengers - the two men who had been arrested and three other men.

The bus company said that the five who were missing all purchased their tickets in cash within a few minutes of each other. And all of them purchased one-way tickets from San Diego to Newark.

The officers set out looking for the other three men.

They called cab companies to see who had picked someone up from the bus station. A cab company led them to a nearby Best Western.

At the Best Western, the police learned that three men - one of whom matched the photo of Hector Cruz - had arrived earlier, but didn't check in. The cops learned the men took a cab to a Comfort Inn.

At the Comfort Inn, the police saw video showing that three men - one of whom matched the photo of Hector Cruz - arrived in a cab, but didn't enter the motel.

Instead, they went to McDonald's. Looking at the video, the police thought the men were walking as though they had heroin in their shoes.

At the McDonald's the police learned that the men asked for a phone book. They called a cab, and took it to an Econo Lodge.

At the Econo Lodge, the desk clerk confirmed that three men checked in and that one of them looked like the man in Hector Cruz's photo ID. They were given room 220.

The Econo Lodge clerk, who I imagine to be a kindly Nebraskan grandmother, embroidering an inspirational saying onto a doily as she talked to the police (perhaps "Everyday is a gift, that's why they call it the present", attributed to Kung Fu Panda 2), gave the police a key card to access room 220.

At Room 220

At Room 220, six police immediately set up to go into the room. It was perhaps two and a half hours since they had been at the bus station. The police established perimeter surveillance. One officer listened at the door and heard nothing.

He inserted the keycard.

It didn't work.

The police officer went to Plan B. He knocked at the door, covered the keyhole, and said (I like to think, in a faux female voice) "housekeeping".

A man came to the door, opened it, saw the police, and tried to close the door.

The police stopped him and forced their way inside.

Once inside, they saw shoes like the ones that the two other men from the bus station were wearing. The kind of shoes that, before, had contained heroin.

The shoes in room 220 also contained heroin.

The Motion To Suppress

One of the men, Ramirez, was arrested. (I assume the others were too, but there's nothing in the opinion about that). His lawyer filed a motion to suppress, because there was no warrant.

The district court in Omaha denied the motion. The court found that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search.

The police generally do not need a warrant if stopping to get a warrant would give the people they're chasing more time to destroy evidence - like heroin - or hurt someone. So, here, the district court said that the police reasonably though that the drugs were likely to be destroyed if they went to get one.

The district court determined that the police could reasonably fear that the men in the room would destroy evidence because:

1) one of the investigators reasonably believed the men were attempting to elude the officers after they witnessed the officers arrest the two men at the bus stop; 2) the men in room 220 had purchased one-way tickets to Newark, New Jersey, with cash, and were not from Omaha; and 3) after the officers announced their presence, Cruz attempted to shut the door to prevent the officers from entering the room.

The Eighth Circuit

The Eighth Circuit disagreed. First it considered the third point that justified exigency - that the man who came to the door would not let the police in - and rejected it.

Basically, a citizen gets to slam the door on the police (as long as you don't hit the police with the door). Just because a person refuses to let the police into his house does not mean that the police can go in without a warrant. There wouldn't be much of a warrant requirement in the constitution if the rule were different.

when the police knock on a door but the occupants choose not to respond or speak, or maybe even choose to open the door and then close it, or when no one does anything incriminating, the officers must bear the consequences of the method of investigation they've chosen. At that point, if their method fails, "the investigation will have reached a conspicuously low point,' and the occupants 'will have the kind of warning that even the most elaborate security system cannot provide." . . . Accordingly, crediting these officers with conducting a run-of-the-mill attempt to simply knock and gain entry, [the man who opened the door] was under no obligation to allow the officers to enter the premises at that point and was likewise within his bounds in his attempt to close the door. That he did so, without more, does not bolster the claim that it was reasonable to conclude that the destruction of evidence was imminent.

As to the first point justifying exigency - the court of appeals found that there was no reason to think the men knew the police were after them. They'd been in the hotel room for half an hour when the cops showed up. If they were going to flush the heroin because the police were chasing, they probably would have already done it.

