January 22, 2007
Anti-Cruising Laws Aim to Drive away Wandering Cars
Cruisin' town is about to get a little tougher in Binghamton, NY if City Councilman Pat Russo's anti-cruising legislation passes. Three years ago, Russo counted 22 times as the same vehicle passed his Pine Street porch. Prompted by wandering vehicles that he said frequent his downtown neighborhood, Russo has asked the city attorney to draft "anti-cruising" legislation that would prohibit cars from cruising in designated areas at certain times. Under Russo's envisioned law, vehicles that pass by a specific sign more than three times in a three-hour period could be stopped, questioned and fined. "This gives a police officer an opportunity to stop people looking for drugs, looking for prostitutes," Russo said. "I guarantee you'll get 10 guys in one night."
Similar laws have passed legal challenges in other municipalities. In York, Pennsylvania a community of about 40,000 people in southern Pennsylvania, a no-cruising law withstood a legal challenge in the late 1980s, when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city. Longmont, Colorado, a city of about 80,000 people north of Denver, passed an anti-cruising law in the summer of 2006 after persistent problems with gang-related cruising. The Longmont law provides exceptions for emergency, government and livery vehicles, as well as drivers who have "legitimate business activities" or are headed to and from a religious service. Milwaukee, Wisconsin has one too; you can read about it in the "Frequently Forgotten Ordinances" link of the city's webpage.
Binghamton Police Chief Steven Tronovitch mentioned that police officers in his department have the authority to stop vehicles for questioning and ask them what they're doing in the area without an anti-cruising law. "Sometimes that could escalate into something that is probable cause," he said. But he welcomes any legislation that makes his officers' jobs easier. Full Story from PressConnects.com. . .
That last part sounds a little questionable if you ask me; what does he do when he pulls over a car just to question its passengers and they blow him off because they think they're free to leave? Does he arrest them for "fleeing"? [Michele Berry]
January 18, 2007
Secret "FISA" Court to Monitor Domestic Spying Program
Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that a secret independent panel of judges, known as the FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) has been given authority to monitor the government's contentious domestic spying program. FISA has already has approved one request for monitoring the communications of a person believed to be linked to al-Qaida or an associated terror group.
The FISA court was established in the late 1970s to review requests for warrants to conduct surveillance inside the United States. The Bush administration initially resisted giving the court final approval over the Terrorist Surveillance Program (the program allowing the phone calls or emails of Americans suspected of ties to terrorism to be monitored without any oversight from a judge), even when communications involved someone inside the country. A federal judge in Detroit last August declared the program unconstitutional, saying it violates the rights to free speech and privacy and the separation of powers. In October, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the administration could keep the program in place while it appeals the Detroit decision. Story from CBS/AP. . . [Michele Berry]
January 17, 2007
Has the Baseball Doping Probe Hit a Fourth Amendment Foul?
The 18th-century amendment is being put to a 21st-century test centering around the Major League Baseball doping probe. Major League Baseball has found itself embroiled in a federal investigation into whether some of its biggest stars, like Barry Bonds, used performance-enhancing drugs. But civil-liberties advocates worry that a recent legal ruling in the case will reach far beyond the diamond and give the government broad search-and-seizure powers in the digital age. At the heart of the case is how much freedom the government has to pursue crimes discovered in electronic files while searching for evidence against other people and how much protection the 4th Amendment affords information in a computer database about people other than those targeted by investigators.
In late December '06, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the government's power to seize computer files from two laboratories that performed mandatory drug tests on major leaguers, including files of professional hockey players and other nonsports patients tested by the labs. George Washington CrimProf Orin Kerr commented, "The Supreme Court has never applied the Fourth Amendment to computers. The federal courts of appeals are beginning to decide a bunch of cases: in 2006, there were 20 or 30 in the broad area of how the Fourth Amendment applies to computers. But each case is very fact-specific and narrow, so the law remains pretty murky." Story from the Wall Street Journal in post-gazette.com. . . [Michele Berry]
January 11, 2007
Court Holds that Agents Has Broad Authority to Seize Files Associated With Warrant
From BNA Inc. Criminal Law Reporter: The Ninth Circuit says federal agents did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they copied a voluminous computer directory holding drug-testing records of hundreds of professional athletes as they executed a search warrant that authorized the seizure of such records relating to only a handful of Major League Baseball players. The ruling has broader implications for the confidentiality of all sorts of personal records maintained in a database when law enforcement officials obtain a search warrant for only some of them.
