Search and Seizure

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US Supreme Court Upholds Drug Dog Search of Truck

The US Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the use of police dog's sniff of a truck, finding that training and testing records were sufficient indicators of the dog's reliability and gave police probable cause for the search. The high court in 2005 upheld the legality of highway drug dog searches; in this case, the court focused on the reliability of drug dog searches.

In deciding the case, the high court reversed a decision from the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida court had held that a wide array of evidence was necessary to establish probable cause for the search, including field performance records that would indicate how many times the dog had falsely alerted. Without such records, the Florida court held, police could not establish probable cause.

Tuesday's ruling came in Florida v. Harris, in which Clayton Harris had been pulled over by a police officer in Liberty County in 2006. The drug dog, Aldo, alerted to the truck's door handle, the officer searched the truck, and methamphetamine precursor chemicals were found. Clayton was arrested on meth-related charges.

Harris was again pulled over by the same officer while out on bail, and Aldo again alerted on his vehicle. This time the vehicle search came up empty. Harris's attorneys challenged Aldo's reliability in part because of this second alert that turned up nothing. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with their argument that the dog's performance in the field needed to be assessed in order to determine probable cause for the search.

But not the US Supreme Court. It unanimously reversed the decision.

A drug dog's "satisfactory performance" in a certification or training program provided sufficient probable cause to trust its alert, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority. "The question -- similar to every inquiry into probable cause -- is whether all the facts surrounding a dog's alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime," Kagan wrote. "A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test."

The case is one of two Florida drug dog cases before the Supreme Court this session. In the other, the high court takes up the question of whether a drug dog can sniff the front doorstep of a home without a search warrant. The Supreme Court has upheld drug dog searches of vehicles on the highway and packages at delivery service warehouses, but in other cases has shown greater deference to Fourth Amendment requirements at residences.

Washington, DC
United States

Bloomberg Says No More Jail Stays for Minor NYC Marijuana Busts

In his final state of the city address Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that people caught with small amounts of marijuana in the city will no longer be subjected to overnight stays in the city's jails, but will merely be taken to the precinct for a desk appearance and then released.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (wikimedia.org)
The move is in response to increasingly loud criticism of the city's extremely high marijuana arrest rates, which are taking place despite New York state having decriminalized pot possession more than three decades ago. The NYPD managed to get its pound of flesh from marijuana users by intimidating them into removing baggies from their pockets, then charging them with the misdemeanor of public possession of marijuana, not the infraction of simple possession, and then making them sit in holding cells for up to 24 hours.

During Bloomberg's 10-year tenure as mayor, more than 400,000 people have been arrested on pot possession charges, nearly 350,000 of them young men of color. That number has begun to decline in recent months as police have modified their practices under pressure.

"We know that there's more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record," Bloomberg said. "Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo's proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor, and we'll work to help him pass it this year. But we won't wait for that to happen," he said.

"Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We're changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It's consistent with the law, it's the right thing to do, and it will allow us to target police resources where they're needed most."

Drug reform and civil rights activists said it was a step in the right direction, but a small one.

"Mayor Bloomberg stopped defending the indefensible and now recognizes that we cannot afford to criminalize youth of color for carrying small amounts of marijuana," said Alredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer with VOCAL-NY. "But being 'consistent with the law' means more than just issuing desk appearance tickets instead of putting people in jail. Most people targeted for these arrests only produce marijuana in plain view after being illegally searched during stop, question and frisk encounters with police. Mayor Bloomberg's support for marijuana reform is a step in the right direction but does not solve the fundamental problems with the NYPD's policing strategies."

"We agree with the mayor that there's more we can do keep New Yorkers, especially young people of color, from ending up with a criminal record," said Kyung Ji Rhee, the juvenile justice director for the Center for NuLeadership. "For instance, the mayor can direct Commissioner Kelly to immediately cease and desist NYPD’s broken 'stop and frisk' program. We must stop these mass arrests and criminalizing people for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana. And we can get the police out of our schools to end the 'schools to prison' pipeline."

"This new policy is a step in the right direction -- and it's the direct result of the ongoing campaign led by community groups in New York to end these racially biased, unpopular, unjust and expensive arrests," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana possession is the number one arrest in New York City and with this new policy change, tens of thousands of people, mostly young men of color, will no longer be held in jail overnight on for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But the arrests themselves need to end -- period. Now the legislature must act -- immediately -- to pass Gov. Cuomo's marijuana decriminalization bill. Every reasonable New Yorker supports the measure. Reform is long, long overdue."