On the last point, the court of appeals gave it little discussion, but basically no weight. It's probably too obvious to say that it's unlikely that someone would travel to Omaha with heroin just to flush it in a Nebraska toilet.

And, with that, the heroin was suppressed. Good luck in the future, to Mr. Carlos Ramirez.


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March 21, 2012

The Police Cannot Search Your Car To Kill Time While They Wait For Your Aunt To Give You A Ride

I've long thought the punishment for failing to turn off your high beams when you drive past another car at night should be much more draconian. Part of me is encouraged to see that the police of Massillon, Ohio apparently agree.

Excessive Use of High Beams

Two men were driving in Massillon, Ohio after midnight on the Fourth of July. The driver declined to dim his high beams as he drove past a car coming toward him. As it happened, the other car was a police car.

Moose.jpgThe police officer did a U turn to follow the high-beam enthusiast. He didn't pull the car over right away. Instead he just followed them.

As the officer followed the car, he thought he saw the driver and the passenger reach under their seats. The officer said that made him think they were hiding something.

In his experience, looking under the seat of a car when a person has reached under it leads to the discovery of something illegal "95 to 100" percent of the time.

Never the less, the Massillon police officer did not pull the car over. Instead, after a few blocks, the car pulled over and gestured to the officer.

The Scene In the Parking Lot of the Massillon Moose Lodge

In response, the police officer pulled into the parking lot for the Massillon Moose Lodge. The high-beam user followed into the parking lot. The driver jumped out and asked the police officer for directions to Interstate 77.

The officer asked for, and received, the driver's Ohio state ID (he didn't have a license) and told the driver to get back into the car.

As it happened, the driver didn't have a valid license. Neither did the passenger who owned the car. The passenger, Mr. McCraney, was allowed to call his aunt, who said she'd come to pick them up.

When she arrived 25 minutes later, the parking lot was empty.

Massillon's Finest

The officer had, of course, called for backup. Wikipedia says that Massillon is a town of 32,149. When Mr. McCraney called his aunt, four police cars and five officers were gathered in the parking lot of the Massillon Moose Lodge.

It probably would have been a good time to commit a crime anywhere else in Massillon.

Idle hands are the devil's playthings. Rather than stand around waiting for the aunt, the Massillon, Ohio police force decided to pull the two men out of the car.

The men stood at the back of the car, surrounded by three officers. For no clear reason, two other officers decided to search the car.

They found a gun under the passenger seat. Mr. McCraney was prosecuted in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The Search For No Real Reason

Mr. McCraney filed a motion to suppress, saying that the search violated his rights to be free of searches done for no reason other than that the cops had 25 minutes to kill until a guy's aunt shows up.

The district court agreed, and suppressed the evidence. The government, however, appealed.

In United States v. McCraney, the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Search Incident to Arrest

The government argued that, really, these guys were under arrest, even though they hadn't been placed under arrest and the officer let Mr. McCraney call his aunt to pick him up.

The court of appeals held that, even if they were under arrest, searching the inside of a car after the people had been taken out of it is not a search incident to arrest.

A "search incident to arrest" is a search, basically for officer safety, of the body and immediately surrounding area, to make sure a person doesn't grab a weapon and hurt someone.

It used to be that if a person was taken out of a car, the police could search inside the car "incident to arrest" on the theory that anyone could be that guy from the X-men with Gumby arms who could reach back into the car.

In Arizona v. Gant, the Supreme Court severely narrowed this rule - now the search has to be of an area where a person can actually reasonably reach, without consideration of the possibility that the person being arrested has appeared in a Marvel Comic Book.

Reasonable Suspicion Because of the Reaching

The government also argued that there was reasonable suspicion to search the underside of the passenger seat of the car, because the officer saw reaching under there.

The court of appeals looked at all the circumstances - that the folks were trying to get directions, that they were cooperative and otherwise unsuspicious, and concluded that there was not reasonable articulable suspicion to search in the car.

