Category Archives: United States Supreme Court

Suspended License Pullover

What If I Lose My License But Continue to Drive (Driving with a ...

In  Kansas v. Glover, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a police officer’s investigative stop of a vehicle is lawful even when a police officer is unaware of the identity of the driver yet performs the stop after running the vehicle’s license plate and discovering that the registered owner’s driver’s license was revoked.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Kansas police officer on traffic patrol performed a computer DOL check and stopped Defendant’s car for the sole reason that the car’s registered owner had a suspended license. The Defendant turned out to be the registered owner, and was arrested.

The Kansas Supreme Court held that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment. It reasoned that without further suspicion that the current driver was, in fact, the registered owner of the car, a stop solely premised on information that the registered owner had a suspended license violated the Fourth Amendment.

Kansas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, which was granted. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court in its 8-1 decision.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the Fourth Amendment allows police to stop a car when the only reason police have for the stop is that the car’s registered owner has a suspended license.

COURT’S ANALYSIS

The U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that an officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect legal wrongdoing.

“Here, the deputy’s common-sense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely the vehicle’s driver provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop,” said the Court. “That inference is not made unreasonable merely because a vehicle’s driver is not always its registered owner or because Glover had a revoked license.”

The Court further reasoned that empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. Also, the Court reasoned that Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context.

“Moreover, the deputy here did more than that: He combined facts obtained from a database and commonsense judgments to form a reasonable suspicion that a specific individual was potentially engaged in specific criminal activity.” ~Justice Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court

My opinion?  This decision is consistent with existing Washington precedent.  Under State v. McKinney, a vehicle may be stopped based upon DOL records which indicate that the driver’s license of the  registered owner of the vehicle is suspended.  The officer need not affirmatively verify that the driver’s appearance matches that of the registered owner before making the stop, but the Terry stop must end as soon as the  officer determines that the operator of the vehicle cannot be the registered owner.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member experience a questionable traffic stop from police. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Guilty Verdicts Must Be Unanimous

In Louisiana, you can be convicted of a serious crime by a 10-2 ...

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that guilty verdicts for criminal trials to be unanimous.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 48 States and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But two States, Louisiana and Oregon, have long punished people based on 10-to-2 verdicts.

In this case, the defendant Mr. Ramos was convicted of second degree murder in a Louisiana court by a 10-to-2 jury verdict. Instead of the mistrial he would have received almost anywhere else, Ramos was sentenced to life without parole. He appealed his conviction by a nonunanimous jury as an unconstitutional denial of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, which reversed Ramos’s conviction on the basis that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial—as incorporated against the States by way of the Fourteenth Amendment—requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.

First, the Court reasoned that a “trial by an impartial jury” requires that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.

“Juror unanimity emerged as a vital common law right in 14th-century England, appeared in the early American state constitutions, and provided the backdrop against which the Sixth Amendment was drafted and ratified . . . Thus, if the jury trial right requires a unanimous verdict in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” ~Justice Gorsuch, United States Supreme Court

Second, the Court reasoned Louisiana’s and Oregon’s unconventional jury trial schemes had a long history of being viewed as unconstitutional. It stated that jury unanimity was essential to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that a unanimous jury requirement strengthens deliberations, ensures more accurate outcomes, fosters greater consideration of minority viewpoints, and boosts confidence in verdicts and the justice system.

Finally, the Supreme Court overturned its deeply divided decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, which concluded that jury unanimity was required in federal criminal trials but not in state criminal trials. In short, the Court reasoned that modern empirical evidence and subsequent case law have undermined Apodaca’s reasoning and conclusions.

My opinion? The Court’s decision was a major victory for protecting the rights of criminal defendants. The Court recognized that jury unanimity has historically been an essential element of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial trial by jury in criminal cases. Also, the potential impact of Ramos v. Louisiana extends far beyond issues of criminal procedure, as the justices’ spirited debate over when and whether to overturn precedent took center stage and illustrated deep divisions within the Court.

