Category Archives: United States Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Unlawful a Federal Ban on “Bump Stock” Devices

FILE - Shooting instructor Frankie McRae demonstrates the grip on an AR-15 rifle fitted with a "bump stock" at his 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel, N.C., on Oct. 4, 2017. Gun accessories known as bump stocks hit the market more than a decade ago. The U.S. government initially concluded that the devices that make semi-automatic weapons fire faster didn't violate a federal ban on machine guns. That changed after a gunman with bump stock-equipped rifles killed 60 people and wounded hundreds in Las Vegas in 2017. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

AP Photo/Allen G. Breed

In Garland v. Cargill, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a Trump-era regulation that effectively banned bump stocks. These aftermarket accessories make semiautomatic rifles fire more like machine guns. The devices were used in the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

A majority of the justices reasoned that the definition of machine gun in federal law does not apply to bump stocks. As a result, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives exceeded its authority to regulate them, the court ruled.

“A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Semiautomatic weapons, which fire one bullet per trigger pull, are legal and don’t need to be registered with the federal government. When a bump stock is employed, it uses a semiautomatic’s natural recoil to quickly re-engage the trigger as long as the shooter maintains pressure. That enables an increased rate of fire — one that can nearly match that of a machine gun.

The court’s liberal justices signed onto a dissent penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which panned the majority’s reasoning:

“This is not a hard case. All of the textual evidence points to the same interpretation. A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle is a machinegun because (1) with a single pull of the trigger, a shooter can (2) fire continuous shots without any human input beyond maintaining forward pressure.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


No. Garland v. Cargill narrowly applies only to the ATF’s rulemaking authority and interpretation of federal statutes. Therefore, Washington’s ban on bump stocks shall remain in effect. Also, it is still a Class A felony in WA State to possess a bump-stocked firearm in the commission of a felony. Washington State joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in preserving their bump stock bans.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Supreme Court Unveils Ethics Code For Justices

New Clarence Thomas ethics questions about forgiveness on luxury RV loan | WUSF

Intriguing article by journalists  and  discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court recently announced its first formal code of conduct governing the ethical behavior of its nine justices. This comes as pressure over revelations of undisclosed luxury trips and hobnobbing with wealthy benefactors have plaqued the Court.

The new code drew mixed reviews, with some critics noting the apparent absence of any enforcement mechanism. It was adopted after a series of media reports detailing ethics questions surrounding some Supreme Court members, in particular conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, even as Senate Democrats pursued long-shot legislation to mandate an ethics code for the nation’s top judicial body.

The court has been buffeted for months by revelations of justices accepting undisclosed trips on private jets, luxury vacations, real estate and recreational vehicle deals, and more:

The nine-page code contains sections codifying that justices should not let outside relationships influence their official conduct or judgment. This spells out restrictions on their participation in fundraising and reiterating limits on the accepting of gifts. It also states that justices should not “to any substantial degree” use judicial resources or staff for non-official activities.

A commentary released with the code elaborating on some of its provisions said that justices who are weighing a speaking engagement should “consider whether doing so would create an appearance of impropriety in the minds of reasonable members of the public.”

Unlike other members of the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court’s life-tenured justices had long acted with no binding ethics code. That absence, the court said in a statement accompanying the code, had led some to believe that the justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.”

The ethics drum beat added pressure to a court already facing declining public approval following major rulings in its past two terms powered by its 6-3 conservative majority. The court ended its recognition of a constitutional right to abortion, expanded gun rights and rejected affirmative action collegiate admissions policies often used to increase Black and Hispanic student enrollment.

My opinion? This is a small but significant step in the right direction. However, it does not specify how the rules would be enforced or by whom. The Court has also failed to acknowledge past transgressions. Our take-away? It’s good that they feel some obligation to respond to public criticism and act like they care.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Revives Biden’s Regulation of ‘Ghost Guns’

Editorial: Ready, aim, regulate: The Supreme Court makes the right call on ghost guns, for now | Guest Column |

The Supreme Court temporarily revived the Biden administration’s regulation of “ghost guns” — kits that can be bought online and assembled into untraceable homemade firearms.

The number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement in the US has increased at an alarming rate—rising 398% from 2016 to 2020. Nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered across the country during that five-year period. President Biden’s administration officials said such weapons had soared in popularity in recent years, particularly among criminals barred from buying ordinary guns.