February 10, 2012

If You're Going To Hit A Cop, It's Better To Wait Until After The Cop Finds Your Gun (though it's better still not to hit a cop in the first place)

It's now almost unremarkable that the Fourth Circuit had a defense-friendly published opinion. Yet, on that fact, I will now remark, since the Fourth Circuit recently decided United States v. Gaines.

Driving in Baltimore

Travis Gaines was sitting in the back of a white Crown Victoria, traveling down the streets of Baltimore City. The Crown Vic drove past a police car, with three cops inside.

699486_downtown_baltimore.jpgThe police car followed the Crown Vic. The police turned on their car's lights and pulled over the car.

Mr. Gaines, in the back seat, started shuffling around. The police said they could see him moving in the back of the car.

When the Crown Vic stopped, they pulled Mr. Gaines out of it. One of the officers did a pat down, found a gun, and yelled "gun" to the other officers. Mr. Gaines hit the cop and tried to run away. (for what it's worth, he was convicted of assault in Maryland state court for this)

To Federal District Court We Go

Mr. Gaines was caught, and charged in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

His attorney filed a motion to suppress the gun. He argued that the car was not pulled over for a good reason and that the search of Mr. Gaines, as a result, violated his rights.

The government countered that the Crown Vic was pulled over for a good reason - that there was reasonable articulable suspicion to pull the car over.

Why was the car pulled over?

The police testified at a motions hearing that the Crown Vic was pulled over because there was a crack in the windshield.

One of the police officers, sitting in the back of the police car, testified that when he saw the Crown Vic, he noticed a small crack in the Crown Vic's windshield from the other side of the intersection.

To put this in context, the federal district judge who decided the motion to suppress described the crack as very small and "in the lower right portion of the Crown Victoria's windshield."

The police said that once the first cop saw the crack, they started following the Crown Vic. Through the entire car - including the seats in the car - the other officers said that they, too, saw the crack.

The police testified that they only pulled the car over when they had all three confirmed that they saw the crack.

The district court said, in a word, hogwash. The judge refused to credit this testimony and found that there was simply no credible way to determine that the police would have been able to see that crack in the windshield. In essence, the district court decided that the cops lied. [FN1]

It appears that the police pulled the Crown Vic over, then looked for a reason why they did. Happily, the federal court rejected that approach to law enforcement.

Intervening Acts

The government, presumably wanting to stand behind police tactics even when they are based on a lie, did not stop there.

The government argued that Mr. Gaines' assault and resisting arrest were an intervening act that were an independent basis to find the gun.

Generally, if the police pull you over when they don't have a reason to, and you then give them a reason, you don't get to complain about the first traffic stop.

So, to make this more concrete, assume that you get pulled over for driving the speed limit. Let's say the police just find that suspicious. While they're pulling you over, the passenger in your car starts shooting off fireworks out the window of the car at people walking by. You can no longer complain (successfully) about being pulled over for driving the speed limit, because your passenger gave them a good reason to pull you over.

Here, the government argued basically the same thing happened. The government argued that because Mr. Gaines assaulted the officer, they could arrest him for that and search him for the gun. If that works, then the lie-based windshield-crack search doesn't matter.

The trouble is, Mr. Gaines hit the cop after they found the gun. So, the gun was found not as a result of Mr. Gaines' assault, but only of the bad search.

A Side Note

It's worth noting that this is the second Fourth Circuit opinion that's come out this year where (a) a defendant won; (b) the case involved a Fourth Amendment issue; (c) based on police tactics by Baltimore City Police; and (d) the case was argued for the government by Maryland's United States Attorney, Rod Rosenstein. Here's my commentary on the other opinion.

[FN1] - I wonder how that perjury prosecution is going. Oh, right.

January 3, 2012

The Police Cannot Take A Knife To Your Penis On A City Street


Perhaps January 24, 2009 was a normal day for Joseph Edwards. He woke, tied some crack cocaine around his penis, threatened his ex-girlfriend with a gun, and went out into the Baltimore night.

His ex-girlfriend, however, had complained to the police about his threat. The police began to prepare an arrest warrant and went into the streets to look for Mr. Edwards. Around 11 p.m., the officers found him.

