January 23, 2012
Supreme Court Action Today: GPS Tracking, Sex Offender Registration, Preemption, And Tort Immunity For Police
The United States Supreme Court issued four opinions this morning, one of which is receiving significant press coverage. That case is United States v. Jones (10-1259). The Government obtained a search warrant allowing it to install a GPS tracking device on a vehicle used by Jones. The warrant allowed for the device to be attached within 10 days and in the District of Columbia. Government agents, however, installed the device on the 11th day and in a parking lot in Maryland. Jones was tracked for 28 days and ultimately convicted on drug charges using evidence derived from the tracking. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the conviction holding that the evidence obtained by the warrantless use of the GPS tracking device violated the Fourth Amendment. The Government argued on appeal that a warrant was not necessary and that Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy on city streets.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, holding that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court said it was beyond dispute that a car is an “effect” in the words of the Amendment. The basis for the Court’s holding comes from case law protecting a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” rather than strictly location-based monitoring jurisprudence. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan.
The case of Reynolds v. United States (10-6549) concerns whether the registration requirements of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act applied to pre-Act offenders. The Act requires convicted sex offenders to provide states with current information for names and addresses including circumstances where an offender moves to a different state. One provision of the Act gives the Attorney General the authority to specify the applicability of the registration requirements to pre-Act offenders. The Attorney General issued and Interim Rule several months after the Act passed.
Reynolds was a pre-Act offender registered in Missouri. He later moved to Pennsylvania without updating his Missouri registration or registering in Pennsylvania. He was indicted for failing to register under the Act. He defended on the grounds that the Interim Rule violated the non-delegation doctrine and that the Attorney General violated the Administrative Procedure Act by publishing the Rule without notice or comment. The District Court rejected his arguments on the merits, but the Third Circuit rejected the same claim by holding the Act applied to pre-Act offenders irrespective of the Rule. The Circuits were split on the applicability of the Act in these circumstances.
The Court held that the Act does not apply to pre-Act offenders until the Attorney General acts. The Court based its reasoning on the interrelation of the statute’s provision. As there was a rule in place before Reynolds moved, the questions as to whether he is covered under the rule and Act are remanded for determination.
The third case is National Meat Assn. v. Harris (10-224). The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) regulates the operation of slaughterhouses to ensure the safe handling of meat and humane treatment of animals. California amended its penal code to account for the treatment and use of nonambulatory animals used for human consumption in California. The terms of the California amendment are different from the FMIA. The District Court granted an injunction to the National Meat Association on the grounds that the FMIA preempts California law. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the California law only regulates the kind of animal slaughtered and nothing else.
The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the FMIA preempts the California law. The FMIA preemption clause has a wide sweep and as the Act covers the treatment of nonambulatory animals, it comes into play here. Moreover, the FMIA covers the treatment of animals not intended for human consumption, so the California amendment covers the same territory. Justice Kagan wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court.
The last case from today is a Per Curiam opinion regarding the immunity of police for civil federal tort claims in conducting a warrantless search. That case is Ryburn v. Ruff (11-208). Police were investigating a rumor that a student was intending to shoot up his school. They visited the house of the student and received no answer after announcing their presence. They called the house and could hear the phone ringing. They next called the student’s mother’s cell phone and discovered that she was in the house and requested to speak with her in person. She finally spoke with them in person at the front door. When the police asked her if there were any guns in the house, she immediately turned around and ran back into the house. The police followed her and ultimately spoke with the student and both of his parents. They ultimately concluded that the rumor was false.
The parents brought a §1983 civil right suit claiming that the police had violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The District Court held for the police, giving them some latitude in a developing situation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed for some of the police, but not all. While agreeing with the District Court’s finding of facts, it questioned whether the Police in question had qualified immunity. That Court held that the belief that police or others were in danger of imminent harm was objectively unreasonable.
The Supreme Court examined the various circumstances such as the reason for the visit, the behavior of the parents and specifically the response to the question about guns and concluded that the police were entitled to qualified immunity. The Court ordered that judgment be entered for them. [MG]
The basis for the Court’s holding comes from case law protecting a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” rather than strictly location-based monitoring jurisprudence. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority joined by Chief Justice
Posted by: GPS Tracker | Feb 24, 2012 1:09:37 AM