New York City, NY
United States

Look Out, New York, It's Credico For Mayor! [FEATURE]

New York City has earned itself the sobriquet of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World, with tens of thousands of minor pot possession arrests every year -- mostly of young men of color -- generated in good part by the city's equally infamous stop-and-frisk policing, again aimed primarily at the city's young and non-white residents. There's a man running an outsider campaign for the mayor's office there this year who wants to end all that.

Randy Credico during 2010 Senate campaign
Veteran Big Apple civil rights, social justice, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and drug reform activist Randy Credico, who also doubles as a professional comedian, is mounting an insurgent campaign for the Democratic Party mayoral nomination, and he wants to end the city's drug war and a whole lot more, and he wants to do it now.

The inventively funny, yet deadly serious, agitprop artist has an ambitious 17-point program for his first day in office, with promises that range from going after "the biggest criminals in our city" -- the Wall Street bankers -- and reforming the city's tax code to favor the poor to rolling back privatization of city schools and reforming various city agencies.

But just beneath banksters and taxes is a vow to begin reining in the NYPD by firing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (to be replaced with Frank Serpico) and "abolishing the NYPD’s unconstitutional policies of racial profiling, stop and frisk, domestic spying, entrapment, and its infamous (albeit unadmitted) 'quota system.'"

Central to that policing reform plank, Credico says, is reclassifying the smoking and carrying of marijuana as no longer an arrestable offense. He also vows to fire any officer who lies or perjures himself on the stand, and to bar the use of "no-knock" warrants and stun grenades "except in the case of legitimate terrorist attack."

And he wants to replace the city's Special Narcotics Office with a Harm Reduction Office, whose leadership he has offered to Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann. He also vows to shut down the Rikers Island prison and turn it into a treatment center and education facility with a state of the art library, and to nominate law professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-blindness, to run it.

That's quite a tall order for a first day in office, but Credico says he's up for it.

"I plan to stay up for 24 hours and get all that stuff done," he told the Chronicle.

Of course, first he has to win the Democratic Party nomination and then win the general election, and that's a pretty tall order, too. There is a bevy of candidates (polling data at the link as well) running for a shot at the prestigious post, and he is facing stiff establishment opposition in the primary, most notably from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the as yet officially undeclared city council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads the other Democrats in early polls, but is in a close race with "undecided."

The Republican race includes a handful of announced or potential candidates led by former Metropolitan Transit Authority head Joseph Lhota (who still trails "undecided" by a large margin) and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is as yet unannounced. The Libertarians may also field a candidate this year, possibly former "Manhattan madam" and gubernatorial candidate Kristin Davis, and we can't forget the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, either.

"The GOP has a rich guy who just jumped in, and the Democrats have a six-pack of hacks, all getting money from the real estate interests and Wall Street and none of whom will talk about the issues," Credico explained. "The Democrats are all doing the Schumer act -- just talking about the middle class, not the poor, the homeless, the division between the rich and poor, not about drug policy. This city is virtually a police state right now."

Credico has a remedy for that: Elect him.

"I will get rid of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is a combination of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Fouche, Napoleon's dreaded head of the secret police. Everyone is afraid of him. He's got the Red Squads going; they were infiltrating groups at Occupy Wall Street. Kelly is doing all these joint operations with the feds under the guise of fighting terrorism, and this city is crawling with undercover cops -- FBI, DEA, AFT, all running joint task forces with the NYPD. They've foiled 14 plots, all hatched by the NYPD. Ray Kelly has way too much power," the veteran activist said flatly.

"There is a lot of money not only in the prison industrial complex, but also the police industrial complex," Credico noted. "They have asset forfeiture and lots of new schemes, tons of undercover agents, who are really there to beat up on the black community. They infiltrate, demonize, and destroy lives, and this has to stop."

Credico has been active in the Occupy Wall Street moving, having been arrested five times by the NYPD, but before that, he was active in the city's minority communities for years, working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws with the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (in between stints flying out to Tulia, Texas, to deal with the bogus mass arrests of black men on drug charges there), and fighting stop-and-frisk. He currently is taking time out of his days to attend hearings in the criminal trial of the NYPD officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in his own bathroom as he was flushing a bag of weed down the toilet.