Read More. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 20, 2006
Franklin Pierce Students Win Suppression Hearing
Students in the clinic get a 4th Amendment victory.
November 22, 2006
Deck the Cars with Digital Cameras...
Fa la la la la, la la la la. Beginning next week, the Los Angeles Police Department will begin installing digital video cameras in some patrol cars to better track how arrests are made. Arrest tactics have been an issue under scrutiny since the recent surfacing of two amateur videos, shot by passers-by, documented forceful tactics by officers. Officials hope to install cameras in most of the 300 patrol cars in that bureau by the end of next year, with the goal of expanding to the rest of the force over the next three years. As of Monday, the LA City Council approved $5 million for the cameras. Story from washingtonpost.com. . . [Michele Berry]
October 11, 2006
"What Would Warren Do?"
From NPR.org: Commentator Jim Newton says that for the Supreme Court this session, the most urgent issue it will face this session is freedom during wartime. Jim Newton is the author of the book Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made. Listen to commentary here on the topic. . . Find a collection of other articles on homeland security, detentions, search & seizure, and confessions & interrogation here and here. [Michele Berry]
September 13, 2006
Surveillance Cameras Watch Ideologies Clash
UPDATED: Here's another perspective from the SanFrancisco Chronicle: "Community, Not Just Technology, Needed in Crime Prevention"
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the city will install 50 surveillance cameras in high-crime public housing projects around the city in attempts to to reduce the recent influx of violence. But in a society where surveillance cameras seem to have become ubiquitous, and in a major city that lags far behind other cities of its size in terms of camera presence, the Mayor's announcement has generated staunch criticism.
This column criticizes the critics. Here's an excerpt: "Several public officials have decried the use of the security devices as an infringement on civil liberties — no matter how many criminals they help catch. And those people with thick rap sheets aren't happy about them either. I have always been against more government interference in personal privacy, but that is hardly a big issue here. Nor is the use of surveillance cameras in general. They are not being installed in living rooms — just in the places where a lot of innocent people are terrorized.
San Francisco, reputedly one of the nation’s most technologically advanced towns, lags well behind big cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in using the electronic eyes as a crime deterrent. Those cities have had success in reducing crime — which is why they have put cameras in hot spots. Some San Francisco officials have their knickers in a twist over a desire to install less than 100. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick called the installation of surveillance cameras a “case of mistaken strategy...The mayor says he’s doing 50 other [things] to fight crime and I think he should focus on the other 49,” McGoldrick said.
And while I can applaud his unshakeable ideological stance, it flies in the face of reason. Surveillance cameras are so ubiquitous in our daily lives, we’ve come to take them for granted. There is hardly a place where anyone can go today where they aren’t electronically monitored — department stores, supermarkets, ATMs, elevators. In a post-9/11 world, is anyone really objecting that cameras have become a security staple on transportation lines, including BART and Muni?" More from The Examiner. . . [Michele Berry]
May 25, 2006
ACLU Files Suit...
in 20 states over NSA surveillance.
May 22, 2006
Violence=Knock and Announce Exception
From the Washington Post: The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police do not need a warrant to go into a home to break up a bloody fight. Justices said that a "melee" that Brigham City, Utah, police officers saw through a window early one morning in 2000 justified rushing in without knocking first. Rest of story... [Mark Godsey]
May 19, 2006
SCOTUS: Reviews Knock and Announce Rule
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard a case testing the knock and announce rule. In the case in question, the police waited only three to five seconds after announcing their presence (without knocking) before entering the home. The case is Hudson v. Michigan, 04-1360. More. . . [Mark Godsey]
May 16, 2006
Tribe on NSA Wiretapping
Here. [Mark Godsey]
May 15, 2006
Can Cameras Racially Profile?
No, they're not that high tech. But the people who locate them in London's suburbs can and apparantly have. Or at least that's what the statistics seem to show. In Metropolitan London, black people account for 46% of all arrests generated by new automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras, even though black residents account for only 11% of London's population. Further study of the disparity shows that cameras are heavily concentrated in the London boroughs most heavily populated by black residents. More. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 07, 2006
Subscription to Porn site = Probable Cause
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in U.S. v. Gourde, No. 03-30262, ruled that mere membership in a pornographic website that contains both legal and illegal porn is enough to authorize the FBI to search a home computer. The 7-2 decision provoked a strong dissent from two judges who are on the liberal and conservative extremes of the court joined forces.
