Category Archives: Fourth Amendment

Excessive Tasing

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In Jones v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that any reasonable officer would have known that continuous, repeated, and simultaneous tasings could only be justified by an immediate or significant risk of serious injury or death to officers or the public. However, such force generally cannot be used on a prone suspect who exhibits no resistance, carries no weapon, is surrounded by sufficient officers to restrain him and is not suspected of a violent crime.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In the early morning of December 11, 2010, Officer Mark Hatten of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department pulled over Anthony Jones for a routine traffic stop. Hatten ordered Jones out of the car so he could pat him down for weapons. Jones obeyed at first but then started to turn toward Hatten. Scared of the much larger Jones, Hatten drew his firearm, pointed it at Jones and ordered him to turn back around. Instead, Jones sprinted away.

Hatten called for backup and pursued Jones. Hatten didn’t believe deadly force was necessary because Jones hadn’t threatened him and didn’t appear to have a weapon.

As he waited for other officers to arrive, Hatten used his taser to subdue Jones. Hatten fired his taser twice, causing Jones’s body to “lock up” and fall to the ground face down with his hands underneath him. Hatten proceeded to kneel on Jones’s back in an attempt to handcuff Jones, keeping his taser pressed to Jones’s thigh and repeatedly pulling the trigger.

Hatten continued to tase Jones even after backup arrived. Backup consisted of four officers: Richard Fonbuena on Hatten’s right side, who helped handcuff Jones; Steven Skenandore, who controlled Jones’s legs and feet; Timothy English at Jones’s head, who applied a taser to Jones’s upper back; and Michael Johnson, who arrived last and ordered the tasing to stop. Johnson wanted his officers to “back off on the tasers so that Jones’s muscles would relax.” According to Johnson, Jones “didn’t look like he was physically resisting” and there were “enough officers” to take Jones into custody.

In all, Jones was subjected to taser shocks for over ninety seconds: Hatten tased Jones essentially nonstop that whole time—with some applications lasting as long as nineteen seconds—and, for ten of those seconds, English simultaneously applied his taser.

Once the officers stopped tasing Jones, his body went limp. They sat him up but Jones was nonresponsive and twitching; his eyes were glazed over and rolled back into his head. The officers tried and failed to resuscitate him. Jones was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. The coroner’s report concluded that “police restraining procedures”—including the tasings—contributed to Jones’s death.

Jones’s parents sued the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and all of the officers involved in restraining Jones. They alleged Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations as well as various state law torts. However, the lower district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. The plaintiff’s appealed.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity when they’re alleged to have caused the death of a suspect by using tasers repeatedly and simultaneously for an extended period.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

As a preliminary matter, the Court of Appeals held that under Fed. R. Civ. P. 17, the lower district court abused its discretion by failing to give plaintiffs a reasonable opportunity to substitute the proper party and thus cure the defective complaint.

Next, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether the officers were reasonable in the degree of force they deployed. They held that the officers’ repeated and simultaneous use of tasers for over ninety seconds was unreasonable and that a jury could reasonably conclude that the officers knew or should have known that these actions created a substantial risk of serious injury or death:

” . . . any reasonable officer would have known that continuous, repeated, and simultaneous tasings could only be justified by an immediate or significant risk of serious injury or death to officers or the public.”

The Court also reasoned that that such force generally cannot be used on a prone suspect who exhibits no resistance, carries no weapon, is surrounded by sufficient officers to restrain him and is not suspected of a violent crime. Furthermore, it reasoned that given that there was clearly established Fourth Amendment law and a jury could reasonably conclude that the officers used excessive force, the question of qualified immunity must proceed to trial.

Furthermore, the Court held that the plaintiff’s state law battery and negligence claims were triable, and should not have been dismissed by the lower district court. It said that while there was no evidence that any of the officers acted out of hostility or improper motive, there was a factual dispute as to whether the repeated and simultaneous tasings were so excessive under the circumstances that they amounted to willful or deliberate disregard of Jones’s rights. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded plaintiffs’ battery and negligence claims.

In a twist, however, The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower district court’s dismissal of the
Fourteenth Amendment claim. It said that even assuming all the facts Plaintiffs alleged, there was no evidence that the officers acted with a purpose of harming Jones that was unconnected to a legitimate law enforcement objective.