"I go to every one of the court dates and sit right next to his mother," he said. "This cop invaded Ramarley's house and shot him in the head for weed, but it's not an isolated incident. No cops go to jail for killing a black person, but a spit on a cop and you can go to jail for years. This is just one cop -- and he's like the Lt. Calley of the NYPD. [Editor's Note: Calley was the sole US Army officer convicted of a crime in the Vietnam War My Lai massacre.] It's not an isolated incident; it's the policy, the same policy that killed Ramarley Graham and Sean Bell and Amador Diallou. So many people have been killed by the NYPD, and it's not just the guys on the street; it's a brutal force."

Marijuana could also be a wedge issue for him, Credico said.

"I'm a committed pot smoker, and I think it should be legal, and I'm the only candidate saying it should be legal. Of course, it's up to the state legislature to do that, but I would direct the NYPD not to enforce those laws and particularly not to arrest anyone."

Under current state law, pot possession is decriminalized, but beginning with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD had a policy of turning what should have been tickets for possession into misdemeanors by either reaching in someone's pocket and removing the baggie or intimidating the person into revealing it himself, thus elevating the offense from an infraction to the misdemeanor of "public possession." Under increasing pressure over the tactic, Commissioner Kelly last year issued an order for it to stop, and arrests have declined somewhat, but still remain at unacceptably high levels.

In 2011, there were some 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in the city, nearly 80% of them of people of color. Nearly one-quarter (12,000) were youth aged 16 to 19, and of those, 94% had no prior criminal records.

And it's not just marijuana, Credico said.

"There should be no more prosecutions for drug possession," he said. "They should be going after the real criminals, the guys on Wall Street. They don't have to go up to Harlem and Washington Heights, the real big barracudas are right down here."

The city's criminal justice system is rotten to the core, he said.

"This is like Tulia, this is like the South," he moaned. "The criminal justice system here is a black box where blacks and Latinos go in and disappear into the penal system. The cops are white, the judges are white, the prosecutors are white -- only the Bronx has a rainbow coalition of prosecutors -- the rest are white, and they're going after black people in this city."

Many of those busted ended up in Rikers Island or the Tombs, often after first spending hours or days crammed into precinct holding cells.

"Rikers Island is like Alcatraz for poor people on minor drug offenses," said Credico. "It's all Mickey Mouse; there's no Hannibal Lectors there. They need to turn it into a university for poor people. And no one is talking about the Tombs. I've been there. There are lots of junkies in there going through withdrawals, filthy toilets, people penned in like cattle. No one will talk about that, or about the hundreds of precincts with their holding cells."

Unsurprisingly, Credico doesn't think much of his establishment opposition.

"Christine Quinn is Bloomberg in drag wearing a red wig," he declared, "and de Blasio supported stop-and-frisk. He was also Hillary's hit man when she was running for the Senate, and derailed Grandpa Munster Al Lewis's campaign then."

Lhota, who has recently made noises about legalizing marijuana, "looks like a weed head," Credico snorted. "But I actually smoke it."

Now, Credico has to go through the process of qualifying as a Democratic candidate, smiting his foes within the party, and then taking on the Republican challenger in the general election. His first official campaign task will be to complete a month-long signature-gathering drive in late spring to qualify for the primary.

"I'll be on talk shows -- people all over the place are asking for interviews -- making some ads and some YouTube videos, and they'll be interesting and funny. It will be a very entertaining campaign. We have buttons coming out soon, we have the web site, there are people who will be putting ads in the Nation," he explained.

"Drug reformers are interested in my campaign, and I've got tons of volunteers from the stop-and-frisk campaigns and people from OWS," he said. "I'm getting a lot of attention right now."

Credico, of course, is a long-shot, but even if he doesn't become the next mayor of New York, to the degree that his campaign shines a light on the problems in the city's criminal justice system and forces other candidates to address them, he will be judged a success.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

New York City, NY
United States

Can the DEA Hide a Surveillance Camera on Your Land? [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

A case that began with reports of suspicious activity in northeast Wisconsin forest land last spring may be headed for the US Supreme Court. That's because a US district court judge ruled in the case last fall that it was okay for the DEA to enter the rural property without a warrant and install surveillance cameras that were used to help convict five members of a family on charges they were growing marijuana.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-camera.jpg
surveillance camera (shutterstock.com)
The ruling last October came in a motion to suppress the evidence obtained by the warrantless video cameras. After that ruling, the defendants, five members of the Magana family, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and now face up to life in prison and up to $10 million in fines. But as part of the plea deal, they retained their right to appeal the ruling.