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

Investigative Stop

Police are searching far fewer cars in states that have legalized ...

In Kansas v. Glover, the United States Supreme Court held that a police officer’s investigative traffic stop made after running the vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. 

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Kansas deputy sheriff ran a license plate check on a pickup truck, discovering that the truck belonged to respondent Glover and that Glover’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy pulled the truck over because he assumed that Glover was driving. Glover was in fact driving and was charged with driving as a habitual violator.

He moved to suppress all evidence from the stop, claiming that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion. The District Court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Kansas Supreme Court in turn reversed, holding that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Thomas delivered the majority opinion for the Court.

His ruling states that an officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has a particularized and objective basis to suspect legal wrongdoing. The Court reasoned that the level of suspicion required is less than that necessary for probable cause and depends on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.

“Courts must therefore permit officers to make commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.” ~Justice Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court

“Here, the deputy’s commonsense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely the vehicle’s driver provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop,” reasoned Justice Thomas. Though common sense suffices to justify the officer’s inference, empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. “And Kansas’ license-revocation scheme, which covers drivers who have already demonstrated a disregard for the law or are categorically unfit to drive, reinforces the reasonableness of the inference that an individual with a revoked license will continue to drive,” said Justice Thomas.

The Court said scope of its holding is narrow. “The reasonable suspicion standard takes into account the totality of the circumstances,” said the Court. “The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion, but here, the deputy possessed no information sufficient to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck.”

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

My opinion? The Supreme Court’s decision is not surprising. And in truth, it’s consistent with existing Washington precedent.  In State v. McKinney, and State v. Phillips, the WA Court of Appeals held that a vehicle may be stopped based upon DOL records which indicate that the driver’s license of the  registered owner of the vehicle is suspended.  The officer need not affirmatively verify that the driver’s appearance matches that of the registered owner before making the stop, but the Terry stop must end as soon as the  officer determines that the operator of the vehicle cannot be the registered owner.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with crimes after a questionable search and seizure. Hiring a competent attorney is the first and best step toward gaining justice.

Federal Government Seeks Death Penalty

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Reporter of the New York Times wrote a compelling article stating the federal government will resume executions of death row inmates after a nearly two-decade hiatus, countering a broad national shift away from the death penalty as public support for capital punishment has dwindled.

Attorney General William P. Barr announced that five men convicted of murdering children will be executed in December and January at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and additional executions will be scheduled later. The announcement reversed what had been essentially a moratorium on the federal death penalty since 2003.

Prosecutors still seek the death penalty in some federal cases, including for Dylann S. Roof, the avowed white supremacist who gunned down nine African-American churchgoers in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. Both were convicted and sentenced to death.

President Trump has long supported the death penalty, declaring last year that drug dealers should be executed. By applying it to inmates convicted of murdering children, he may make a more politically powerful argument for it amid diminishing public support.

But public attitudes toward the death penalty have changed in the ensuing decades. Support for it went from nearly 80 percent in 1996 to a two-decade low three years ago, when just under half of Americans polled backed it for people convicted of murder, according to the Pew Research Center. Public backing of capital punishment ticked back up to 54 percent last year, the center found.

Capital punishment fell out of favor as researchers questioned whether it deterred people from committing heinous crimes and as more defense lawyers proved that their clients had been wrongfully convicted. Fewer than two dozen executions have occurred annually in the United States in recent years, down from a high of 98 in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Civil rights advocates have also noted the racial disparity among inmates on death row and argued that capital punishment was disproportionately applied to black men.

“The death penalty is plagued by racial bias and geographic bias,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Junk science has played an outsized role in who gets the death penalty and who does not,” she added, pointing to instances of experts overstating hair or fingerprint evidence in court testimony.

SUPREME COURT WEIGHS IN

Benner reports that the U.S. Supreme Court term that ended last month featured several bitter clashes over whether inmates can challenge the use of the chemicals used in lethal injections on the grounds that they can cause intense pain.