In another twist, the Court of Appeals held that the Plaintiffs’ false arrest and false imprisonment claims failed because there was no evidence that the decision to arrest Jones lacked justification, let alone that it was made in bad faith. The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the dismissal of that claim.

My opinion? A well-reasoned, good decision. Although the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of some of the Plaintiffs’ claims due to lack of evidence, the Court was ultimately convinced that the officers’ repeated and simultaneous use of tasers for over ninety seconds was unreasonable. Good decision.

Don’t Search My Tent!

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In State v. Pippin, the WA Court of Appeals held that a person has a constitutional privacy interest in a tent that is unlawfully erected on public property.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Pippin was a homeless man, living in a tent-like structure on public land in Vancouver. As part of an attempt to notify individuals of a new camping ordinance which prohibits camping on public land without permission, police officers approached Pippin’s tent and requested that he come out. Because Pippin did not come out after an uncertain amount of time and because of noises they heard in the tent, the officers felt they were in danger. One officer lifted a flap of Pippin’s tent to look inside. In the tent, the officers observed a bag of methamphetamine. Pippin was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

He moved to suppress the evidence derived from the officer basically lifting the flap and looking into the tent, arguing that it was an unconstitutional search under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. The Court granted his motion and dismissed  the charge.

The State appealed on arguments that (1) the trial court erred in determining that Pippin had a privacy interest in his tent under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, and (2) if Pippin’s tent is entitled to constitutional privacy protection, the trial court erred in concluding that the officers’ act of opening and looking into the tent was not justified as a protective sweep or through exigent circumstances based on officer safety.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeals held that Pippin’s tent and its contents were entitled to constitutional privacy protection under article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution.

The Court reasoned that Article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution mandates that “no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” It then analyzed different cases under the WA Supreme Court. In short, prior opinions have held that the State unreasonably intruded into a person’s private affairs when it obtained long distance telephone toll records through a pen register, examined the contents of a defendant’s trash placed on the curb for pickup, randomly checked hotel registries to determine who were guests at a hotel, attached a global positioning system tracking device to a defendant’s vehicle, and read through text messages on a cell phone.

The Court’s analysis focused on (1) the historical protections afforded to the privacy interest, (2) the nature of information potentially revealed from the intrusion, and (3) the implications of recognizing or not recognizing the asserted privacy interest.

“Pippin’s tent allowed him one of the most fundamental activities which most individuals enjoy in private—sleeping under the comfort of a roof and enclosure. The tent also gave him a modicum of separation and refuge from the eyes of the world: a shred of space to exercise autonomy over the personal. These artifacts of the personal could be the same as with any of us, whether in physical or electronic form: reading material, personal letters, signs of political or religious belief, photographs, sexual material, and hints of hopes, fears, and desire. These speak to one’s most personal and intimate matters.”

The Court further reasoned that the temporary nature of Pippin’s tent does not undermine any privacy interest, nor does the flimsy and vulnerable nature of an improvised structure leave it less worthy of privacy protections. “For the homeless, those may often be the only refuge for the private in the world as it is,” said the Court.

Under the case law above, Pippin’s tent was the sort of closed-off space that typically shelters the intimate and discrete details of personal life protected by article I, section 7.

The court concluded by saying that all three examined factors—the historical protections, the intimate details revealed from a search, and the implications of recognizing the interest—weigh in favor of finding that Pippin’s tent functioned as part of his private affairs worthy of protection from unreasonable intrusions.

“Accordingly, we hold that Pippin’s tent and its contents fell among those “privacy interests which citizens of this state . . . should be entitled to hold, safe from governmental trespass absent a warrant. As such, Pippin’s tent and contents are protected under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution.”

In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court held that because the State failed to show that an arrest was taking place, the protective sweep exception does not apply.

My opinion? Excellent decision. The homeless have rights, too. Just because one lives in a tent without a front door to knock on, doesn’t mean that police can intrude on one’s public affairs. There was no “exigent circumstance” or “officer safety issue” justifying the intrusion. Good opinion.

‘Sanctuary’ Cities Targeted by ICE in Immigration Raids

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Erik Ortiz reported that a federal operation to arrest undocumented immigrants netted nearly 500 people in cities and states that have openly opposed the Trump administration’s deportation initiatives.

According to Ortiz, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said last Thursday that its four-day “Operation Safe City” targeted people in residing in the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” of New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Washington and Baltimore as well as Cook County, Illinois; Santa Clara County in California’s Bay Area; Portland, Oregon; and Massachusetts.