And their attorneys say they are prepared to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In their motion, they had asked the court to suppress evidence because of the property's locked gate and "No Trespassing" sign. Since the properties were heavily wooded and posted with signs, the owners were entitled to an expectation of privacy, the attorneys say.

"After sentencing, the first round of appeals will go to the Seventh Circuit and if there's no favorable ruling there, the cases will be filed into the US Supreme Court," Wisconsin attorney Stephen Richards told the Chronicle last week.

"That one's action could be recorded on their own property even if the property is not within the curtilage is contrary to society's concept of privacy," said Green Bay attorney Breet Reetz, who represents Marco Magana.

Curtilage is a term of legal art referring to the area of a property immediately surrounding a house or dwelling. Past Supreme Court jurisprudence, particularly US v. Oliver, had held under the "open fields" doctrine that areas outside the curtilage are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protection as a home itself. "An individual may not legitimately demand privacy for activities conducted out of doors in fields, except in the area immediately surrounding the home…," the court held in Oliver. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Oliver was another marijuana cultivation case, in which Kentucky deputies walked a mile onto the property before spotting a marijuana field. Their search was upheld.)

It all began in rural Marinette County last May, when a fishermen reported to local authorities that he had been run off the land by two men who told him "fishing is closed" and that he had observed trees cut down and power lines running across the property. Authorities investigated and found the property and two more adjacent properties were owned by members of the Magana family, which had purchased them months earlier.

Authorities left it at that until the following month, when a logger reported that when he had gone to check on a timber stand at one of the properties, he stumbled over a marijuana cultivation operation with more than 30 plants in a 50' x 50' clearing. The DEA then was called in and entered the Magana's properties without a warrant. Agents installed video cameras that eventually captured incriminating evidence of vehicles traveling in and out of the properties.

It wasn't until the DEA observed some of the men handling what believed to be marijuana did they go and request a warrant. A warrant was signed and the agents, accompanied by several local sheriff officers, executed the warrant and arrested the men at separate addresses near Green Bay.

The bust was big news in Marinette County.

"You've got thousands of plants, and as healthy as they look, this is a big operation," Sheriff Jerry Suave told local reporters at the time. The grow is probably "the largest I've seen," he added.

Before trial, set for the fall, counsel for the Maganas filed a motion to suppress the evidence, informing the court that videos from the surveillance camera showed dates that indicated that the camera had been running for 79 consecutive hours before DEA agent Steven Curran obtained a search warrant for the property.

"It is undisputed that the government trespassed without a warrant upon private property with visible 'No Trespassing' signs" posted," Reetz wrote in the motion, noting that the camera had operated from July 12 to July 15, but the warrant wasn't issued until July 17. Nor were there any "exigent circumstances" that would have allowed officers to enter the property without a warrant.

Federal prosecutors were ready with a response.

"Officers entering an 'open field' is not an area enumerated as protected under the Fourth Amendment," countered Assistant US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin James Santelle. "'Open fields,' woods, and private lands are not 'persons, houses, papers, and effects' protected under the Constitution."

That was good enough for Eastern Wisconsin US District Court Chief Judge William Griesbach, who dismissed the defense motion and ruled that it was legal for the DEA to go onto private property without a warrant to install multiple covert digital cameras, and to use the evidence they obtain that way to obtains warrants and in court. Citing US v. Oliver, Griesbach held that the rural properties were curtilage and not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

But the Maganas' attorneys and other legal experts argue that even though "open fields" are not considered curtilage, if "No Trespassing" or "Private Property" signs are posted on the land, the property owner should still be entitled to an expectation of privacy under the law. And they are willing to take their argument to the highest court in the land.

"We have become a nation of men and not a nation of laws, which, is what our founding fathers didn't want us to become," Reetz said.

After formal sentencing, the case heads for the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. If Reetz and Richards don't prevail there, it is on to the Supreme Court. If the court were to take up the case, it would once again have the opportunity to try to untangle the dilemmas that result when the Fourth Amendment runs up against new technologies, for better or worse.

Green Bay, WI
United States

Utah Cops Interrupt Husband's Last Goodbyes to Grab Dead Woman's Pain Pills

Barbara Alice Mahaffey, an elderly resident of Vernal, Utah, died at home of colon cancer on May 21 as her husband of 58 years stood at her side. The death of his long-time spouse was bad enough, but what came next has Ben Mahaffey furious -- and heading to court.

