Monday, July 2, 2018

Fifth Circuit Case Shows What it Takes to Succeed on a Municipal Liability Failure-to-Train Claim

The Fifth Circuit last week declined to dismiss a case against the Houston School District for failure to train its employees on Fourth Amendment student-search standards. The ruling shows the kind of outrageous constitutional violation, coupled with a complete failure to train employees, that could give rise to an unusual and "fortunately rare" failure-to-train constitutional case against a municipal government. Plaintiffs in these cases face a high hurdle, but this challenge shows the facts and legal arguments that just might be able to jump it.

The case, Littell v. Houston Independent School District, arose when a school assistant principal took twenty-two sixth-grade girls to the school nurse for strip searches in order to find $50 that went missing during a choir class. The searches failed to turn up the cash. Two of the girls' mothers sued the District, arguing that its failure to train its employees on Fourth Amendment search standards violated their constitutional rights. "To be clear, the argument is not that the school district's written search policies are facially unconstitutional or that they caused the alleged constitutional violation by themselves. Rather, the 'official municipal policy' on which Plaintiffs attempt to hang Monell liability is the school district's alleged policy of providing no training whatsoever regarding its employees' legal duties not to conduct unreasonable searches." The district court dismissed the case, but the Fifth Circuit reversed.

The Court applied City of Canton v. Harris, the 1988 case setting the standard for failure-to-train cases against municipalities. As applicable here, the municipal government must have "fail[ed] to train its employees concerning a clear constitutional duty implicated in recurrent situations that a particular employee is certain to face." Here,

the school district . . . allegedly provides "no training whatsoever" as to how to conduct a lawful search. This straightforward factual allegation carries straightforward doctrinal consequences. . . . [W]e must credit Plaintiffs' factual allegations and proceed on the assumption that the school district has made the conscious choice to take no affirmative steps to instruct any of its employees on the constitutional rules governing student searches--even though at least some of those employees are regularly called upon to conduct such searches. In short, this case presents an alleged "complete failure to train" of the kind we have found actionable.

The court warned, however, that "in the thirty years since Canton issued, actual cases reaching those extremes have proved fortunately rare"--and that the plaintiffs still may face this uphill challenge on the merits.

July 2, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Eleventh Circuit Says No Clearly Established Right Against Arrest for Wearing a Mask at a Protest

A divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled today that officers enjoyed qualified immunity against First and Fourth Amendment claims after arresting an Atlanta Ferguson protestor for wearing a "V for Vendetta" mask. The ruling ends the protestor's civil-rights action against the officers.

The case, Gates v. Khokhar, arose when officers arrested Austin Gates for wearing the mask during the Atlanta protest, and failing to take it off when so ordered by police. Officers charged Gates with a violation of Georgia's Anti-Mask statute, which, with certain exceptions not relevant here, makes it a misdemeanor for a person to "wear[] a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer" while he is "upon any public way or public property." Gates sued, arguing that his arrest violated the First and Fourth Amendments.

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity and dismissed Gates's federal constitutional claims. The court said that the Georgia Supreme Court had narrowed the Anti-Mask statute to cases where (1) the mask is worn with the intent to conceal the identity of the wearer and (2) the wearer of the mask "knows or reasonably should know that [his] conduct provokes a reasonable apprehension of intimidation, threats, or violence."

Under this standard, the court said that the officers didn't violate any clearly established First or Fourth Amendment right. In particular, the majority held that under the circumstances the officers could have reasonably believed that Gates wore the mask to cover his entire face and with an intent to intimidate, and that they therefore had "arguable" probable cause for his arrest. (The court reminded us that "arguable" probable cause--the standard for qualified immunity from a Fourth Amendment claim--is a pretty low standard and doesn't require an officer to have specific evidence of intent. In any event, as to intent, the court said that the circumstances of the protest, the fact that officers previously ordered mask-wearers to remove masks on threat of arrest (even if Gates didn't hear this), and the symbolic threat behind the Guy Fawkes mask all suggested that an officer could infer intent to intimidate.)

Judge Williams dissented. She argued that the majority "fail[ed] to adequately address the First-Amendment implications of the conduct and statute at issue here." In particular, she wrote that "the specific right at issue here--whether individuals can be subject to arrest for wearing a mask during a peaceful protest--was "clearly established" at the time of Gates' arrest."

The panel unanimously held that the officers enjoyed absolute immunity against Gates's state-law claims.

March 13, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Court Rebuffs Challenge to New Jersey's Bail Reform Law

Judge Jerome B. Simandle (D.N.J.) today declined to halt New Jersey's bail-reform law. The law provides for alternative, non-monetary pretrial release options in order to give poor defendants (who often can't afford bail) a shot at pretrial release while still serving other criminal justice interests. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the law violated the Eighth Amendment, due process, and the Fourth Amendment.

The preliminary ruling, denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, leaves the law in place, for now. But today's order isn't a final ruling on the merits.

The plaintiffs lawyered-up big time (Paul Clement appeared pro hac), suggesting that this is just the first step in their aggressive challenge to New Jersey's law. One reason for the attention to the case: Taking money out of the bail system also takes away a stream of revenue from corporations like plaintiff Lexington National Insurance Corporation. As more jurisdictions look to non-monetary bail options to avoid keeping poor, nonviolent defendants behind bars pending trial, bail providers stand to lose even more.

The New Jersey bail-reform law sets up a five-stage, hierarchical process for courts to follow in setting bail. It allows for pretrial release of certain defendants with non-monetary conditions, like remaining in the custody of a particular person, reporting to a designated law enforcement agency, home supervision with a monitoring device, and the like. In order to help navigate the process for any particular defendant, the court gets risk-assessment recommendations from a Pretrial Services Program. According to the court, in less than a year under this system, "[t]his reform has shown great success in placing persons into pretrial release who would previously have been held in jail for failure to meet monetary bail and because pretrial monitoring options were largely unavailable. As a result, many fewer defendants are being detained in jail as they await trial."

Using this system, a New Jersey court ordered plaintiff Brittan Holland released, but subject to home confinement (except for work), with an ankle bracelet for monitoring, weekly reporting, and no contact with the victim. (Holland was charged with second-degree aggravated assault and agreed to these conditions on his release in exchange for the state withdrawing its application for detention.)