Officials in those places — some referring to themselves as “sanctuary  communities” — have been vocal about not fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities, at times clashing with state leaders who support President Donald Trump’s agenda. Sanctuary communities have passed ordinances limiting compliance with federal immigration laws and seek to shield undocumented immigrants who may be deported simply over their immigration statuses or low-level criminal offenses.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” Tom Homan, ICE’s acting director, said in a statement. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

It is not unusual for ICE to round up immigrants by the hundreds or even low thousands, although the latest raid comes on the heels of a planned operation that would have targeted about 8,400 undocumented immigrants this month.

But the Department of Homeland Security scrapped the operation after the agency said it was halting nationwide enforcement actions in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey. This latest effort indicates the administration is ready to renew its efforts.

“ICE’s goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners to help prevent dangerous criminal aliens from being released back onto the streets,” Homan said.

According to ICE, of the 498 people arrested this week, 317 had criminal convictions. Some were also categorized as “immigration fugitives,” “previously deported criminal aliens,” and/or associated with a gang.

Most of the criminal convictions were for driving under the influence as well as assault- and drug-related offenses, ICE said. Others were arrested for marijuana possession, traffic offenses and even charges of being a “peeping tom.”

City officials declared Portland a sanctuary city in March, and its mayor, Ted Wheeler, has criticized the Trump administration’s push to end the Obama-era program that has allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country.

The administration, meanwhile, has faced setbacks as it seeks to overhaul immigration — an issue that has failed repeatedly to gain traction in Congress. Weeks ago, a U.S. district judge in northern Illinois gave sanctuary cities a temporary victory, saying the Justice Department can’t withhold public safety grants to Chicago because officials there don’t want to impose certain immigration policies.

My opinion? As a criminal defense attorney, my role is to protect people’s Constitutional Rights under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, I have a natural inclination to prevent warrantless, unlawful searches and seizures.

That said, I understand if the government declares a state of emergency holding that exigent circumstances warrants the immediate seizure and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

However, there’s lots of controversy surrounding the subject of ICE raids on Sanctuary Cities. Some civil rights advocates say the raids fit with the Trump administration’s pattern of scapegoating, criminalizing, and demonizing immigrants. Also, courts have said that holding someone without a warrant could violate their constitutional rights, putting jailers at risk of lawsuits. Finally, others have accused Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities as a malignant executive power grab that subverts the Spending Clause and tramples the 10th Amendment.

Let’s see what happens . . .

Random UA’s & Privacy

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In State v. Olsen, the WA Supreme Court held that although random urinalysis tests (UAs) do implicate the privacy interests of a defendant who is on probation (probationer), the testing does not violate the defendant’s Constitutional rights if the UAs purpose was to  monitor compliance with a valid probation condition requiring the defendant to refrain from drug and alcohol consumption.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The facts are undisputed. In June 2014, defendant Brittanie Olsen pleaded guilty in Jefferson County District Court to one count of DUI, a gross misdemeanor offense under RCW 46.61.502. The court imposed a sentence of 364 days of confinement with 334 days suspended. As a condition of her suspended sentence, the court ordered that Olsen not consume alcohol, marijuana, or non prescribed drugs. Over defense objection, the court also required Olsen to submit to “random urine analysis screens … to ensure compliance with conditions regarding the consumption of alcohol and controlled substances.”

Olsen appealed to Jefferson County Superior Court, arguing that the random UAs requirement violated her privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. She contended a warrantless search of a misdemeanant probationer may not be random but instead “must be supported by a well-founded suspicion that the probationer has violated a condition of her sentence.” The court agreed, vacated Olsen’s sentence, and remanded to the district court for resentencing without the requirement that Olsen submit to random urine tests.

The State appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “offenders on probation for DUI convictions do not have a privacy interest in preventing the random collection and testing of their urine when used to ensure compliance with a probation condition prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and/or non prescribed drugs.

ISSUE

The WA Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether random UAs ordered to monitor compliance with a valid probation condition not to consume drugs or alcohol violate a DUI probationer’s privacy interests under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution.

COURT’S CONCLUSIONS & ANALYSIS

The Supreme Court held that the random UAs here were conducted with “authority of law” under article I, section 7 of our state constitution. Furthermore, although random UAs of DUI probationers do implicate privacy interests, the UAs here are narrowly tailored and imposed to monitor compliance with a valid probation conditions.