In 2015, the Supreme Court examined whether lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel punishment. The justices upheld the use of lethal injection, but in a dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer urged the Supreme Court to take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the death penalty.

He said there was evidence that innocent people had been executed, that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.

But only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Breyer’s dissent, and there have been no signs that a majority of the justices have qualms about the constitutionality of the death penalty. To the contrary, the court’s five more conservative members have expressed frustration with what they say is litigation gamesmanship used by opponents of capital punishment to put off executions.

More broadly, they have noted that the punishment is contemplated in the Fifth and 14th Amendments, which call for grand juries in federal cases involving “a capital or other infamous crime” and say that no person may be deprived “of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

Flowers v. Mississippi: Supreme Court Finds Race-Based Peremptory Strikes Unlawful

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In Flowers v. Mississippi, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State’s peremptory strikes in the defendant’s first four trials strongly supported the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in the defendant’s sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Curtis Flowers was tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store. Flowers is black. Three of the four victims were white. At the first two trials, the State used its peremptory strikes on all of the qualified black prospective jurors.

In each case, the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death, but the convictions were later reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on prosecutorial misconduct. At the third trial, the State used all of its 15 peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors, and the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed again, this time concluding that the State exercised its peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials. At the fourth, the State exercised 11 peremptory strikes—all against black prospective jurors. No available racial information exists about the prospective jurors in the fifth trial.

At the sixth trial, the State exercised six peremptory strikes—five against black prospective jurors, allowing one black juror to be seated. Flowers again raised a Batson challenge, but the trial court concluded that the State had offered race-neutral reasons for each of the five peremptory strikes. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. Flowers appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan joined. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch dissented.

Kavanaugh began by discussing the history behind the landmark Batson v. Kentucky. In his majority opinion he explained that under Batson, once a prima facie case of discrimination has been shown by a defendant, the State must provide race-neutral reasons for its peremptory strikes. The trial judge then must determine whether the prosecutor’s stated reasons were the actual reasons or instead were a pretext for discrimination.

“Four categories of evidence loom large in assessing the Batson issue here, where the State had a persistent pattern of striking black prospective jurors from Flowers’ first through his sixth trial,” said Justice Kavanaugh.

The Court reasoned that here, a review of the history of the State’s peremptory strikes in Flowers’ first four trials strongly supports the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent:

“The State tried to strike all 36 black prospective jurors over the course of the first four trials. And the state courts themselves concluded that the State had violated Batson on two separate occasions. The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”

The Court also reasoned that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same discriminatory pattern as the first four trials.

“Disparate questioning can be probative of discriminatory intent,” said the Court.  “Here, the State spent far more time questioning the black prospective jurors than the accepted white jurors—145 questions asked of 5 black prospective jurors and 12 questions asked of 11 white seated jurors.”

Consequently, along with the historical evidence from the earlier trials, as well as the State’s striking of five of six black prospective jurors at the sixth trial, the dramatically disparate questioning and investigation of black prospective jurors and white prospective jurors at the sixth trial strongly suggest that the State was motivated in substantial part by a discriminatory intent.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that comparing prospective jurors who were struck and not struck is an important step in determining whether a Batson violation occurred. “Here, Carolyn Wright, a black prospective juror, was struck, the State says, in part because she knew several defense witnesses and had worked at Wal-Mart where Flowers’ father also worked,” said the Court. “But three white prospective jurors also knew many individuals involved in the case, and the State asked them no individual questions about their connections to witnesses. White prospective jurors also had relationships with members of Flowers’ family, but the State did not ask them follow-up questions in order to explore the depth of those relationships.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the State also incorrectly explained that it exercised a peremptory strike against Wright because she had worked with one of Flowers’ sisters and made apparently incorrect statements to justify the strikes of other black prospective jurors. “When considered with other evidence, a series of factually inaccurate explanations for striking black prospective jurors can be another clue showing discriminatory intent,” said the Court. Consequently, the trial court at Flowers’ sixth trial committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. Pp. 26–30.