Holland argued that the system deprived him of a right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release, and that as a result his conditions amount to an undue restraint on his liberty. (He said that the conditions "severely restricted [his] liberty, disrupted [his] family life, made [him] concerned about [his] job security, and made [him] feel that [his] life is up in the air.") Plaintiff Lexington, a national underwriter of bail bonds, joined, arguing that the system would cause it to lose money.

The court ruled first that Holland had standing, but that Lexington probably did not. Here's how the court explained Holland's standing:

Holland claims that his injury is not simply the restriction on his liberty, but rather the imposition of that restriction after a hearing that violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He claims that such injury will be sufficiently redressed should the Court order that a hearing respecting those constitutional rights (as he understands them) be held, regardless of the ultimate outcome of such a hearing. Should the Court order such a hearing to be held, the relief then would not be speculative. He claims that he was injured by the holding of a hearing that did not afford him his constitutional rights, including the alleged right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release pending trial, and that ordering a new hearing that does afford him those rights will redress that injury.

As to Lexington, the court said that it failed to establish standing for itself (because it could only assert harms of a third party, someone like Holland), and that it likely failed to establish third-party standing (because criminal defendants don't face any obstacles in bringing their own claims--obviously, in light of Holland's participation in the suit). (The state also argued that Lexington lacked prudential standing, because its injury doesn't fall within the zone of interests of the statute. The court said that the state could raise that argument later, as part of a failure-to-state-a-claim argument.)

Next, the court said that Younger abstention was inappropriate, because "[p]laintiffs, here, do not seek to enjoin the state prosecution against Holland; instead, they challenge the procedure by which the conditions of pre-trial release during that prosecution was decided and seek an injunction ordering a different procedure."

As to the merits, the court held that the plaintiffs were unlikely to success on all claims. The court said that the Eighth Amendment doesn't guarantee monetary bail, and that Holland waived his right to it, anyway. It said that Holland received procedural due process, and that he had no right to monetary bail under substantive due process. And it said that conditions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and, again, that Holland agreed to them, anyway.

September 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 8, 2017

New Hampshire Federal Judge Finds Panhandling Laws Violate First Amendment

 In a lengthy opinion in Petrello v. City of Manchester, United States District Judge Landya McCafferty found the City's efforts to control "panhandling" through its enforcement of a disorderly conduct statute and through an ordinance directed at panhandling both violated the First Amendment.

 Ms. Petrello was arrested under the disorderly conduct statute although her panhandling was "passive" and she was not in the roadway.  Any "disorder" was actually caused by a third party driving a Cadillac who stopped the car to hand something to Petrello, who did not step into the road.

The Cadillac then drove through the intersection, but the light turned red and the Jeep was unable to make it through the intersection. If the Cadillac had not stopped at the green light, then the Jeep would have made it through the intersection while the light was still green and would not have had to wait for the next green light.

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Petites_Mendiantes_(1880)Judge McCafferty found that the Manchester Police Department (MPD) policy was a sufficient basis for  liability. The policy was clearly directed at enforcing the statute against even passive panhandling and under the First Amendment, she stated that the policy was content-neutral, because the discussions of the anti-handling policies were "not in terms of any message the panhandler is conveying, such as requests for donations." Nevertheless, she reasoned  that "in the end," she "need not resolve the question of whether the MPD Policy is content based, because it does not survive scrutiny as a content-neutral regulation."  Applying the doctrine of Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), Judge McCafferty found that while public safety and free flow of traffic are significant government interests, the policy burdens more speech than necessary.  Essential to this conclusion was the fact that the statute was applied to Ms. Petrello who did not step into the street, and that her speech should not be curtailed by third party driving a Cadillac or traffic lights that turned red too quickly. Judge McCafferty issued an injunction and ruled this could proceed to trial on damages.

In its other attempt to curtail panhandling. the City of Manchester passed an ordinance providing:

“No person shall knowingly distribute any item to, receive any item from, or exchange any item with the occupant of any motor vehicle when the vehicle is located in the roadway."

Again, Judge McCafferty found the ordinance content-neutral and again that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. Again, Judge McCaffery found that while the government interests were valid, the Ordinance was not sufficiently tailored to those interests for four main reasons: (1) the Ordinance bans roadside exchanges that do not obstruct traffic or pose safety risks; (2) the Ordinance is geographically overinclusive because it applies citywide; (3) the Ordinance is underinclusive because it penalizes only pedestrians, not motorists; and (4) the City has less speech- restrictive means available to address its concerns. In reaching these conclusions, Judge McCafferty relied in part on the Ninth Circuit en banc decision in Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach (2011) regarding day labor solicitation.

The opinion also addresses Petrello's standing to challenge the ordinance since she was not charged under it, but only the disorderly conduct statute, finding that she satisfied Article III standing although the City argued she had no imminent injury.  The opinion rejects Petrello's Fourth Amendment claim based on her original arrest and an equal protection challenge to the implementation of the statute.

The City could certainly appeal to the First Circuit, but it probably has little chance of success.

[image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Petites Mendiantes (1880) via]

 

 

September 8, 2017 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

District Court Halts Much of Texas's Anti-Sanctuary Cities Law

Judge Orlando Garcia (W.D. Tx.) yesterday issued a preliminary injunction, in City of El Cenizo v. Texas, the case testing the constitutionality of Texas's anti-sanctuary cities law. The ruling temporarily halts key portions of the law; it's a victory for the plaintiffs.

But it's also preliminary--and so goes to the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits, and not the merits themselves--and is sure to be appealed.

In short, the ruling temporarily halts the provisions prohibiting local governments from preventing officers from assisting or cooperating with federal authorities, "endorsing" sanctuary policies, and adopting or enforcing policies that "materially limit" enforcement of immigration laws, and a provision requiring law enforcement agencies to "comply with, honor, and fulfill" any detainer request by ICE. Other provisions of the law remain effective.

Here's a more complete run-down:

Prohibition on Preventing Communication

Section 752.053(b) prohibits local departments and local entities from preventing their employees from obtaining certain information about the immigration status of a detainee, maintaining that information, and sharing it with federal and state authorities. In particular, the provision prohibits local governments from preventing their employees from:

(1) Inquiring into the immigration status of a person under a lawful detention or under arrest.