Ghost guns are do-it-yourself, homemade guns, produced with simple building blocks available online. In May 2021, the federal government proposed a rule that would finally clarify that these parts qualify as traditional firearms, and must be sold with serial numbers and background checks. Several states – including Washington State – have also acted, including with requirements that all ghost guns must be reported to officials. The strongest laws also regulate the spread of guns that can be made with 3-D printers.


The court’s brief order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. The order was provisional, leaving the regulation in place while a challenge moves forward in the courts.


The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the court’s three liberal members — Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson — to form a majority.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh noted dissents. Like the justices in the majority, they did not explain their reasoning.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Addresses “True Threats”

Supreme Court: Your Facebook Threats Aren't Necessarily Real Threats

In Counterman v. Colorado, No. 22-138 (June 27, 2023)., the U.S. Supreme Court held that Facebook threats aren’t necessarily real threats. In order to constitute a “true threat,” the prosecution must prove that the defendant had some subjective understanding of the threatening nature of his or her statements.


From 2014 to 2016, the defendant Mr. Counterman sent hundreds of Facebook messages to C. W., a local singer and musician. The two had never met, and C. W. did not respond. In fact, she tried repeatedly to block him, but each time, Counterman created a new Facebook account and resumed contacting C. W. Several of his messages envisaged violent harm befalling her.

Counterman’s messages put C. W. in fear and upended her daily existence. C. W. stopped walking alone, declined social engagements, and canceled some of her performances. C. W. eventually contacted the authorities.

The State charged Mr. Counterman under Colorado’s Stalking Statutue. This crime makes it unlawful to repeatedly make any form of communication with another person” in “a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress and does cause that person to suffer serious emotional distress.”

Mr. Counterman moved to dismiss the charge on First Amendment grounds, arguing that his messages were not “true threats” and therefore could not form the basis of a criminal prosecution. Following Colorado law, the trial court rejected that argument under an objective standard, finding that a reasonable person would consider the messages threatening.

Counterman appealed, arguing that the First Amendment required the State to show not only that his statements were objectively threatening, but also that he was aware of their threatening character. The Colorado Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed his conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court denied review. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to handle the appeal.


Justice Kagan delived the opinion of the majority court. Preliminarily, she began by saying the First Amendment permits restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas. Among these historic and traditional categories of unprotected expression is true threats.

“True threats are serious expressions conveying that a speaker means to commit an act of unlawful violence,” said Justice Kagan. “The existence of a threat depends not on the mental state of the author, but on what the statement conveys to the person on the receiving end.”

Justice Kagan elaborated that the State is required to show the defendant had the mental state to make a true threat. She explained that with regard to defamation, a public figure cannot recover for the injury that someone’sstatement causes unless the speaker acted with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. The same idea arises in the law respecting obscenity and incitement to unlawful conduct.

“And that same reasoning counsels in favor of requiring a subjective element in a true-threats case. A speaker’s fear of mistaking whether a statement is a threat, fear of the legal system getting that judgment wrong, and fear of incurring legal costs all may lead a speaker to swallow words that are in fact not true threats. Insistence on a subjective element in unprotected-speech cases, no doubt, has a cost: Even as it lessens chill of protected speech, it makes prosecution of otherwise proscribable, and often dangerous, communications harder. But a subjective standard is still required for true threats, lest prosecutions chill too much protected, non-threatening expression.” ~Justice Kagain, U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Kagan held that a Reckless Standard is the correct approach in determining the proper mens rea for these cases. A recklessness standard shows that a person “consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct will cause harm to another.”

“Requiring purpose or knowledge would make it harder for States to counter true threats—with diminished returns for protected expression. Using a recklessness standard also fits with this Court’s defamation decisions, which adopted a recklessness rule more than a half-century ago.” ~Justice Kagain, U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Kagan concluded by saying the State of Colorado wrongfully prosecuted Counterman in accordance with an objective standard and not a “reckless standard.” This was a violation of the First Amendment. With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Mr. Counterman’s Stalking conviction.

My opinion? Justice Kagan’s “Recklessness Approach” to stalking cases is certainly creative. And it seems to be upheld by caselaw.  I agree with her reasoning that recklessness strikes the right balance. It offers enough breathing space for protected speech without sacrificing too many of the benefits of enforcing laws against true threats.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Stalking, Harassment or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

DOJ Wants Review of DV Firearms Ruling

Appeals court strikes down domestic violence gun law - Washington Times

The Justice Department has petitioned the United States Supreme Court (USSC) to overturn United States vs. Rahimi. This recent and controversial court decision from the 5th Circuit allows individuals charged with Domestic Violence (DV) crimes to possess firearms. The Justice Department (DOJ) argues that the risk of homicide rises when there’s a gun in a house that has a domestic abuser. As a result, millions of Americans will be victims of intimate-partner abuse.