With that, the Supreme Court reversed Flowers’ conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.

My opinion? Good decision. Although the facts and allegations are terrible for Mr. Flowers, prosecutors simply cannot use exercise race-based peremptory challenges to get justice.

Praying While Arrested

Image result for praying while handcuffed

In Sause v. Bauer, the United States Supreme Court held that a police officer may lawfully prevent a person from praying at a particular time and place, such as when a suspect who is under arrest seeks to delay the trip to the jail by insisting on first engaging in conduct that, at another time, would be protected by the First Amendment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Petitioner Mary Ann Sause filed this civil rights action under U. S. C. §1983, and named the Louisburg, Kansas, police department as the defendant/respondent in the lawsuit.

The centerpiece of Ms. Sause’s complaint was the allegation that two of the town’s police officers visited her apartment in response to a noise complaint, gained admittance to her apartment, and then proceeded to engage in a course of strange and abusive conduct, before citing her for disorderly conduct and interfering with law enforcement.

At one point, Ms. Sause knelt and began to pray. However, one of the officers ordered her to stop. She also claimed that officers refused to investigate her complaint that she was assaulted by residents of her apartment complex, and that officers threatened to issue a citation if she reported this to another police department. In addition, she alleged that the police chief failed to follow up on a promise to investigate the officers’ conduct.

Ms. Sause’s complaint asserted a violation of her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and her Fourth Amendment right to be free of any unreasonable search or seizure. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, arguing that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. The Federal District Court granted the motion to dismiss her lawsuit.

Ms. Sause appealed, however, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court, concluding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

“There can be no doubt that the First Amendment protects the right to pray,” said the Court. “Prayer unquestionably constitutes the “exercise” of religion.” The Supremem Court also reasoned that at the same time, there are clearly circumstances in which a police officer may lawfully prevent a person from praying at a particular time and place. “For example, if an officer places a suspect under arrest and orders the suspect to enter a police vehicle for transportation to jail, the suspect does not have a right to delay that trip by insisting on first engaging in conduct that, at another time, would be protected by the First Amendment.”

Furthermore, the Court also reasoned that when an officer’s order to stop praying is alleged to have occurred during the course of investigative conduct that implicates Fourth Amendment rights, the First and Fourth Amendment issues may be inextricable.

The court ruled that in this case, it was is unclear whether the police officers were in Ms. Sause’s apartment at the time in question based on her consent, whether they had some other ground consistent with the Fourth Amendment for entering and remaining there, or whether their entry or continued presence was unlawful. The Court found that Ms. Sause’s complaint contains no express allegations on these matters. “Nor does her complaint state what, if anything, the officers wanted her to do at the time when she was allegedly told to stop praying. Without knowing the answers to these questions, it is impossible to analyze petitioner’s free exercise claim.”

Despite agreeing with the Government on this issue, the Supreme Court nevertheless reversed the judgment of the Tenth Circuit which dismissed Ms. Sause’s case and remanded her case back to federal court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Cell Site Location Information

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In Carpenter v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that the government generally needs a search warrant to collect troves of location data about the customers of cellphone companies.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In April 2011, police arrested four men suspected of committing a string of armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in and around Detroit. One of the men confessed that the group had robbed nine different stores in Michigan and Ohio between December 2010 and March 2011, supported by a shifting ensemble of 15 other men who served as getaway drivers and lookouts. The robber who confessed to the crimes gave the FBI his own cellphone number and the numbers of other participants; the FBI then reviewed his call records to identify still more numbers that he had called around the time of the robberies.

In May and June 2011, the FBI applied for three federal court orders from magistrate judges to obtain “transactional records” from various wireless carriers for 16 different phone numbers. As part of those applications, the FBI recited that these records included “all subscriber information, toll records and call detail records including listed and unlisted numbers dialed or otherwise transmitted to and from [the] target telephones from December 1, 2010 to present,” as well as “cell site information for the target telephones at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls.”