(2) With respect to information relating to the immigration status, lawful, or unlawful, of any person under a lawful detention or arrest, including information regarding the person's place of birth:

a. Sending the information to or requesting or receiving the information from [USCIS], [ICE], or another relevant federal agency;

b. Maintaining the information; or

c. Exchanging the information with another local entity or campus police department or a federal or state governmental entity.

(3) Assisting or cooperating with a federal immigration officer as reasonable or necessary, including providing enforcement assistance.

(4) Permitting a federal immigration officer to enter and conduct immigration enforcement activities.

The court said that the inquiry provision under (b)(1) and the information-sharing provision under (b)(2) were not preempted under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (but the court emphasized that the inquiry under (b)(1) could take place only during lawful detention or arrest).

But on the other hand, the court held that the enforcement-assistance-provision in (b)(3) was preempted (field and conflict), because federal law provides for "exacting requirements" for state and local officers to perform the functions of immigration officials--requirements that the state cannot circumvent through a law like (b)(3).

Anti-Endorsement Provision

Section 752.053 says that a local entity (including an officer or employee of a division) or campus police department may not "adopt, enforce, or endorse a policy under which the entity or department prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws . . . ." A separate section provides for enforcement, including civil penalties and removal from office upon a violation, which could be shown "with evidence, including evidence of a statement of a public officer."

The court said that this provision violated free speech. The court held that "endorse" was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, and that the provision constituted illegal viewpoint discrimination (because it banned speech on one side of the issue, but not the other).

Prohibitions on Local Pattern or Practice Limiting Enforcement

Other sections of SB 4 prohibit localities from adopting a "pattern or practice" that "materially limit[s]" the enforcement of immigration laws, or that "materially limit[s]" officers from "assisting or cooperating" with a federal immigration officer "as reasonable or necessary . . . ."

The court said that "materially limit" is unconstitutionally vague on its face, even if other portions of the provisions were not, including the enumerated list of specifically prohibited activities in Section 752.053(b), discussed above.

Detainer Requests and Detention

Yet other sections, and some in Section (b), above, require local entities to fulfill all ICE detainer requests, and, as described above, prohibit local governments from preventing officers from inquiring as to detainees' immigration status.

The court said that ICE-detainer provisions violated the Fourth Amendment, because they "mandate[] that local officials effect seizures requested by ICE [without suspicion of a crime] while prohibiting those officials from making an independent, particularized assessment of whether probable cause of a crime exists to support that seizure in every case . . . ."

But as to the prohibition on preventing officers from inquiring into a detainee's immigration status, the court ruled that "it is possible to construe [this] to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment," and therefore that the plaintiffs failed to show that they were likely to succeed on the merits.

August 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Habeas Petition by DACA Recipient Detained by ICE Agents

A habeas petition filed in Ramirez Medina v. US Department of Homeland Security avers constitutional violations of procedural due process and substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment as well as unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

The petition comes amidst reported "raids" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) across the country.  Ramirez, who is a 23 year old non-citizen, had been granted employment authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2014, and it was renewed in 2016.  According to the allegations in the petition, he was not the target of ICE agents, but encountered them when the agents arrested his father.  When the ICE agents asked him if he was "legally here," Mr. Ramirez responded that was, relying on his employment authorization under DACA.  Nevertheless, as the petition alleges

ICE agents then took Mr. Ramirez to a processing center in Seattle, Washington. When he again informed them about his work permit, one of the ICE agents stated: “It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country.” At this point, the ICE agents had Mr. Ramirez’s wallet, which contained his work permit, which clearly identified him as a DACA recipient with a “C-33” code, which reflects a work authorization issued pursuant to DACA. Despite this fact, Mr. Ramirez was questioned further, fingerprinted, booked, and taken to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.

US_Immigration_and_Customs_Enforcement_arrest
image: ICE agent making arrest via

The first count argues that the detention (apparently still continuing) is a violation of procedural due process rights.  Ramirez alleges an interest in his liberty, but also alleges a property interest by virtue of the promises made in the DACA program.  Thus, the Matthews v. Eldridge balancing test should apply, affording Ramirez both notice and hearing, as well as application of the extant policies - - - which provide he should not be detained - - - given his DACA status.  The second count of substantive due process alleges that Ramirez's liberty is a fundamental interest of which he has been wrongly deprived.  And lastly, the Fourth Amendment claim alleges an absence of probable cause for his arrest.

The Western District of Washington Magistrate has set a hearing for the morning of Friday, February 17, with briefs due the previous day.  The Magistrate has ordered the brief of DHS to answer, with an opportunity for Ramirez to respond, to the following questions:

  • a. Is petitioner still detained? What is the basis for his detention, given that he has been granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?
  • b. Has petitioner been placed in removal proceedings? What was the result of ICE’s initial custody determination? Has petitioner requested a bond hearing before an Immigration Judge? When is any bond hearing scheduled to occur?
  • c. Does the Court have the authority to order an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals to consider any challenge to petitioner’s detention status on an expedited basis?
  • d. If petitioner is still detained and removal proceedings have not been initiated against him, what is the basis for ICE’s authority to detain him? What limitations are there, if any, on the Court’s ability to hold a detention hearing for petitioner before the merits of his habeas petition have been decided?

 

 

February 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Complaint and TRO Motion Filed on Behalf of Standing Rock Water Protectors

complaint alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments by North Dakota officials has been filed on behalf of "water protectors" at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest at Standing Rock.  The plaintiffs in Dundon v. Kirchmeier have also filed a motion and memo for a Temporary Restraining Order "enjoining Defendants from curtailing their First and Fourth Amendment rights by using highly dangerous weaponry, including Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM, also known as Kinetic Impact Projectiles or KIP), explosive “blast” grenades, other chemical agent devices, and a water cannon and water hoses in freezing temperatures, to quell protests and prayer ceremonies associated with opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

As to the First Amendment, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have sought to eliminate protected First Amendment activity in a public forum.  Additionally, even if there were an "unlawful assembly" not protected by the First Amendment, the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of excessive force.  Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that the activities of the government officials have become a custom warranting government liability.

800px-Dakota_Access_Pipeline_-Elder_Addressing_Crowd-
Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site,
photo by Shane Balkowitsch, via


The factual claims in the complaint and memo supporting the TRO are troubling; some of the accounts will be familiar from reporting, but the legal documents compare the use of force at Standing Rock to other situations. 

