Sunday, November 4, 2007

Minors' Right to Privacy Upheld: Alaska Parental Consent Act Deemed Unconstitutional

Last Friday, in Alaska v. Planned Parenthood of Alaska, a sharpy divided Alaska Supreme Court voted down the state's Parental Consent Act as in violation of the state constitutional right to privacy.  The Alaska Legislature passed the Act in 1997, prompting a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood.  The PCA required girls 16 years old and younger to get a parent's permission to receive an abortion.

Despite the state's undeniably compelling interest in protecting the health of minors and in fostering family involvement in a minor's decisions regarding her pregnancy, and though, as the court said, the constitution indeed permits a statutory scheme which ensures that parents are notified so that they can be engaged in their daughters' important decisions in these matters, given the state's explicit privacy right -- "broader in scope" and "more robust" than the implied federal right to privacy -- "the Act does not strike the proper constitutional balance."

The court found that "included within the broad scope of the Alaska Constitution's privacy clause is the fundamental right to reproductive choice," something that is "in no way peculiar to adult women."

"Ultimately, because the PCA shifts the right to reproductive choice to minors' parents, we must conclude that the PCA is, all else being held equal, more restrictive than a parental notification statute."

The dissenting justices found the PCA narrowly tailored and the least restrictive alternative to advance the compelling state interest in protecting children against their own immaturity and protecting parents' constitutional right -- and duty -- to guide their children to maturity.

November 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Michigan Statute Authorizing Breathalyzers on Minors Deemed Unconstitutional

In a case arising out of the Eastern District of Michigan, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson issued a summary judgment opinion and order finding unconstitutional on its face -- as in violation of the Fourth Amendment -- a state statute authorizing law enforcement to compel minors (here, attending parties broken up by the police) to submit to breath tests for alcohol in the absence of a warrant or circumstances excusing their requirement.  The court enjoined further enforcement of the statute. 
Whether the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights were violated as a matter of law, however, is yet to be determined, since fact questions remain as to the existence of any exigency. 
As the law stood, a minor's refusal of the breath test could result in a civil infraction and a fine of up to $100.
Police now are only authorized to force people to submit to a breathalyzer test when operating a vehicle or in an emergency situation.
The case is Platte, et al. v. Thomas Township, et al. (Number 05-10200; 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71241).

October 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On "unfounded assumptions," even videotaped ones

In the April 30th decision handed down in Scott v. Harris, the Supreme Court held that a police officer's attempt to terminate a high-speed dangerous car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders was reasonable (i.e., does not violate the fourth amendment), even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death (and even where, as here, the officer contravenes protocol).  Hence, the officer giving chase was entitled to summary judgment on the question of qualified immunity.

Of note:

1.    Video "proof".  The Court's increased level of interest in, and varying level of deference to, a videotape of the car chase.  One would think (hope) that "going to the videotape" would make a factual review of the record -- even a de novo one -- more, not less accurate; more, not less reliable.  Query whether that was the case, given the majority found that the Court of Appeals' description of the facts was "blatantly contradicted by the record," determining instead that "what we see on the video more closely resembles a Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort."

2.    Garner distinguished.  Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia's analysis that Tennessee v. Garner "was simply an application of the Fourth Amendment's 'reasonableness' test to the use of a particular type of force in a particular situation," and not a "magical on/off switch that triggers rigid preconditions whenever an officer's actions constitute 'deadly force.'"  The Justice continued:  "Although respondent's attempt to craft an easy-to-apply legal test in the Fourth Amendment context is admirable, in the end we must still slosh our way through the factbound morass of 'reasonableness.'  Whether or not [the police officer's] actions constituted application of 'deadly force,' all that matters is whether [his] actions were reasonable."

3.    Justice Stevens' dissent, taking the majority to task for "basing its conclusions on its own factual assumptions"; for selectively omitting key facts that would have downplayed the danger involved; that the videotape actually confirmed rather than contradicted the lower courts' appraisal of the facts.  "[T]he use of deadly force in this case was no more appropriate than the use of a deadly weapon against a fleeing felon in [Garner]," Stevens wrote.  "Although Garner may not, as the Court suggests, 'establish a magical on/off switch, [i]t did set a threshold under which the use of deadly force would be considered constitutionally reasonable.... Whether a person's actions have risen to a level warranting deadly force is a question of fact best reserved for the jury.... If two groups of judges can disagree so vehemently about the nature of the pursuit and the circumstances surrounding that pursuit, it seems eminently likely that a reasonable juror could disagree with the Court's characterization of events"

Justice Stevens concluded:

"The Court today sets forth a per se rule that presumes its own version of the facts:  'A police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.'"

In my view, the risks inherent in justifying unwarranted police conduct on the basis of unfounded assumptions are unacceptable, particularly when less drastic measures -- in this case, the use of stop sticks or a simple warning issued from a loudspeaker -- could have avoided such a tragic result.

In my judgment, jurors in Georgia should be allowed to evaluate the reasonableness of the decision to ram respondent's speeding vehicle in a manner that created an obvious risk of death and has in fact made [him] a quadriplegic at the age of 19."

4.    Declination to overturn Saucier.  Justice Breyer's suggestion to abandon Saucier v. Katz (requiring that lower courts first decide "constitutional questions" before questions involving qualified immunity) was not joined by the majority -- particularly where, as here, Justice Scalia wrote, the constitutional question "is easily decided."

Here are links to the opinion (pdf) and car chase video (Real Player).

May 13, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)