“And if allowed to stand, it would thwart Congress’s considered judgment that persons who have been found to be a threat to their intimate partners or children should not be permitted to acquire or possess firearms.” ~U.S. Department of Justice

The government filed the petition on an expedited schedule to allow the Supreme Court to determine whether it will take up the case.


In Rahimi, Fifth Circuit ruled that the federal prohibition on gun possession for people subject to DV restraining orders (DVROs) is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. Rahimi pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. That case provided a legal framework for gun laws supporting the tradition and history of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The 5th Circuit found the government failed to show that the statute’s “restriction of the Second Amendment right fits within our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”


The appellate court ruling caught the attention of the Justice Department early on. The government wrote in its petition that the 5th Circuit “overlooked the strong historical evidence supporting the general principle that the government may disarm dangerous individuals. The court instead analyzed each historical statute in isolation.”

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, witnesses said the Supreme Court decision in Bruen has wreaked havoc on the country’s gun control laws. At the committee hearing, Ruth M. Glenn with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence called attention to the 5th Circuit’s U.S. v. Rahimi.

“The lack of historical laws restricting firearms access by domestic abusers is not evidence that such laws are unconstitutional . . . Rather it is a reflection of the legally subordinate status and general disregard for the rights and needs of women in early America.” ~Ruth M. Glenn, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DV, Firearms Offenses or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Gun Rights

Gun Bans and Regulations: From a Second Amendment Advocate – The Wildezine

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for Self-Defense. Their ruling marks a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings. It’s also a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed.


The state of New York passed a law requiring a person to show a special need for self-protection in order to to receive a license to carry a firearm outside their home. Robert Nash and Brandon Koch challenged the law after New York rejected their concealed-carry applications based on failure to show “proper cause.” A federal district court dismissed their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court took the issue up on appeal.


Does New York’s law requiring that applicants for unrestricted concealed-carry licenses demonstrate a special need for self-defense violate the Second Amendment?


Holding: New York’s proper-cause requirement for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and said the following:

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self- defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.” ~Justice Thomas, United States Supreme Court

With that, the Supreme Court reversed the lower federal court’s holding.

The Court’s split was 6-3 with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justice Barrett filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan joined.

In a dissent joined by his liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll from gun violence. He wrote that since the beginning of this year, there have already been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day. He accused his colleagues in the majority of acting “without considering the potentially deadly consequences” of their decision. He said the ruling would “severely” burden states’ efforts to pass laws “that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”

Several other conservative justices who joined Thomas’ majority opinion also wrote separately to add their views.

Justice Samuel Alito criticized Breyer’s dissent, questioning the relevance of his discussion of mass shootings and other gun death statistics. Alito wrote that the court had decided “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun” and nothing “about the kinds of weapons that people may possess.”

“Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves.” The Second Amendment, he said, “guarantees their right to do so.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted the limits of the decision. States can still require people to get a license to carry a gun, Kavanaugh wrote, and condition that license on “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Firearm Offenses or any other crimes. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S Supreme Court Could Soon Expand the Right to Carry Guns.

Supreme Court to Hear Gun Control Case - The New York Times

Journalist Amber Philips reports that the U.S Supreme Court could soon drastically expand the right to carry guns. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen will be the court’s first major Second Amendment case in more than a decade. It takes place amid rising national gun violence and an uptick in gun sales in recent years. In short, what the justices decide could unravel laws across the nation restricting who can carry guns in public.


For 108 years, New York State Law law holds that anyone who wants to carry a gun in public must adhere to specific guidelines. They must apply for a license, be at least 21, have no criminal record, and have “good moral character.” This is the part really being challenged — a demonstrated need to carry the gun beyond average public safety fears. This is known as “proper cause.”

Two men from Upstate New York challenged the state’s law when they applied to carry a gun at all times but received allowances only for hunting or going to and from work. They sued, arguing the strict law violated their Second Amendment rights to “keep and bear arms.”

Even though the law has been on the books for so long, it’s at risk of being knocked down now by a newly cemented conservative Supreme Court majority. And depending on how widely the justices rule, they could knock down other state laws like it.