For example, on the water cannon:

The use of water cannons in riot control contexts also can lead to injury or death. Potential health effects include hypothermia and frostbite, particularly if appropriate medical and warming services are not easily accessible. High-pressure water can cause both direct and indirect injuries. Direct injuries may include trauma directly to the body or internal injuries from the force of the water stream. Eye damage resulting in blindness as well as facial bone fractures and serious head injuries have been documented. Ex. V at 59; Anna Feifenbaum, White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses, Open Democracy (Feb. 25, 2014); https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/anna-feigenbaum/white-washingwater-cannon-salesmen-scientific-experts-and-human-rights; https://web.archive.org/web/20070221053037/http://newzimbabwe.com/pages/mdc44.15976.html (fatalities reported in Zimbabwe in 2007, when water cannons were used on peaceful crowd, causing panic); http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=49009 (fatalities reported in Turkey in 2013, when water cannon water was mixed with teargas); https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine-politics/activist-watered-by-police-diedbecause-of-pneumonia-335885.html (fatality reported in Ukraine in 2014, when businessman Bogdan Kalynyak died from pneumonia after being sprayed by water cannon in freezing temperatures). There is no current caselaw on the use of water cannons against protesters in the United States because, along with attack dogs, such use effectively ended in the U.S. in the 1960s amidst national outcry over the use of these tactics on nonviolent civil rights protesters.

More information is available from the Water Protectors Legal Collective  and National Lawyers Guild.

 

November 28, 2016 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, History, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Is New York's Loitering for Prostitution Statute Unconstitutional?

In a nearly 100 page complaint filed in the federal court in D.H. v. City of New York, the plaintiffs argue that New York's Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37[2], is unconstitutional on its face and as applied.  Represented by The Legal Aid Society, the central constitutional claims are that the statute is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.

The intersections and distinctions between vagueness under the Due Process Clause and overbreadth under the First Amendment were elucidated by the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) and the complaint in D.H. might serve as a textbook example of these issues.  Essentially, the complaint alleges that the NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] , does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association.  Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.

In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them.  One central allegation regards attire:

Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise flawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs officers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear.    In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, officers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.

[¶ 54].  The "black pea coat" as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant "wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes."  

The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City's practice of stop and frisk.  Recall that a federal judge found NYC's practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed - - - and thereafter clarified - - - by the Second Circuit, followed by the City's new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals.  One of the complaint's pendent state law claims is a violation of the city's own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor's veto).

Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for "criminal sex" statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or "unnatural" (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic.  And the use of dress or appearance to establish "probable cause" or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.

Lautrec_moulin_rouge,_la_goulue_(poster)_1891

 [image: Moulin Rouge by Toulouse Latrec via]

 

 

October 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Federal Judge Finds "Parents for Megan's Law" a State Actor in Fourth Amendment Challenge

In her opinion in Jones v. County of Suffolk (NY) and Parents For Megan's Law, Judge Joanna Seybert found that the group was a state actor for constitutional purposes and that the complaint stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim. 

The facts as alleged in the complaint illustrate the continuing constitutional issues with civil monitoring of persons convicted of sex offenses.  Jones, convicted in 1992, is a low-risk sex offender subject to numerous requirements under the New York Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA).  New York's Suffolk County (on Long Island), passed an additional act, the Community Protection Act, which Judge Seybert described as including "aggressive sex offender monitoring and verification."  The county act authorized the county law enforcement agency to enter into a contract with the organization Parents for Megan's Law (PFML), a “victim’s advocacy organization that campaigns for increased punitive regulation of people registered for past sex offenses” and “has called for legislative changes that, among other things, would require people convicted of SORA offenses to live far away from population centers.”  The contract requires PML to "use ex-law enforcement personnel" to "engage in proactive monitoring of registered sex offenders."  And "proactive" would be one way to describe the actions of the PFML personnel who came to Jones' home several times, waited for him at the doorstep, asked for his driver's license and kept it for several minutes,  questioned him about his employment, and warned that they would make further unannounced visits to his home and work. 

800px-Houn-21_-_Hound_of_Baskervilles,_page_118
Illustration from Hound of the Baskervilles via

In its motion to dismiss, PFML argued that it was a private entity not subject to constitutional constraints.  Judge Seybert, relying on Second Circuit precedent, held that there was a "close nexus" and a "delegation of a public function," and thus PML was a state actor.  This was not an ordinary contract, but one in which the police department directed the monitoring operations of the PFML.  Important to her analysis, there was a letter from the county police department informing designated  sex offenders that they would be required to provide identification to PML personnel, thus "creating the appearance of joint action" between the state and the organization.

The letter was also important to Judge Seybert's Fourth Amendment analysis.  The judge distinguished the allegations here from Florida v. Jardines (2013), on which both parties relied, regarding the constitutionality of a so-called "knock and talk" by law enforcement:

Defendants assert that because PFML agents’ interactions with Jones can be classified as a “knock and talk,” no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. However, the allegations in the Complaint raise questions about whether a reasonable person in Jones’ position would feel free to terminate his interactions with PFML. The questioning here did not take place in an open field, or a Greyhound bus, but rather within Jones curtilage--an area afforded heightened Fourth Amendment protection. Moreover, in advance of the visits, Jones received a letter from the SCPD instructing him that he would be visited by PFML for the purpose of verifying his address and employment information. Although the letter stated that Jones would be “asked to provide them with personal identification” and “requested to provide employment information,” the letter begins by stating that “registered sex offenders are required to provide this information under [SORA].” Citizens do not often receive letters from the police announcing home visits by third-party groups. At the very least, the letter is ambiguous as to whether compliance was mandatory. Finally, the description of PFML agents’ conduct gives the distinct impression that compliance was not optional. The fact that the agents waited for fifteen minutes on Jones’ porch while he was in the shower, “followed [him] closely” as he walked to retrieve his driver’s license, and told Jones that “they may make subsequent, unannounced appearances at his job,” gives the encounter the appearance of a seizure of Jones’ person, rather than a consensual “knock and talk.”

Judge Seybert did dismiss the complaint's due process claim, which Jones argued were based on a right to familial association that had been injured by the PFML "visits" to his home.  Judge Seybert reasoned that there was no "invasion of a liberty interest" that was "separate and apart" from the Fourth Amendment claim and thus an independent substantive due process claim could not proceed.