1142077_knife_2.jpgThe police officers asked Mr. Edwards to approach them. He did, calmly. He "looked like he was just walking down the street" according to the officers. He didn't act like a man with a gun - he wasn't fussing with his waistline. He also didn't look like he was involved in drug dealing; the officers didn't see him doing any hand-to-hand transactions before they called out to him.

The officers were worried that Mr. Edwards might be armed though, because of his ex-girlfriend's statement. They put handcuffs on him and patted him down. They seated him on a curb.

The police soon heard that the arrest warrant had been issued. Mr. Edwards was put under arrest, and a police van came to where Mr. Edwards was. Right before being placed in the police van, Mr. Edwards was searched again.

Mr. Edwards, at that point, was on a city sidewalk, illuminated by a streetlight. The police officers loosened Mr. Edwards belt, and pulled his pants and underwear away from his body. The officers shined a flashlight down the back and front of his pants. When they shined the light down the front of his pants - with his underwear pulled back as well - the officers saw the crack cocaine tied to Mr. Edwards penis.

The officer who saw the drugs put on a glove. While another officer held Mr. Edwards' pants and underwear open, and while Mr. Edwards was cuffed from behind, the first officer reached into Mr. Edwards pants with a knife, and cut the drugs off of his penis.

The Fourth Circuit's opinion notes that "[n]othing in the record suggests that Edwards suffered any physical injury as a result of this action."

Mr. Edwards is Charged and Convicted

Mr. Edwards was charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. He challenged this search and seizure as not consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied his motion. Mr. Edwards entered a conditional guilty plea - preserving his right to appeal the motion to suppress the evidence cut off of his penis.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court in United States v. Edwards - the Fifth Fourth Amendment opinion in favor of a person charged with a crime in the year 2011 (see here and here).

Is Looking Down Someone's Pants A Strip Search?

The key legal question in Mr. Edwards's case is whether the search of Mr. Edwards was a strip search, or, as strip searches have been otherwise characterized, as a "sexually invasive search."

The government argued that because the only part visible to the public was Mr. Edwards "dip" or waistband area, this wasn't a strip search. The district court appears to have accepted this argument.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed. It held that a strip search is a search where clothing is moved to permit visible inspection of the naked body - the person doesn't have to be completely naked.

It was also persuaded by the facts of the most recent Supreme Court strip search case, Safford United School District v. Redding. The court of appeals noted that there,

The Court held that a school official's order that a student "remove her clothes down to her underwear, and then 'pull out' her bra and the elastic band on her underpants. . . . in the presence of the two officials who were able to see her necessarily exposed breasts and pelvic area to some degree," constituted a search that could be fairly called a "strip search." Id. at 2641

Can The Police Cut Things Off A Person's Penis On A City Street?

Because the search of Mr. Edwards was a sexually invasive search, its reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment gets a particular kind of scrutiny.

The Fourth Circuit held that this search simply does not survive the heightened scrutiny. The Fourth Circuit notes that the officer,

cut the sandwich baggie off Edwards' penis with a knife while Edwards was restrained in handcuffs, an act that could only cause fear and humiliation.

Moreover, the court of appeals was disturbed by how dangerous taking a knife to the penis of a handcuffed man on a city street is.

When [the officer] discovered the sandwich baggie containing suspected contraband tied to Edwards' penis, [the officer] dropped his flashlight, obtained a knife, and put on gloves, while another officer continued to hold open Edwards' pants and underwear. Without the aid of the flashlight, [the officer] took the knife and cut the sandwich baggie off Edwards' penis. We conclude that [the officer]'s use of a knife in cutting the sandwich baggie off Edwards' penis posed a significant and an unnecessary risk of injury to Edwards, transgressing well-settled standards of reasonableness

The conviction was reversed and the evidence was suppressed.

What Does This Mean For Gender-Based Judging?

I can't help but think of what this case says about gender and identity in judicial nominations. Of course, the Fourth Circuit has to look to Safford Unified School District v. Redding - it's a very recent strip search case. That case involved the strip search of a 13-year old girl.