The Court reasoned that The Washington State Constitution says that no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law. One area of increased protection is the collection and testing of urine.

“Compared to the federal courts, we offer heightened protection for bodily functions,” said the Court. It elaborated that our courts have generally held that for ordinary citizens, suspicionless urinalysis testing constitutes a disturbance of one’s private affairs that, absent authority of law, violates the WA Constitution.

“On the other hand, we have repeatedly upheld blood or urine tests of prisoners, probationers, and parolees of some cases without explicitly conducting an analysis under the WA Constitution,” said the Court. It elaborated that two questions must be answered in cases like this: (1) whether the contested state action disturbed a person’s private affairs and, if so, (2) whether the action was undertaken with authority of law.

a. UAs Implicate a DUI Probationer’s Privacy Interests.

“We have consistently held that the nonconsensual removal of bodily fluids implicates privacy interests,” said the Court. It further stated that UAs implicate privacy interests in two ways. First, the act of providing a urine sample is fundamentally intrusive. This is particularly true where urine samples are collected under observation to ensure compliance. Second, chemical analysis of urine, like that of blood, can reveal a host of private medical facts about a person, including whether he or she is epileptic, pregnant, or diabetic. “These privacy interests are precisely what article I, section 7 is meant to protect.”

However, the Court also said that probationers do not enjoy constitutional privacy protection to the same degree as other citizens.

“Probationers have a reduced expectation of privacy because they are persons whom a court has sentenced to confinement but who are serving their time outside the prison walls,” said the Court.  Therefore, the State may supervise and scrutinize a probationer more closely than it may other citizens. “However, this diminished expectation of privacy is constitutionally permissible only to the extent necessitated by the legitimate demands of the operation of the parole process.”

The Court then addressed the State’s argument that UAs do not implicate Olsen’s privacy interests because probationers lack any privacy interest in their urine.

“We disagree,” said the Court. “Even though misdemeanant probationers have a reduced expectation of privacy, this does not mean that they have no privacy rights at all in their bodily fluids.” After giving a detailed analysis under the precedent of State v. Surge, the Court summarized that, even though probationers do not enjoy the same expectation of
privacy as other citizens, the UAs here still implicate their reduced privacy
interests under the WA Constitution.

b. Random UAs of DUI Probationers Do Not Violate the WA Constitution Because They Are Conducted with Authority of Law.

Next, the Court addressed whether the UA was performed with authority of law. In short, the Court decided that issue in the affirmative. It said the State has a strong interest in supervising DUI probationers in order to promote rehabilitation and protect the public, and elaborated that probation is simply one point (or, more accurately, one set of points) on a continuum of possible punishments.

It elaborated that probation is not a right, but an act of judicial grace or lenience motivated in part by the hope that the offender will become rehabilitated. To that end, a sentencing court has great discretion to impose conditions and restrictions of probation to assure that the probation serves as a period of genuine rehabilitation and that the community is not harmed by the probationer’s being at large.

“As such, the State has a compelling interest in closely monitoring probationers in order to promote their rehabilitation,” said the Court. “As probation officers’ role is rehabilitative rather than punitive in nature, they must, then, have tools at their disposal in order to accurately assess whether rehabilitation is taking place.” Here, in the case of DUI probationers, the Court reasoned that monitoring and supervision ensure that treatment is taking place and serve to protect the public in the case that a probationer fails to comply with court-imposed conditions.

The court further reasoned that random UAs are narrowly tailored to monitor compliance with probation conditions, they are an effective monitoring tool and they are a permissible under these circumstances:

“Unannounced testing is, arguably, crucial if a court is to impose drug testing at all. Random testing seeks to deter the probationer from consuming drugs or alcohol by putting her on notice that drug use can be discovered at any time. It also promotes rehabilitation and accountability by providing the probation officer with a ‘practical mechanism to determine whether rehabilitation is indeed taking place.'”

Finally, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that random UAs, under certain circumstances, are a constitutionally permissible form of close scrutiny of DUI probationers. It found that
the testing here was a narrowly tailored monitoring tool imposed pursuant to a valid prohibition on drug and alcohol use. Random UAs are also directly related to a probationer’s rehabilitation and supervision.

With that, the Court concluded  that the random UAs here were conducted with “authority of law” under article I, section 7 of our state constitution and affirmed the Court of Appeals decision to invoke them.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

117 North 1st Street
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Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Phone: (360) 746-2642
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