While there are other issues before the court - - - including whether a state (or county) can delegate its sex offender monitoring to a private group are also before the court as a matter of state law - - - the constitutional constraints governing the monitoring of designated sex offenders seems to be squarely presented.

February 23, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Magistrate Orders Apple to "Unlock" iPhone of Deceased Shooter

A California Magistrate has issued an "Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search" exactly as requested by the government, with the exception of the word "Proposed" crossed off in Order's title, that requires Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance in obtaining access to data on the subject device."  The subject device is an Apple iPhone seized from a black Lexus; this is the black Lexus that was driven by the so-called "San Bernardino shooters."  The government's motion explains some of the technology involved and argues that the All Writs Act, 28 USC §1651, authorizes the Order.

Iphone_3GS-1The Order specifies that the "reasonable technical assistance" shall accomplish these functions:

  • (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled;
  • (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE; and
  •  (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Apple is resisting the Order.  In an "open letter" to customers, the CEO of Apple has stated:

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Over at ars technica, Dan Goodin argues:

It would be one thing for the court to order Apple to brute force this one device and turn over the data stored on it. It's altogether something else to require that Apple turn over powerful exploit software and claim that whatever digital locks are included can't be undone by a determined adversary. That's why it's no exaggeration for Cook to call Tuesday's order chilling and to warn that its prospects for abuse of such a backdoor are high.

Although the Order is directed at one "subject device," Apple's compliance with the Order would make all our devices subject to government search.

 

February 17, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 26, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Bivens Remedy for Overseas Violations in Criminal Terrorism Investigation

The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled in a fractured opinion that a U.S. citizen secretly detained, transferred involuntarily between countries, and threatened with torture by FBI agents did not have a claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment in federal courts. That's because "special factors" counseled against such a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents.

The ruling means that Plaintiff Meshal's case is dismissed, and leaves him without a remedy. It also makes it yet even more difficult for plaintiffs like Meshal to get their cases heard in federal court. 

The FBI originally detained and held Meshal because of his alleged connections to al Qaeda; it later released him without charges.

The court wrote that Meshal's claim involved a "new context" for Bivens--a strike against him right out of the gate:

Not only does Meshal's claim involve new circumstances--a criminal terrorism investigation conducted abroad--it also involves different legal components--the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections. Such a different context requires us to think anew. To our knowledge, no court has previously extended Bivens to cases involving either the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections or in the national security domain, let alone a case implicating both--another signal that this context is a novel one.

Because the case arose in a "new context," the court looked to special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. And it found two, which, taken together, left Meshal without a Bivens cause of action: (1) the case involves "the military, national security, or intelligence," and (2) the conduct occurred outside the borders of the United States. The court also said that a host of "practical factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, including requiring the court to second guest executive officials operating in foreign justice systems, unknown diplomatic consequences of the suit, and forcing the courts to answer hard questions about the extraterritorial application of the Constitution outside of peacetime.

Judge Kavanaugh wrote separately to especially emphasize the military, counter-terrorism, and foreign context of the suit--the "new context" that triggered the special factors analysis and weighted so heavily against a Bivens claim.

Judge Pillard wrote a lengthy and scathing dissent, dissecting the court's analysis point-by-point. Judge Pillard was particularly concerned about the blind judicial deference to the government's mere invocation, without reasonable explanation, of foreign policy and national security as special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. She summed up the strange and deeply disturbing result:

Had Meshal suffered these injuries in the United States, there is no dispute that he could have sought redress under Bivens. If Meshal's tormentors had been foreign officials, he could have sought a remedy under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Yet the majority holds that because of unspecified national security and foreign policy concerns, a United States citizen who was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and threatened with disappearance by United States law enforcement agents in Africa must be denied any remedy whatsoever.

October 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Court Strikes Warrantless Hotel Registry Searches

The Supreme Court today struck a Los Angeles city ordinance that required hotels to make available their guest records "to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection . . . ." But at the same time the ruling specifically allows the city to require hotel owners to keep and retain a guest registry and says that officers can search it if they only get a warrant (even just an ex parte administrative warrant), or satisfy an established exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

In short, the ruling in Los Angeles v. Patel only requires officers to jump through a hoop--an important hoop, to be sure, but perhaps only a minimally challenging hoop--before reviewing hotel records.

Still, the sharply divided ruling is a clear victory for Fourth Amendment enthusiasts for two reasons. For one, the ruling requires precompliance review of some sort in the ordinary case. This means that in most cases a neutral decisionmaker would review an officer's request to search the records before the search. For another the ruling underscores the fact that challengers can bring a facial case under the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Sotomayor wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the LA ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment on its face. In particular, she said that ordinance authorized an extra-judicial administrative search (with no prior judicial approval and no probable cause requirement), and that kind of search requires the subject to "be afforded an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker." The Court explained why that's important:

Absent an opportunity for precompliance review, the ordinance creates an intolerable risk that searches authorized by it will exceed statutory limits, or be used as a pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests.

Although the Court recognized that it never really defined "precompliance review," the ordinance allowed no review and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment on its face. The Court said that the ordinance has to provide a hotel owner at least an opportunity for precompliance review; but because it didn't, it violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Court emphasized "the narrow  nature of our holding," saying that nothing in today's ruling prevents the city from requiring hotel owners from maintaining a guest registry with certain information, or authorizing the police to access that registry with appropriate Fourth Amendment protections, or under established Fourth Amendment exceptions.

Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Justice Scalia argued that a warrantless hotel records search was not unreasonable in every application (as required for a facial challenge), because hotels are closely regulated and therefore the government has more leeway in conducting warrantless administrative searches under New York v. Burger.

Justice Alito also dissented, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Alito argued that the Court overreached with its facial ruling, that there are (at least) five applications of the ordinance that satisfy the Fourth Amendment, and that the Court's ruling means that LA can never enforce its "116-year-old requirement that hotels make their registers available to police officers."

June 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Second Circuit Gives Detainee Case Against Ashcroft, Mueller the Go-Ahead

The Second Circuit ruled today that a civil rights case by former alien detainees against former AG John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Zigler, and officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center can move forward.

The ruling is not a decision on the merits, but instead says that the bulk of the plaintiffs' case against the officials is not dismissed and can proceed to discovery.

Still, the ruling is significant, to say the least. It means that officials at the highest level of the DOJ will have to answer in court for their actions that led directly to the wrongful detention and mistreatment of aliens who were mistakenly swept up in the 9/11 investigation, even though, as the court said, "they were unquestionably never involved in terrorist activity."