Supporters of New York’s Law

Mostly liberal states such as California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have similar public carry restrictions, and so do several big cities. Supporters of these laws argue that they’re necessary in high-density areas and that the Constitution allows states to govern themselves. Supporters also argue that such restrictions have been around for centuries. By itself, this shows the value society has placed on public safety over gun rights in public places.

Opponents of New York’s Law

Critics say requiring people to justify why they need to carry a gun in public puts a burden specifically on the Second Amendment’s right to “bear” arms. Challengers to the law told the Supreme Court that a person should not have to show a “special need” to exercise a constitutional right.

According to journalist Amber Philips, this case has mixed up traditional political lines on guns. Several Republican lawyers filed a brief supporting laws like New York’s, arguing that specifically in the District of Columbia, public carry restrictions “may well have prevented a massacre” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Meanwhile, a group of public defenders in New York City argue that the law disproportionately affects the constitutional rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers.

This Case Could Affect Gun Laws Across the Nation

The Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in recently on whether the Second Amendment protects carrying guns outside the home. In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the court said the Second Amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense in the home, and in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, it made clear that state and local gun control measures (and not just federal ones) also must respect that right.

New York City officials fear that the Supreme Court could force the state to allow more people to carry more guns in public places. Gun violence there has doubled in recent years, from their historic lows in the years before the pandemic.

“In a densely populated community like New York, this ruling could have a major impact on us.” ~New York Mayor Eric Adams

Washington’s firearms laws are codified in chapter 9.41 RCW. Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities may also have certain laws and ordinances affecting the use, possession or sale of firearms. You can contact your sheriff’s office or police department through the local city or county government to determine if any local laws have been adopted.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Ketanji Brown Jackson to Serve on the US Supreme Court

Cruz, Cornyn voted against Ketanji Brown Jackson last year for a lower  court | The Texas Tribune

Last week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She won by a 53-47 vote, with the support of 50 Democratic senators and three Republicans.
This is excellent news. Justice Jackson deepens the Court with her vast experience in criminal law. She is a former federal judge and public defender.

Who Is Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Ketanji Brown Jackson, born Ketanji Onyika Brown in 1970, is a former federal judge and public defender nominated by President Joe Biden to become an associate justice on the Supreme Court. She was the first Black woman to be nominated—and confirmed—for a seat on the high court. Jackson grew up in Miami and shared in her high school yearbook her goal to eventually receive a judicial appointment. She obtained both her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard and is married to a fellow Harvard alum.

Supreme Court Nomination

On February 25, 2022, President Biden announced he was nominating Jackson to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. The U.S. Senate voted to confirm her on April 7, 2022.

Once she’s sworn in, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She will also be the first federal public defender to sit on the court and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to represent criminal defendants.

Though Jackson worked for several private law firms, she spent most of her legal career as a public servant. After earning her law degree from Harvard in 1996, she clerked for two federal judges. She held a Supreme Court clerkship for Justice Breyer during the 1999-2000 term.

Jackson took a job with the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2003, the first of her two stints on the commission. From 2005 to 2007, she worked as an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C. Her caseload included representing indigent clients and some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

Jackson returned to private practice before being selected to serve as vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010. She was seen as a consensus builder in shaping federal sentencing policy at a time when federal prisons were over capacity. The commission came to unanimous agreement to lower federal drug sentences and granted this relief retroactively.

Ascension to the Bench

In 2012, Jackson was nominated by President Barack Obama to join the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Senate confirmed her by voice vote in March 2013.

On this court, Jackson’s notable cases included a 2019 ruling that President Donald Trump‘s former White House counsel could not use executive privilege to avoid a congressional subpoena. Her decision noted, “Presidents are not kings.”

Exigent Circumstance DUI

William's Wooden Garage (Essex) |

In Lange v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor DUI suspect does not always qualify as an Exigent Circumstance justifying a warrantless entry into a person’s garage.


One night, the Defendant Mr.  Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music. The officer followed Lange and soon after turned on his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. Rather than stopping, Lange drove a short distance to his driveway and entered his attached garage.

The officer followed Lange into the garage. He questioned Lange and, after observing signs of intoxication, put him through field sobriety tests. A later blood test showed that Lange’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit. The State charged Lange with the misdemeanor of DUI.

Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Superior Court denied Lange’s motion, and its appellate division affirmed. The California Court of Appeal also affirmed. It reasoned that the pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant was always permissible under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The California Supreme Court denied review. The United States Supreme Court (USSC) granted it.


The USSC held that under the Fourth Amendment, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always—that is, categorically—justify a warrantless entry into a home.