But something else about Safford and Mr. Edwards's case deserves attention.

Justice Ginsberg, talking about Safford, criticized her colleagues for never having been that age and that sex. She is quoted as having said that "I didn't think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood."

This came up in the midst of Justice Sotomayor's nominations fight, her "wise Latina" remarks, and a national conversation about gender and judging.

Mr. Edwards case is, perhaps, a counterpoint to the concern that if you haven't had the life experience unique to a person affected by a ruling you can't impartially judge the issue. Here, both Judges in the majority in the Fourth Circuit's ruling were female - as was the district judge for that matter. The only male judge to consider the case wrote a dissent.

Or maybe it doesn't require a penis to know that it's not a good idea to put a knife to one on a city street when its owner is handcuffed behind his back.

November 15, 2011

Defendants Win A Fourth Fourth Circuit Fourth Amendment Case In Four Months


The Fourth Circuit continues in its celebration of the Fourth Amendment. In the past few months, the Fourth Circuit has been kind to criminal defendants who have been searched by law enforcement without a warrant.

As the Fourth Circuit itself noted in yesterday's case of United States v Powell,

Earlier this year, in United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2011), we noted "our concern about the inclination of the Government toward using whatever facts are present, no matter how innocent, as indicia of suspicious activity." Twice in the past few months, we reiterated this concern. See United States v. Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480, 482 (4th Cir. 2011); United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498, 512 (4th Cir. 2011). In all three cases, we held that the Government failed to meet its minimal burden of articulating facts sufficient to support a finding of reasonable suspicion.

If three new cases isn't enough to call it a revolution, maybe the fourth case is. (For prior discussion of these cases on this blog see here and here).

A Buick Is Pulled Over

Obie Powell was riding in a Buick - and eating a fish sandwich - in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. The Buick was pulled over. The driver of the Buick did not have a valid driver's license. While the drivers' license of the driver was being checked by one officer, another officer made conversation with Mr. Powell in the Buick. As the court of appeals noted,

The topics of this conversation included their mutual appreciation of fish sandwiches (which Powell was eating) and music (which was audible in the Buick).

fish sandwich.jpgWhen the driver's drivers' license came back as suspended, an officer asked if anyone in the car had a valid drivers' license.* Mr. Powell volunteered his.

Mr. Powell's Drivers' License

When Mr. Powell's license was being run, it was determined that both his license was suspended and that he had some prior criminal history. The police database flagged him as having "caution data" as a result.

As the officer explained in the district court,

"It's just a prior. It doesn't mean that they [sic] up to the same activity, but at which time you still have to take that into consideration, that they may still be armed or may still be conducting the same business." [Moreover] he "had no way of knowing whether that was yesterday's news or 15 years ago news," and "[n]o way of knowing whether that was a conviction or an exoneration."

Mr. Powell Is Frisked

Based on Mr. Powell's "false statement" (the offering of the driver's license that was suspended in response to a request for a valid driver's license) and the caution data, Mr. Powell was taken from the car and frisked.

During the patdown, he became nervous and tried to run. The police then searched his backpack, which was still in the car. In the backpack, they found a gun and some crack.

The District Court Is Unkind To Mr. Powell

Mr. Powell filed a motion to suppress, then, after losing it, went to trial. At trial, as they say, he came in second.

The Fourth Circuit's Decision

The Fourth Circuit found that there was not a sufficient basis for the police to think that Mr. Powell was dangerous to justify their patdown of him. The only two factors they had were his false statement and the deeply ambiguous caution data.

As the court of appeals explained,

Combining these factors and viewing them objectively in light of the other circumstances of this case does not aid the Government's position. We have already detailed the overall context of the traffic stop, which strongly militates against a finding of reasonable suspicion that Powell was armed and dangerous. Given the glaring weakness of the factors articulated by the Government, we are convinced that a reasonably prudent officer in these circumstances would not be warranted in the suspicion that Powell was armed and dangerous on the night of the traffic stop. Accordingly, the patdown was not permissible under the Fourth Amendment, and the district court should have suppressed the evidence that was seized during the traffic stop.