"The majority concludes that the [search warrant] affidavit made out probable cause by assuming that anyone who subscribes to an internet site with both legal and illegal material must collect illegal material from the site," wrote Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a conservative appointee of President George H.W. Bush. "This assumption stacks inference upon inference until the conclusion is too weak to support the invasion of privacy entailed by a search warrant," wrote Kleinfeld. More from the National Law Journal. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 22, 2006
SCOTUS Limits Police Search Power
Yesterday, in Georgia v. Randolph (04-1067)the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that it is unconstitutional for police without a warrant to search a home, if two occupants are present at the time and one consents but the other objects. The search may not go forward in the face of that objection, but the occupant must be present to have the objection count.
"We have to admit we are drawing a fine line," Justice Souter wrote for the Court, but added "we think the formalism is justified" and that it will be easier to enforce in practice. Thus, the Court held, if the individual who may be at legal risk of prosecution and thus does not want the police to enter "is in fact at the door and objects," the other occupant's consent to search will not suffice. But, Souter added, if the objector is nearby, and not at the door, an objection by him will not block the search. The Court stressed, though, that police may not take a potentialy objecting tenant away from the home in order to be able to make the search with the other occupant's consent.
Chief Justice Roberts, in his first written dissenting opinion, said the majority fashioned a rule that "does not implement the high office of the Fourth Amendment, but instead provides protection on a random and happenstance basis, protecting, for example, a co-occupant who happens to be at the front door when the other occupant consents to a search, but not one napping or watching television in the next room....The cost of affording such random protection is great, as demonstrated by the recurring cases in which abused spouses seek to authorize police entry into a home they share with a non-consenting abuser." More. . . [Mark Godsey]
Courts, Congress, DOJ Scrutinize Witness Detention Law
After reports that it has been abused in terrorism investigations, a 22-year-old federal law that allows people to be held without charges if they have information about others' crimes is coming under fresh scrutiny in the courts, in Congress, and within the Justice Department. The law allows so-called material witnesses to be held long enough to secure their testimony if there is reason to think they will flee. But lawyers for material-witness-detainees say the law has been used to hold people who the government fears will commit terrorist acts in the future, but whom it lacks probable cause to charge with a crime.
Concerns about how the law has been used have prompted calls from across the political spectrum for a reassessment. That debate has also ignited a broader one: whether the United States should join the several Western nations that have straightforward preventive detention laws. More from NYTimes. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 06, 2006
Dershowitz Examines the Legal Questions of Preemptive War
If U.S. officials overhear talk of a planned murder or rape while eavesdropping on a telephone call under President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, what can they do -- within the law -- to stop it? "We wouldn't know where to look to find the law because there is no law," said celebrated criminal defense lawyer and Harvard CrimProf Alan Dershowitz. "Plainly we would not want them to ignore it" but no laws have been written to govern how the information can be used in court, he said.
In his new book, "Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways," Dershowitz supports preventive counter-terrorism measures -- from wiretapping to profiling, mass inoculation, targeted extrajudicial killings and preemptive military action -- to head off attacks by suicide bomber and other terrorists. But he says the Bush administration is bending the rules by failing to draw legal boundaries around those measures. Never shy of controversy, Dershowitz is sending each U.S. Senator and Congressman a copy of his book to spur debate on the issue. More from Washingtonpost.com. . . [Mark Godsey]
February 19, 2006
Alaska: Suspicionless Frisks Argued in Supreme Court
What if someone in a high crime area engages in no behavior giving rise to reasonable suspicion or PC, but the police want to frisk them anyway during consensual questioning? No good, according to the Alaska Court of Appeals (opinion here), but the prosecution has appealed. [Jack Chin]
February 18, 2006
Case's Mock NSA Wiretap Hearing to Broadcast February 22
February 16, 2006
Surveillance Cameras in Private Homes? Read Houston Police Chief's Proposal
From Grits for Breakfast: Houston Police Chief Harol Hurtt not only wants to put cameras in public spaces downtown, he also wants to force new malls and apartment complexes to install camera systems with direct feeds to the police department as part of the building permit process, maybe even in private homes. As for privacy, Hurtt told reporters, "If you're not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?" More. . . [Mark Godsey, thanks to Scott Henson]