The FBI also stated that these records would “provide evidence that Timothy Carpenter and other known and unknown individuals” had violated the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951. The magistrates granted the applications pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, under which the government may require the disclosure of certain telecommunications records when “specific and articulable facts show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication, or the records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The government later charged Carpenter with six counts of aiding and abetting robbery that affected interstate commerce, in violation of the Hobbs Act, and aiding and abetting the use or carriage of a firearm during a federal crime of violence. Before trial, Carpenter and Sanders moved to suppress the government’s cell-site evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, arguing that the records could be seized only with a warrant supported by probable cause. The district court denied the motion.

At trial, seven accomplices testified that Carpenter organized most of the robberies and
often supplied the guns. They also testified that Carpenter and his half-brother Sanders had served as lookouts during the robberies. According to these witnesses, Carpenter typically waited in a stolen car across the street from the targeted store. At his signal, the robbers entered the store, brandished their guns, herded customers and employees to the back, and ordered the employees to fill the robbers’ bags with new smartphones. After each robbery, the team met nearby to dispose of the guns and getaway vehicle and to sell the stolen phones.

Also at trial, the Government admitted cell-site location information (CSLI) provided by Carpenter’s wireless carriers. The State’s expert witness created maps showing that Carpenter’s phone was within a half-mile to two miles of the location of each of the robberies around the time the robberies happened. Hess used MetroPCS call-detail records, for example, to show that Carpenter was within that proximity of a Detroit Radio Shack that was robbed around 10:35 a.m. on December 13, 2010. Specifically, MetroPCS records showed that at 10:24 a.m. Carpenter’s phone received a call that lasted about four minutes. At the start and end of the call, Carpenter’s phone drew its signal from MetroPCS tower 173, sectors 1 and 2, located southwest of the store and whose signals point northeast.

After the robbery, Carpenter placed an eight-minute call originating at tower 145, sector 3, located northeast of the store, its signal pointing southwest; when the call ended, Carpenter’s phone was receiving its signal from tower 164, sector 1, alongside Interstate 94, north of the Radio Shack. The expert witness provided similar analysis
concerning the locations of Carpenter’s phone at the time of a December 18, 2010 robbery in Detroit; a March 4, 2011 robbery in Warren, Ohio; and an April 5, 2011 robbery in Detroit. See Carpenter App’x at 12-15.

The jury convicted Carpenter on all of the Hobbs Act counts and convicted him on all but one of the gun counts. Carpenter’s convictions subjected him to four mandatory-minimum prison sentences of 25 years, each to be served consecutively, leaving him with a Sentencing Guidelines range of 1,395 to 1,428 months’ prison. The district court sentenced Carpenter to 1,395 months’ imprisonment. He appealed his convictions and sentences.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

Justice Roberts delivered the majority opinion of the Supreme Court.

Preliminarily, the Court held that the Government’s acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search. It reasoned that Fourth Amendment protects not only property interests but certain expectations of privacy as well.

“Thus, when an individual seeks to preserve something as private, and his expectation of privacy is one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable, official intrusion into that sphere generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause,” said the Court.

“Tracking a person’s past movements through CSLI partakes of many of the qualities of GPS monitoring considered in Jones—it is detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled.”

The Court further reasoned that cell phone location information is not truly “shared” as the term is normally understood. “First, cell phones and the services they provide are such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life, that carrying one is indispensable to participation in modern society,” said the Court. “Second, a cell phone logs a cell-site record by dint of its operation, without any affirmative act on the user’s part beyond powering up.”