The case, accordingly, was vacated and remanded.

Concluding Thoughts

Three things about this strike out to me.

First, Obie Powell was released from the Bureau of Prisons custody last summer after having completed his sentence. I suppose he's happy to avoid part of his term of supervised release, but it's a pretty visceral case of justice delayed being justice denied.

Perhaps he'll be happy, at least, to be able to tell potential employers that he shouldn't have been in prison during that time?

Second, the Fourth Circuit is really unkind to the government in this case. Check out footnotes 3, 4, and 9 in the opinion. That's the kind of heat you expect this court to send to a defense lawyer.

Finally, the case was argued and briefed by the Federal Defender for Wisconsin. What magnanimity that Wisconsin is willing to export federal criminal defense lawyers to the Fourth Circuit to handle cases!


* Or so found the district court. Mr. Powell argued that this finding was not supported by the evidence - instead the officer asked only for a drivers' license. It matters for the argument - if handing over the drivers license was a false statement (because it was tantamount to saying "this drivers' license is valid") then that can add to the totality of the circumstances as to whether Mr. Powell was dangerous. Because, of course, people with suspended licenses, who willingly offer them up to the police, are known to have weapons on their person.

October 25, 2011

The Sixth Circuit Reverses On A Terry Stop: or, Even Appellate Judges Feel Bad For People Who Are So Scared They're Shaking


We may be seeing a revolution in the way Terry stops are reviewed by the courts of appeals.

The Fourth Circuit, long a bastion of conservative unpublished opinions, has recently published a series of opinions affirming a robust right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from suspicionless Terry stops. (see coverage here, for example).

independence_hall_philadelphia_pa_.jpgNow the Sixth Circuit has joined the action in United States v. Beauchamp.

Mr. Beauchamp

Mr. Beauchamp was walking down the street, minding his own business, at 2:30 a.m. in a neighborhood where the police had received a "ton" of complaints about drug dealing.

A police officer saw him and approached. Mr. Beauchamp walked away without making eye contact. The officer radioed to another officer about Mr. Beauchamp, saying that Mr. Beauchamp looked suspicious. At a hearing later, the officer didn't explain why Mr. Beauchamp looked suspicious.

The second officer saw Mr. Beauchamp. He drove up next to him and parked his car very close to where Mr. Beauchamp was walking. Mr. Beauchamp walked around a wrought iron fence away from the officer.

The officer got out of his car wearing his uniform. He told Mr. Beauchamp to stop. Mr. Beauchamp stopped. He told Mr. Beauchamp to walk back to him. Mr. Beauchamp did.

Mr. Beauchamp was shaking. The officer said that he looked "wide-eyed" and "scared." After some inconclusive questioning, the officer searched him for weapons. He didn't find any. He asked Mr. Beauchamp if he could search him. Mr. Beauchamp, still visibly terrified, said yes.

Eighteen rocks of crack cocaine were found in a plastic bag in between Mr. Beauchamp's "butt cheeks."

Mr. Beauchamp Goes To Court

Mr. Beauchamp was charged with possession with intent to distribute. He filed a motion to suppress the search. The motion was denied. He entered a conditional guilty plea - it allowed him to appeal his suppression issue and otherwise plead guilty - and the Sixth Circuit reversed.

When Is Mr. Beauchamp Seized?

The appeals court held that Mr. Beauchamp was seized the minute the officer told him to stop. It held,

A reasonable person in Beauchamp's position would not have felt free to leave when, after walking away from the police two times, an officer targeted Beauchamp by driving up to him, instructed him to stop, and then instructed him to turn around and walk toward the officer.

The court noted that,

Just as officers are afforded the benefit of information or directions received from other officers when we consider whether the detaining officer had reasonable suspicion, an individual's prior encounters with other officers should be taken into consideration when determining whether an encounter was coercive or consensual.

Was The Seizure Justified?

