Friday, February 4, 2005
Reasonable Expectations of Privacy
The Fourth Circuit held this week in U.S. v. Stevenson, 04-4227, that a defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in an apartment rented in his name. In Stevenson, the defendant was taken into custody by the police prior to the unlawful search of his apartment. While in custody, the defendant, presumably expecting to be convicted and serve a long sentence, wrote a letter to his girlfriend saying that she can have everything in his apartment. As a result, the court found that he had abandoned his expectation of privacy in the apartment prior to the time the search occurred.
Public Safety Exception to Miranda
In the recent Eighth Circuit case of U.S. v. Luker, No. 04-1220, the police pulled the defendant over for DUI. The officers claimed that after they pulled the car over and saw who was behind the wheel, they feared for their safety because they knew the defendant had a history of meth use. After placing the defendant in custody and without providing Miranda warnings, the officers asked the defendant whether there was anything in his car "that shouldn't be there or that they should know about." The defendant then revealed that he had a firearm in his car, and was arrested and convicted of felon in possession. The decision drew a dissent from Judge Heaney, who argued that the evidence that the defendant was in fact a meth user was very thin and far too vague to raise a reasonable concern about public safety. The evidence amounted to the fact that the defendant had been seen hanging out with known meth users.
I have another concern with the decision. According to Quarles, "the questions must be necessary to secure the safety of officers or the public, and may not be designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect." So, in Quarles, the officers' concern related to the location of a gun, and the question asked of the suspect was pointedly directed to that end. The question asked of the defendant in this case, however, was so broad that it seemed designed solely to elicit incriminating statements from the defendant. The officers appeared to be on a fishing expedition rather than concerned about a specific type of danger, and their question was the functional equivalent of: "Are you doing anything illegal right now?" [Mark Godsey]