Finally, the Court reasoned that the Government did not obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before acquiring Carpenter’s cell-site records. It acquired those records pursuant to a court order under the Stored Communications Act, which required the Government to show reasonable grounds for believing that the records were relevant and material to an ongoing investigation. “That showing falls well short of the probable cause required for a warrant,” said the Court. “Consequently, an order issued under §2703(d) is not a permissible mechanism for accessing historical cell-site records. Not all orders compelling the production of documents will require a showing of probable cause.”

Justice Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas and Alito joined. Justice Gorsuch also filed a dissenting opinion.

It’s imperative to hire competent defense counsel willing to argue motions to suppress information that the Government creatively – and sometimes illegally – obtains. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are arrested for crimes involving searches of cell phones and/or cell phone records.

Search Within Curtilage

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In Collins v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court held that officers may not enter the curtilage of a house without a search warrant in order to remove the tarp from a motorcycle in order to confirm that the motorcycle was stolen.

BACKGROUND FACTS

During the investigation of two traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, Officer David Rhodes learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. Officer Rhodes discovered photographs on Collins’ Facebook profile of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house, drove to the house, and parked on the street. From there, he could see what appeared to be the motorcycle under a white tarp parked in the same location as the motorcycle in the photograph.

Without a search warrant, Office Rhodes walked to the top of the driveway, removed the tarp, confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen by running the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, took a photograph of the uncovered motorcycle, replaced the tarp, and returned to his car to wait for Collins. When Collins returned, Officer Rhodes arrested him.

Collins was indicted by a Virginia grand jury for receiving stolen property. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence that Officer Rhodes had obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the motorcycle on the grounds that Officer Rhodes violated the Fourth Amendment when he trespassed on the house’s curtilage to conduct a search. The trial court denied Collins’ motion to suppress the evidence. Collins was convicted as charged. The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed. The Virginia State Supreme Court also affirmed, holding that the warrantless search was justified under the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Supreme Court held the automobile exception to the warrant requirement does not permit the warrantless entry of a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein.

“This case arises at the intersection of two components of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the curtilage of a home.”

Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court. First, the court discussed the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Basically, under the exception, a vehicle may be searched without a warrant when the evidence or contraband may possibly be removed from the scene due to the mobility of a vehicle and it is not practical to secure a warrant without jeopardizing the potential evidence.  For instance, the automobile exception allows an officer to make a warrantless traffic stop and search a truck of a vehicle when gun parts were observed in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle.

Here, the Supreme Court emphasized that the automobile exception rationales applied only to automobiles and not to houses, and therefore supported their different treatment as a constitutional matter. “When these justifications are present, officers may search an automobile without a warrant so long as they have probable cause,” said the Court.

The court also discussed “curtilage.” In short, curtilage includes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling, and it counts as part of the home for many legal purposes, including searches. “Curtilage—the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home—is considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes,” said the Court. Thus, when an officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to gather evidence, a Fourth Amendment search has occurred and is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant.

Consequently, the court reasoned that the part of the driveway where Collins’ motorcycle was parked and subsequently searched is curtilage:

“When Officer Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside a partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house. Just like the front porch, side garden, or area outside the front window, that enclosure constitutes an area adjacent to the home and to which the activity of home life extends.” Jardines, 569 U. S., at 6, 7.”

The Court also reasoned because the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself, it did not justify Officer Rhodes’ invasion of the curtilage. “Nothing in this Court’s case law suggests that the automobile exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant,” said the Court. “Such an expansion would both undervalue the core Fourth Amendment protection afforded to the home and its curtilage and untether the exception from the justifications underlying it.”

This Court also reasoned that just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view in order to seize it without a warrant, and just as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to arrest a person in his home, so, too, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception. “To allow otherwise would unmoor the exception from its justifications, render hollow the core Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be an exception into a tool with far broader application,” said the Court.