The case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, over thirteen years old, challenges the defendants' moves that resulted in the detention and mistreatment of aliens in the post-9/11 investigation, even though they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or terrorist activities. In particular, the plaintiffs claimed that they were detained between three and eight months, without individualized suspicion and because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, and subjected to various forms of mistreatment.

The plaintiffs alleged that the DOJ defendants took certain actions that resulted in their detention and unlawful treatment, with knowledge that the plaintiffs were wrongfully detained and mistreated. They also alleged that the MDC defendants took official actions that led to their abuse and knew about certain "unofficial abuse."

The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, on qualified immunity grounds, and, for some claims, that Bivens did not extend a cause of action. The district court dismissed all claims against the DOJ defendants and some claims against the MDC defendants.

The Second Circuit (mostly) reversed and allowed the case to move forward. The court said that the plaintiffs adequately pleaded their constitutional claims (and met the Iqbal pleading standard) that the DOJ and MDC defendants acted directly to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Key to the ruling was the plaintiffs' carefully pleaded complaint, which incorporated most of two reports of the DOJ's Office of Inspector General, helping plaintiffs to meet the plausibility test. Also key was the plaintiffs' allegations that the DOJ defendants received regular information on the post-9/11 investigation, including detainees, and that they ordered and implemented certain policies and took certain actions that resulted directly in the plaintiffs' wrongful detention.

Along the way, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had Bivens claims (except for their free exercise claim), even though the DOJ defendants didn't argue Bivens on appeal. The court also ruled that the defendants weren't entitled to qualified immunity, because the law on pretrial detention and mistreatment was clear at the time.

The court concluded:

The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.

Holding individuals in solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day with regular strip searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by al Qaeda violated the detainees' constitutional rights. To use such a broad and general basis for such severe confinement without any further particularization of a reason to suspect an individual's connection to terrorist activities requires certain assumptions about the "targeted group" not offered by Defendants nor supported in the record. It assumes that members of the group were already allied with or would be easily converted to the terrorist cause, until proven otherwise. Why else would no further particularization of a connection to terrorism be required? Perceived membership in the "targeted group" was seemingly enough to justify extended confinement in the most restrictive conditions available.

Judge Reena Raggi dissented.

June 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

DC Circuit Holds No Clearly Established Right Not To Be Tasered

In its opinion in Lash v. Lemke, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the grant of a summary judgment in favor of law enforcement officers in a suit filed by an Occupy D.C. protestor for a violation of Fourth and First Amendment rights.

Judge Griffith, writing for the court, and joined by Chief Judge Garland and Judge Kavanaugh, described the arrest of Ryan Lash at the Occupy DC encampment in January 2012 by United States Park Police Officers Tiffany Reed, Frank Hilscher, and Jennifer Lemke:

Officer Tiffany Reed, who had been following Lash as he hurried through the tents, stepped up behind Lash and seized his arms from the rear. Lash pulled his arms away and held them in front of his body, continuing to walk away as he insisted that he was innocent. Reed again sought to restrain Lash from behind and Lash again pulled his arms away from her. Reed then took hold of Lash’s left arm while Hilsher approached and seized his right arm. Lemke approached at the same time and drew her Taser from its holster, holding it ready.

Though Lash’s arms were now held by two different officers, he continued to struggle to keep his feet while Reed and Hilsher worked for several moments to gain control of him. Lemke, standing nearby and behind the trio, fired her Taser into Lash’s lower back. He fell to the ground, and the officers handcuffed him.

Lash argued that Lemke’s use of the Taser constituted excessive force in violation of Lash’s Fourth Amendment rights and was motivated by retaliatory animus against his protected expression in violation of his First Amendment rights.  The defendant officers raised qualified immunity and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor.

Relying on Ashcroft v. al- Kidd (2011), the DC Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the "claimed right, whether it exists or not, is by no means 'clearly established.'"  In so doing, however, the court acknowledged that this inquiry cannot be abstract, but must occur "in the specific context of the case."  This "context," the court further acknowledged, depended on whether Lash was "resisting arrest." 

This would seemingly make summary judgment - - - requiring no genuine disputes of material fact - - - difficult, but the court interestingly relied on multiple video-recordings of the "episode" which rendered Lash's description a "visible fiction."   

Here is one of the videos of the incident:

 

The court further rejected Lash's arguments regarding the video as conclusive:

Lash argues that we may not rely on the videorecordings in this way because they “cannot fully convey everything that people at the scene felt” such as “how much force one person is exerting” or “the level of detail a person will experience in the moment.” This is no argument at all. The Supreme Court has explained that we determine whether a right is clearly established based on the “objective legal reasonableness of an official’s acts,”  protecting officers from liability unless “it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.”  Subjective factors like those Lash identifies here cannot shed any light on whether a reasonable officer in these circumstances would have believed her actions violated Lash’s clearly established rights. It is that objective test, not Lash’s knowledge or Lemke’s thoughts, that determines the scope of qualified immunity. The videorecordings in the record provide us all we need to determine what a reasonable officer would have known at the scene. And we do not hesitate to conclude from the videorecording that there is “no genuine issue of material fact” regarding Lash’s active resistance.

[citations omitted]

Given the increased use of videorecordings in cases against police officers, the court's discussion of 'what the video shows' might be expected to be used in other cases.

Here, however, the court concludes that Lash was "actively resisting arrest," and thus there was no clearly established right not be subject to a Taser. 

 As to the First Amendment claim, the court quickly found that Lash did not show the officer had "retaliatory animus."

 

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Film, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Second Circuit Finds NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Collection Not Authorized by Congress

In its lengthy, well-reasoned, and unanimous opinion in American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) v. Clapper, the Second Circuit today concluded that NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection is not authorized by §215 of the PATRIOT Act, 50 USC §1861(b)(2)(A).   After hearing oral arguments last September, the panel reversed the district court's opinion that had rejected both the statutory and constitutional challenges to the scheme.  Recall that this widespread collection has been controversial since the program was first revealed through information obtained by Edward Snowden; we've additionally discussed the issues here, here, and here.