The court of appeals then determined that the police did not have a reasonable articulable suspicion for stopping Mr. Beauchamp. It held that,

Nothing about the conduct at issue in this case suffices to transform a permissible walk away from a police officer into a suspicious act. Beauchamp also did not make eye contact with the officer. But what if he had and then looked away? His behavior may then have been described as "furtive" or "evasive." The ambiguity of Beauchamp's conduct may be susceptible to many different interpretations, but that does not render it suspicious.

I'm not sure when a few appellate opinions turns into a trend, but it feels like this is coming close.

Judges Talk About Central Park

As a closing note, there's a lovely fight between the dissent and the majority opinion about the facts in the case. The dissent accuses the majority opinion of "appellate factfinding" and includes this burn:

Appellate factfinding is a rare and exotic animal, and often seems out of place too. Its appearance warrants explanation in the manner that, say, a rhinoceros in Central Park does. But there is no explanation for the majority's factfinding here.

Not to be outdone, the majority drops a footnote, and some knowledge of Central Park, back on the dissent:

The dissent mischaracterizes our analysis of whether Beauchamp's compliance with the officer's "asking" actually constituted a consensual exchange, noting: "Appellate factfinding is a rare and exotic animal, and often seems out of place too. Its appearance warrants explanation in the manner that, say, a rhinoceros in Central Park does." Dissent at 20. But there was no appellate factfinding here, only fidelity to the de novo standard of review. And it is noteworthy that our de novo analysis need no more explanation than the appearance of the dissent's rhinoceros in Central Park, since there is a zoo in Central Park and if one went to the Central Park Zoo one could expect to see a rhino. So too, when the court conducts a de novo review, it literally looks at the totality of the circumstances "anew."

Zing!

Though I always wondered why they don't take this kind of exchange out of the majority and dissenting opinions.

September 16, 2011

The Ninth Circuit Rejects A Car Search In Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood

In many ways, riding in a car is so much worse for you than, say, walking or riding a bike. When I drive, I know I'm not exercising; I can almost feel my muscles convert to fat. Driving burns gasoline, which is bad for the environment. Cars clog roads.

Other than the massive convenience and the ability to privately listen to bad radio, cars don't have much to recommend them.

Cars are even worse when you realize that driving a car also diminishes your Fourth Amendment rights. If the police have probable cause to think you have some contraband, they normally need a warrant to go in your house. Not so for your car. Because cars can move, the courts don't require a warrant to search a vehicle - mere probable cause is enough.

If you're arrested on the street, the police can search, "incident to arrest," anything you could reasonably be thought to reach while you're being subdued and arrested. If you're arrested in a car, the police can search, incident to your arrest, anything inside the car.

Perhaps this is one reason so few drug dealers on The Wire drive minivans. Or perhaps the lack of minivans on The Wire has more to do with this video.

In any event, given the law on the Fourth Amendment and vehicle searches, United States v. Rodgers, from the Ninth Circuit, is a breath of fresh air.

Mr. Rodgers was pulled over at 3:30 in the morning on the mean streets of Lakewood, Washington. His registration information showed that his car was one color - his car was, in fact, another. He was in a neighborhood known for crime, specifically juvenile prostitution.

The police officer who pulled him over approached the car. He recognized Mr. Rodgers as someone he'd pulled over before. Many times.

The officer also saw a girl who he estimated was about fifteen years old. He asked Mr. Rodgers why he was driving the girl at 3:30 in the morning. Mr. Rodgers said that he was taking her to an apartment building as a favor.

The officer suspected that Mr. Rodger's transportation involved a different kind of favor. He asked the girl for identification. She didn't have any. He asked her name, she gave him one.

The officer ran the name and found that there was an arrest warrant out for the girl. He pulled Mr. Rodgers and the girl out of the car, separately, for questioning. He asked the girl again for identification. She had no purse, and no identification in her pockets.

The officer then decided to search the car, near where the girl was sitting, for her identification.

He searched her seat and the center console. He found crystal meth.

He arrested Mr. Rodgers, then searched the entire car. He found a handgun and other drugs. Mr. Rodgers was charged in federal court with federal gun and drug charges.

He challenged the search of his car, but the district court denied his motion.