Furthermore, the Court disagreed with Virginia’s proposed bright line rule for an automobile exception that would not permit warrantless entry only of the house itself or another fixed structure, e.g., a garage, inside the curtilage. “This Court has long been clear that curtilage is afforded constitutional protection, and creating a carve-out for certain types of curtilage seems more likely to create confusion than does uniform application of the Court’s doctrine,” said the Court. “Virginia’s rule also rests on a mistaken premise, for the ability to observe inside curtilage from a lawful vantage point is not the same as the right to enter curtilage without a warrant to search for information not otherwise accessible.”

Finally, the Court held that Virginia’s rule automatically would grant constitutional rights to those persons with the financial means to afford residences with garages but deprive those persons without such resources of any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage.

With that, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded Collins’ conviction for receiving stolen property.

Justice Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan and Gorsuch joined the majority opinion.  Justice Thomas also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member’s house is searched by law enforcement officers who don’t have a search warrant. It’s quite possible to suppress evidence based on an unlawful search and get any criminal charges dismissed.

Search of Rental Cars

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In Byrd v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that while a car thief does not have right to privacy in a stolen car no matter the degree of possession and control, the driver of a rental car can challenge a warrantless search of the vehicle even if the driver is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Latasha Reed rented a car in New Jersey while petitioner Terrence Byrd waited outside the rental facility. Her signed agreement warned that permitting an unauthorized driver to drive the car would violate the agreement. Reed listed no additional drivers on the form, but she gave the keys to Byrd upon leaving the building. He stored personal belongings in the rental car’s trunk and then left alone for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Troopers stopped Byrd for a traffic infraction. They learned that the car was rented, that Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver, and that Byrd had prior drug and weapons convictions. Byrd also stated he had a marijuana cigarette in the car.

The troopers proceeded to search the car, discovering body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk. The evidence was turned over to federal authorities, who charged Byrd with distribution and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U. S. C. §841(a)(1) and possession of body armor by a prohibited person in violation of 18 U. S. C. §931(a)(1). The District Court denied Byrd’s motion to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search, and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement, he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

In a unanimous decision favoring Byrd, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The Court added that there can be numerous reasons why a driver unlisted on a rental contract may need to drive the rental car, and that the government had not shown that whether the simple breach of the rental contract would affect the expectation of privacy.

Also, the Court reasoned that one of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others. Also, one who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude. “This general property-based concept guides resolution of the instant case,” said Justice Kennedy:

“The Government’s contention that drivers who are not listed on rental agreements always lack an expectation of privacy in the car rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections. But Byrd’s proposal that a rental car’s sole occupant always has an expectation of privacy based on mere possession and control would, without qualification, include thieves or others who have no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The Court rejected the Government’s arguments that an unauthorized driver has no privacy interest in the vehicle. Byrd, in contrast, was the rental car’s driver and sole occupant. His situation is similar to the defendant in Jones v. United States, who had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his friend’s apartment because he had complete dominion and control over the apartment and could exclude others from it:

“The expectation of privacy that comes from lawful possession and control and the attendant right to exclude should not differ depending on whether a car is rented or owned by someone other than the person currently possessing it, much as it did not seem to matter whether the defendant’s friend in Jones owned or leased the apartment he permitted the defendant to use in his absence.”

The Court also rejected the Government’s argument that Byrd had no basis for claiming an expectation of privacy in the rental car because his driving of that car was so serious a breach of Reed’s rental agreement that the rental company would have voided the contract once he took the wheel. “But the contract says only that the violation may result in coverage, not the agreement, being void and the renter’s being fully responsible for any loss or damage,” said Justice Kennedy. “And the Government fails to explain what bearing this breach of contract, standing alone, has on expectations of privacy in the car.”

Kennedy’s decision concluded that there remained two issues which the Supreme Court remanded back to the lower courts: (1) whether Officer Long had probable cause to search the car in the first place, and (2) whether Byrd intentionally used a third party as a straw man in a calculated plan to mislead the rental company from the very outset, all to aid him in committing a crime.

With that, the Supreme Court vacated Byrd’s conviction and remanded back to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion.

Supreme Court Makes it Harder to Deport Legal Immigrants Who Commit Crimes.