CallwaitingThe Second Circuit, in the opinion authored by Gerard Lynch, did agree with the district judge that the ACLU plaintiffs had standing to challenge the collection of call records.  The court stated that "the government’s own orders demonstrate that appellants’ call records are indeed among those collected as part of the telephone metadata program."  The court rejected the government's contention that any alleged injuries depend on the government's reviewing the information collected rather than simply collecting it: the collection is [challenged as] a seizure and the Fourth Amendment prohibits both searches and seizures.  The court distinguished Amnesty International v. Clapper in which the United States Supreme Court's closely divided opinion concluded that the alleged standing was based on a "speculative chain of possibilities."  Instead:

appellants’ alleged injury requires no speculation whatsoever as to how events will unfold under § 215 – appellants’ records (among those of numerous others) have been targeted for seizure by the government; the government has used the challenged statute to effect that seizure; the orders have been approved by the FISC; and the records have been collected.

The panel likewise held that the ACLU organizations have standing to assert a First Amendment violation regarding its own and its members' rights of association.

However, the court did not rule on the Fourth and First Amendment claims explicitly, although its conclusion regarding §215 occurs in the shadow of the constitutional issues, or as the court phrases it: "The seriousness of the constitutional concerns" has "some bearing on what we hold today, and on the consequences of that holding." 

What the court does hold is that "the telephone metadata program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized and there violates §215."  After a discussion of the program and §215, it first considers the government's arguments that the judiciary is precluded from considering the issue.  The court interestingly observes that judicial preclusion here would "fly in the face of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance."

[I]t would seem odd that Congress would preclude challenges to executive actions that allegedly violate Congress’s own commands, and thereby channel the complaints of those aggrieved by such actions into constitutional challenges that threaten Congress’s own authority. There may be arguments in favor of such an unlikely scheme, but it cannot be said that any such reasons are so patent and indisputable that Congress can be assumed, in the face of the strong presumption in favor of APA review, to have adopted them without having said a word about them.

The court likewise held that there was no implicit preclusion.  

On the merits of the §215 challenge, the court essentially found that the government's interpretation of "relevant" was too broad.  The court noted that both parties relied on the grand jury analogy, supported by the statute's language and legislative history.  Yet for the court, the government's argument faltered on this very ground:

Search warrants and document subpoenas typically seek the records of a particular individual or corporation under investigation, and cover particular time periods when the events under investigation occurred. The orders at issue here contain no such limits. The metadata concerning every telephone call made or received in the United States using the services of the recipient service provider are demanded, for an indefinite period extending into the future. The records demanded are not those of suspects under investigation, or of people or businesses that have contact with such subjects, or of people or businesses that have contact with others who are in contact with the subjects – they extend to every record that exists, and indeed to records that do not yet exist, as they impose a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis as they are created. The government can point to no grand jury subpoena that is remotely comparable to the real‐time data collection undertaken under this program.

Moreover, the court relies on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PLCOB) Report regarding the overbreadth, noting that "counterterrorism in general" is not sufficiently narrow.  Further, the court states that the government's interpretation reads the "investigation" language of §215 out of the statute, and even more specifically, §215's language "relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment)."
 
Again, the court squarely rests its conclusion on §215 and avoids the constitutional issues.  Nevertheless, it does discuss them.  It largely relegates the First Amendment issue to a footnote (footnote 12).  Its discussion of the Fourth Amendment issue is more robust, including a discussion of  Smith v. Maryland, the 1979 pen register case, and United States v. Jones, the 2012 GPS case.
 
These constitutional issues would - - - should? - - - shape any understanding by Congress according to the court.
 
Concurring, Judge Robert Sack, emphasizes that the role of the courts should not be minimized.  Judge Sack's concurrence is also worth reading its more robust discussion of the First Amendment issues.
 
Perhaps unexpectedly, the court does not enjoin the metadata collection program.  The court notes that §215 is set to expire and that it is "prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape."   Yet, it strongly implies, it remains ready and able to reach the constitutional issues if necessary.
 
[image "Call Waiting" via]
 

May 7, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court OKs Prosecution Use of Cell Tower Location

The en banc Eleventh Circuit ruled this week in United States v. Davis that a court order, pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, compelling the production of a telephone company's business records containing information as to cell tower locations (and linking the defendant's calls to those towers) did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision, which held that the order violated the Fourth Amendment. The panel nevertheless affirmed the conviction, however, based on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

The ruling tests traditional Fourth Amendment rules against technological advances--and their ability to reveal vast amounts of highly personal data. The court applied a traditional Fourth Amendment approach, but invited Congress to revisit the appropriate balance between technology and privacy in cases like this.

The defendant, Quartavious Davis, was charged with several counts for his role in a string of robberies. At Davis's trial, the prosecution introduced telephone records  from Metro PCS, obtained through an earlier court order, showing the telephone numbers for each of Davis's calls and the number of the cell tower that connected each call. An officer-witness then connected the location of the cell towers with the addresses of the robberies, placing Davis near the robbery locations around the time of the robberies. (The evidence showed the location of the cell towers that connected Davis's calls, but not the precise location of Davis or his phone.) Davis was convicted and sentenced to 1,941 months in prison.

The court order for the records was based on the Stored Communications Act. The SCA provides that a federal or state governmental entity may require a telephone service provider to disclose "a record . . . pertaining to a subscriber to or a customer of such service (not including the contents of communications)" if "a court of competent jurisdiction" finds "specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe" that the records sought "are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." This does not require a showing of probable cause. Davis argued that the order violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected Davis's arguments. The court wrote that the SCA actually provides greater privacy protections than a routinely issued subpoena to third parties for a wide variety of business records (credit card statements, bank statements, and the like). This, it said, was no different. It also wrote that Davis claimed no trespass, and that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of cell towers to which he voluntarily sent call signals, or in the business records of his third-party provider. The court thus concluded that there was no "search."

But even if there were a search, the court held that it was reasonable, balancing the government interests against Davis's expectations of privacy. It said that the government had compelling interests in investigating and preventing crimes, and that Davis had, at most, a diminished expectation of privacy.

Judges Martin and Jill Pryor dissented, arguing that technological advances, "which threaten to cause greater and greater intrusions into our private lives," threaten "to erode our constitutional protections."

 

May 7, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Court Puts a Leash on Dog Sniffs

The Supreme Court ruled today in Rodriguez v. United States that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a dog sniff that extends the duration of an otherwise lawful traffic stop, as measured by the time it reasonably takes an officer to complete the mission of the stop. But the ruling doesn't end the case: The Court sent the case back to the lower court for determination of whether the dog sniff was nevertheless independently justified under the Fourth Amendment.