The Court began by saying the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that a law enforcement officer obtain a judicial warrant before entering a home without permission. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when the exigencies of the situation, considered in a case-specific way, create a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant. The Court has found that such exigent circumstances may exist when an officer must act to prevent imminent injury, the destruction of evidence, or a suspect’s escape.

The Court reasoned that misdemeanors run the gamut of seriousness, and they may be minor. States tend to apply the misdemeanor label to less violent and less dangerous crimes. Furthermore, it reasoned that when a minor offense (and no flight) is involved, police officers do not usually face the kind of emergency that can justify a warrantless home entry.

“Add a suspect’s flight and the calculus changes—but not enough to justify a categorical rule,” said the Court. It further reasoned that in many cases, flight creates a need for police to act swiftly. But no evidence suggests that every case of misdemeanor flight creates such a need.

“When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting. Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.” ~United States Supreme Court.

The Court followed up by saying In short, the common law did not have — and does not support — a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry when a suspected misdemeanant flees.  With that, the Court vacated Mr. Lange’s criminal conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a DUI or any other crime involving search and seizure issues. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Supreme Court Sides with Police Officer who Improperly Searched License Plate Database

CA police officers keep jobs despite criminal convictions | The Sacramento Bee

In Van Buren v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendant Nathan Van Buren, a Georgia police officer Buren, did not violate the nation’s top computer crime law when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.


Former Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren used his patrol-car computer to access a law enforcement database to retrieve information about a particular license plate number in exchange for money. Van Buren agreed. The requestor – a third party who offered to pay him to search the database – was an undercover FBI informant. Van Buren used his own valid credentials to perform the search. However, his conduct clearly violated a department policy against obtaining database information for non-law-enforcement purposes.

Again, unbeknownst to Van Buren, his actions were part of a FBI sting operation. Van Buren was charged with a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), which subjects to criminal liability anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” 18 U. S. C. §1030(a)(2). A jury convicted Van Buren, and the lower federal District Court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Van Buren appealed his conviction to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the “exceeds authorized access” clause applies only to those who obtain information to which their computer access does not extend, not to those who misuse access that they otherwise have. Consistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent, the panel held that Van Buren had violated the CFAA.

Van Buren appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.


In a 6-3 majority opinion penned by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Court held that Van Buren’s conduct did not violate the CFAA when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.

Justice Barrett wrote that Van Buren’s conduct “plainly flouted” his department’s policy, which authorized him to obtain database information only for law enforcement purposes.
“The parties agree that Van Buren accessed a computer with authorization and obtained information in the computer,” wrote Justice Barrett.  “They dispute whether Van Buren was entitled so to obtain that information.”
Regarding that specific issue, Justice Barrett reasoned the provision of the law at issue does not cover those who have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them.  And regarding the issue of whether Van Buren violated the CFAA  – the truly important legal issue of the case –  Justice Barrett wrote “he did not.”
“The relevant question, however, is not whether Van Buren exceeded his authorized access but whether he exceeded his authorized access as the CFAA defines that phrase. For reasons given elsewhere, he did not.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

“To top it all off,” she wrote, the government’s expansive interpretation of the law “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.” Simply checking personal email or reading the news on a work computer would be considered a crime, Barrett added.

“The Government’s interpretation of the “exceeds authorized access” clause would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity. For instance, employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes. On the Government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer has violated the CFAA.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

Finally, Justice Barrett reasoned that the Government’s prosecution would also inject arbitrariness into the assessment of criminal liability, because whether conduct like Van Buren’s violated the CFAA would depend on how an employer phrased the policy violated.

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Van Buren’s criminal conviction.


In his dissent, Justice Thomas compared Van Buren’s actions to a valet charged with parking a car, writing that the law should have covered the police officers’ actions. The valet, Thomas wrote, may “take possession of a person’s car to park it, but he cannot take it for a joyride,” Thomas wrote. He noted that Van Buren had permission to retrieve license plate information, but only for “law enforcement purposes.”
“When the police officer accessed the database in exchange for a bribe from an acquaintance, he exceeded authorized access under the law . . . Without valid law enforcement purposes, he was forbidden to use the computer to obtain that information.” ~ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas, Dissenting Opinion.
In another example, Thomas said that an employee may be entitled to pull the alarm in the event of a fire, “but he is not entitled to pull it for some other purpose, such as to delay a meeting for which he is unprepared.”
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.


Alexander F. Ransom

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