In this Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP, File)

In Sessions v. Dimaya, the United States Supreme Court held that 18 U. S. C. §16(b), which defines “violent felony” for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s removal provisions for non-citizens, was unconstitutionally vague.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Respondent James Dimaya is a lawful permanent resident of the United States with two convictions for first-degree burglary under California law. After his second offense, the Government sought to deport him as an aggravated felon. An Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals held that California’s first-degree burglary is a “crime of violence” under §16(b). While Dimaya’s appeal was pending in the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a similar residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)—defining “violent felony” as any felony that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)—was unconstitutionally “void for vagueness” under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Relying on Johnson v. United States, the Ninth Circuit held that §16(b), as incorporated into the INA, was also unconstitutionally vague.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Kagan delivered the majority opinion of the Court and concluded that §16(b)’s “crime of violence” clause was unconstitutionally vague.

The Court’s opinion began by explaining that The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) virtually guarantees that any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony” after entering the United States will be deported. See 8 U. S. C. §§1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C). An aggravated felony includes “a crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year.

Justice Kagan explained that Section 16’s definition of a crime of violence is divided into two clauses—often referred to as the elements clause, §16(a), and the residual clause, §16(b). The residual clause, the provision at issue here, defines a “crime of violence” as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

To decide whether a person’s conviction falls within the scope of that clause, courts apply the categorical approach. This approach has courts ask not whether the particular facts underlying a conviction created a substantial risk; but whether “the ordinary case” of an offense poses the requisite risk.

Justice Kagan reasoned that ACCA’s residual clause created grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime because it tied the judicial assessment of risk to a speculative hypothesis about the crime’s ordinary case, but provided no guidance on how to figure out what that ordinary case was. Compounding that uncertainty, ACCA’s residual clause layered an imprecise “serious potential risk” standard on top of the requisite “ordinary case” inquiry. “The combination of indeterminacy about how to measure the risk posed by a crime and indeterminacy about how much risk it takes for the crime to qualify as a violent felony resulted in more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates,” said Justice Kagan.

Justice Kagan further reasoned that Section 16(b) suffers from those same two flaws. He explained that similar to the ACCA’s residual clause, §16(b) calls for a court to identify a crime’s ordinary case in order to measure the crime’s risk but offers no reliable way to discern what the ordinary version of any offense looks like. Additionally, its “substantial risk” threshold is no more determinate than ACCA’s “serious potential risk” standard. “Thus, the same two features that conspired to make ACCA’s residual clause unconstitutionally vague also exist in §16(b), with the same result,” said Justice Kagan.

Next, Justice Kagan raised and dismissed numerous arguments from the Government that §16(b) is easier to apply and thus cure the constitutional infirmities. “None, however, relates to the pair of features that Johnson found to produce impermissible vagueness or otherwise makes the statutory inquiry more determinate,” said Justice Kagan.

With that, the majority Court concluded that §16(b)’s “crime of violence” clause was unconstitutionally vague.

The Court was deeply divided. Justice Kagan’s opinion was joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor. Justice Gorsuch filed an opinion concurring in
part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Roberts filed a dissenting
opinion, in which Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined.

Interestingly, it was Justice Gorsuch — a Trump nominee who sided with the four liberal-leaning justices in the ruling — who was the swing vote in this case. Despite his surprise vote, he explicitly left the door open to Congress to act, saying it should be up to lawmakers and not the courts to be explicit about the crimes that deserve automatic deportation for even legal immigrants.

My opinion? This decision is very good for legal immigrants facing crimes which are questionably deportable as crimes of moral turpitude and/or crimes of violence under today’s immigration laws. It’s incredibly difficult to navigate the criminal justice system, and even more so for defendants who are not citizens. Therefore, it’s imperative for legal immigrants charged with crimes to hire competent defense counsel when charged with crimes which may essentially result in deportation. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are legal immigrants facing felonies and/or domestic violence crimes.