He was convicted at a bench trial, and determined to be an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. ยง 924(e)(1).

The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the search violated Mr. Rodger's rights.

The court of appeals rejected the government's position that the officer could search Mr. Rodger's car for the girl's identification, saying,

[The officer] did not identify any particular facts or observations that led him to believe [the girl] had identification and that it was inside Rodgers' car. Nor can we find any such facts in the record. There is, for example, no indication that [the officer] saw [the girl] trying to hide anything in the car, that [she] was eyeing anything inside the car, that [she] made any furtive movements, or that any papers or objects appearing to be identification were in plain view. Indeed, the only relevant fact [the officer] offered--that he never saw a purse or bag that might have contained [the girl's] identification--cuts against a finding of probable cause to search the car.

Because there was no probable cause, or other lawful reason, to search the car for the girl's identification, the evidence found had to be suppressed. Everything found after that was fruit of the same illegal search.


August 30, 2011

Thinking Of the Police As A Dinner Guest: The Sixth Circuit Declines To Require An Additional Seat At The Table

It was an ordinary Tuesday night. Lannerick Johnson was at home with his ex-wife, Karen. Their kids were home too. Lannerick and Karen had been through hard times before, but he'd partly moved back in - he was sleeping there frequently and had left some things in the room they shared.

Perhaps they were watching Tim Russert moderate a debate between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Edwards on NBC. Karen's mom and grandmother were home too; they all lived in the house, which was owned by Karen's mom.

Then the police came knocking.

The officers didn't have a warrant, they were just doing a "knock and talk." Karen's grandmother opened the door. Karen and Lannerick came into the front room. The police asked if they could search the house, you know, just to be neighborly.

Karen's grandmother said yes. Karen said yes, and voluntarily led the police to some marijuana in her room.* Lannerick said no.

The police had Karen and her grandmother out to the front yard to sign formal consent to search forms. They searched the house, over Lannerick's objection, and - in the room that Lannerick Johnson shared with Karen - found evidence that Mr. Johnson was unduly interested in other people's personal identifying information.

He was charged with possession of false identification documents and aggravated identity theft.

He filed a motion to suppress, because he didn't consent to have the room he was sharing with Karen searched by the police.

The district court determined that he hadn't consented, but that, since it wasn't his house, it didn't matter; he couldn't refuse to let the police search the place. His consent-happy drug-possessing ex-wife's permission was all the police needed.

The Sixth Circuit reversed in United States v. Johnson.

The court of appeals held that the Supreme Court's relatively recent decision in Georgia v. Randolph clarified what happens when two people share a living space and only one consents.

Basically the Supreme Court held that for the cops to search your stuff in a space that you're living in, they need your permission; getting your roommate's permission to search is not enough.

As Justice Souter observed in the opinion for the Court,

it is fair to say that a caller standing at the door of shared premises would have no confidence that one occupant's invitation was a sufficiently good reason to enter when a fellow tenant stood there saying, "stay out." Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions

In kind of a lovely way of viewing things, Justice Souter then determined that this social convention governs the way the police should be viewed - as something akin to a dinner guest:

Since the co-tenant wishing to open the door to a third party has no recognized authority in law or social practice to prevail over a present and objecting co-tenant, his disputed invitation, without more, gives a police officer no better claim to reasonableness in entering than the officer would have in the absence of any consent at all.

Thus, as the court of appeals in Johnson held, if one person staying in a room invites the police in, and another refuses to allow them entry, the police have to find another door to "knock and talk" on.

 

* Seriously, why do people do that?

We fought and won a war to get the right to keep the government from searching our stuff, and Karen's just going to give away her rights like that? Exactly what is she getting in exchange from diming herself out?

So, if you found this page because you're Googling "what super bad thing will happen if I tell the police they can search my house with drugs in it" who have come to your house and asked if they can search it" - my advice is that you should not let the police search your house for no reason, especially if you have drugs in your house.

Update: the Fourth Amendment Blog is in on the party. Check out the post here. I like the observation on that page that the district court really strained to avoid applying Randolph.