We reviewed the oral arguments in the case here.

The case arose when an officer pulled Rodriguez over for a traffic violation, issued a warning, then engaged in a dog sniff (which revealed drugs, which led to Rodriguez's prosecution). In other words, the dog sniff came after the purpose, or mission, of the traffic stop expired and thus extended the stop beyond the period reasonably required to complete the mission. The Court previously ruled in Illinois v. Caballes that the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff in the course of an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But this case asked whether the Fourth Amendment also allowed that sniff when it extended the length of the stop.

The Court said no. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She wrote that a dog sniff that extends the length of the stop violates the Fourth Amendment, without some independent justification for it.

So: How to know if a dog sniff extends the length of the stop? Look to the officer's mission in making the stop in the first place: the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."

Because the Court refused to draw a bright line at the point when an officer issues a ticket (and instead looked to the total time of the stop, whenever the mission is complete), the rule could mean that some dog sniffs in the course of a traffic stop (upheld under Caballes) would now violate the Fourth Amendment. Again, the touchstone is whether the sniff extends the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."

The Court rejected the Eighth Circuit's holding that the sniff was reasonable because it only extended the time of the stop a little bit.

Justice Thomas wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito. Justice Thomas argued that because the stop was reasonably executed the sniff was OK.

He also argued that there was independent justification for the dog sniff--a point that Justice Alito also made in a separate dissent, but a point that Justice Kennedy did not join. The district court found that there was no independent justification for the sniff, but the Eighth Circuit did not rule on the question.

The case now goes back to the Eighth Circuit for a ruling on this issue. If the lower court finds an independent justification for the sniff (for reasons described by Justices Thomas and Alito, for example), then the evidence (drugs) can come in, and Rodriguez could still be convicted.

April 21, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brennan Center: What Went Wrong with the FISA Court?

The Brennan Center just released What Went Wrong with the FISA Court?, a history and analysis of the FISA court, its problems, and some suggested solutions, penned by Elizabeth Goitein and Faiza Patel.

The report walks through the history of FISA to show just how the law, technology, and the FISA court itself changed to create the conditions for the bulk, or programmatic, surveillance programs that we have today. The report argues that current programmatic surveillance programs raise significant Article III and Fourth Amendment problems. In order to solve these, the report suggests the following:

  • End programmatic surveillance by prohibiting bulk surveillance under Section 215 and replacing Section 702 with a regime that would require an individualized court order for surveillance.
  • Enact additional reforms and processes, including adding an adversarial process (an advocate against the government before the FISA court) and increasing transparency.
  • Enact additional Fourth Amendment reforms, including restoring the requirement that the surveillance target is a foreign power or its agent, narrowing the definition of "foreign intelligence information," and restoring the test that requires that obtaining foreign intelligence information is the "primary purpose" of the surveillance.
  • Reform programmatic surveillance, if it must continue.

March 19, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Groups Sue to Stop NSA's Upstream Surveillance

The ACLU filed suit this week on behalf of several media and human rights organizations challenging the NSA's "upstream surveillance" program. The plaintiffs argue that the program violates the First and Fourth Amendments, and that NSA has implemented upstream surveillance in violation of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. (H/t reader Darren Elliot.)

Through upstream surveillance, a program disclosed by Edward Snowden after the Court handed down Clapper v. Amnesty International (more on that below), the NSA intercepts, collects, and searches all of Americans' international communications (e-mails, web-browsing, search engine queries, and the like). The NSA intercepts communications through devices directly on the internet backbone (with the help of providers like Verizon and AT&T), and it searches that material using keywords associated with NSA targets--that is, anyone outside the United States believed likely to communicate "foreign intelligence information."

The Supreme Court dismissed the last major suit of this type. The Court said that the plaintiffs in Clapper v. Amnesty International lacked standing to challenge NSA surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act (50 USC Sec. 1881a), because they didn't allege that they'd actually be targets of surveillance (only that they'd likely be targets).

This suit addresses the standing problem by alleging that upstream surveillance has already targeted them--because upstream surveillance is up and running and collects, in a drag-net kind of way, the kinds of communications that they engage in. And by including Wikimedia (with all its international internet connections), the ACLU ensures that at least one plaintiff has certainly been a target of this program.

March 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Marshals Immune in Shooting

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that deputy federal marshals enjoyed qualified immunity from a suit for damages after they shot a 16-year-old driver who hit another marshal as he drove out of an apartment parking lot.

The case, Fenwick v. Pudimott, arose after three deputy federal marshals observed Fenwick, a 16-year-old, struggling to park a car in the lot. Fenwick exited the vehicle, entered the apartment building, and came back to his car. As he backed up, the officers instructed him to halt. Instead, he drove forward toward the parking lot exit and clipped one of the officers. The other officers fired shots and struck Fenwick with four bullets. Fenwick recovered and sued.

The D.C. Circuit held that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity from suit, because, under the second prong of Saucier v. Katz, their use of deadly force didn't violate a clearly established constitutional right. The court noted that Fenwick "posed no immediate threat to either officers or bystanders when [the officers] opened fire," but also that the officers saw pedestrians and other vehicles in the vicinity just before the shooting, and that Fenwick hit one of the officers with the car. This was enough for the court to hold that the officer's use of deadly force wasn't clearly unconstitutional.

Still, the court saw it as a very close case. Given that, and undoubtedly conscious of recent instances of police abuses around the country, the court issued this caution:

[W]e emphasize that nothing in this opinion should be read to suggest that qualified immunity will shield from liability every law enforcement officer in this circuit who fires on a fleeing motorist out of asserted concern for other officers and bystanders. Outside the context of a "dangerous high-speed car chase," deadly force, as the Supreme Court made clear in Garner, ordinarily may not be used to apprehend a fleeing suspect who poses no immediate threat to others--whether or not the suspect is behind the wheel.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, who concurred, didn't see it as so close. Citing the Court's ruling last Term in Plumhoff v. Rickard (holding that officers' use of deadly force to stop a driver in a high-speed chase didn't violate the Fourth Amendment), she would have resolved the case on Saucier's first prong--that the use of deadly force didn't violate the Constitution.

February 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)