Barbara Alice Mahaffey (family photo)
Mahaffey, 80, filed a lawsuit against the city of Vernal earlier this month charging that Vernal police interrupted his last goodbyes by searching his house for her prescription pain medication without a warrant within minutes after her death. Mahaffey said he was distraught and trying to ensure that his wife's body would be transported to a funeral home with dignity when police insisted he help them look for drugs.

"I was holding her hand and saying goodbye when all the intrusion happened," he told the Deseret News.

According to Mahaffey, his wife died at 12:35am with him and an EMT at her side. About 10 minutes later, a mortician and hospice worker arrived, accompanied by police. Mahaffey says he doesn't know how police came to be there, but that they treated him as if he were going to sell the drug on the street.

His wife had prescriptions for Oxycontin, oxycodone, and morphine. Such heavy-duty opiates are commonly used by people in end-stage cancer. They are also highly sought after by people who are self-medicating, using them for recreational purposes, or addicted to them.

"I was indignant to think you can't even have a private moment. All these people were there and they're not concerned about her or me. They're concerned about the damned drugs. Isn't that something?" he said. "I had no interest in those drugs. I'm no addict."

According to the lawsuit, Mahaffey asked Vernal city officials and police leaders how they could search his home without a warrant and was told that they could do so under the Utah Controlled Substances Act. The lawsuit also claims that city manager Ken Bassett pooh-poohed his concerns, saying he was being "overly sensitive" and that police were just trying to protect the public from diverted prescription drugs. Mahaffey described city officials as "rude" and "condescending."

His attorney, Andrew Fackrell, told the Deseret News the warrantless search was both unlawful and uncalled for. There is nothing in the state's drug law that permits entering homes to search for prescription drugs without a warrant, he said.

"I don't believe the public would intend for the government to be rummaging through your cupboards while your wife is lying in the next room being prepared to be taken to her final resting place," Fackrell said. "That's an extraordinary invasion of privacy."

Fackrell added that it is apparently common practice for Vernal police to search for prescription drugs without a warrant after someone dies, but that it is done selectively. While some cities have prescription drug "take back" programs, he said, the Vernal police approach takes that to  "an absurd level."

Mahaffey said he was concerned about eroding rights.

"The whole thing, when think about it after the fact, is so stupid," he said. "My basic motivation was 'Gee, I don't want this to happen to other people.'"

The lawsuit names the city of Vernal, city manager Bassett, and four members of the Vernal Police. It alleges the action by police violated Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unwarranted search and seizure and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.

The city and the individual plaintiffs have not publicly commented on the lawsuit.

Vernal, UT
United States

Protecting Your Rights in a College Dorm

Over at Flex Your Rights, we've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to protect your rights when you're living in a college dorm. I put together this video response that I hope everyone will find helpful (I think a lot of the tips will be useful to anyone who's living around lots of other people, so this isn't just for students). Enjoy, and please share with any students you know.

I forgot to mention this in the video, but one of the emails we received was from a student who had his room searched twice recently because of a "text-a-tip" program designed to help classmates narc on each other for drug crimes. He was innocent, but someone kept sending the authorities after him anyway. And, of course, if any marijuana had been found, our friend probably wouldn't be in school anymore.

If the existence of such a despicable program doesn't remove all doubt about the need for know your rights info on college campuses, nothing will. This kind of crap is exactly why America jails more people than any other nation, while other countries are kicking our ass in math and science. It's not an accident. We're doing this to ourselves on purpose.  

Supreme Court Hears Drug Dog Cases

The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard oral arguments in a pair of cases out of Florida involving the use of drug sniffing dogs. One case is about whether it is legal to use drug dogs to sniff around the outside of homes without a warrant and the other is about how reliable the drug dogs actually are. The cases have the potential to either expand or restrict the use of drug dogs under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The two cases are Florida v. Joelis Jardines, in which Jardines was arrested for marijuana cultivation after police without a search warrant brought a drug dog to his door, then returned with a search warrant after the drug dog alerted, and Florida v. Clayton Harris, in which Harris was arrested on methamphetamine charges after a drug dog alerted on his vehicle, but was stopped again two months later in the same vehicle and the same drug dog alerted, but no drugs were found.

In both cases, the Florida Supreme Court held that the drug dog searches were illegal, in Jardines because it was a warrantless search of a home and in Harris because it didn't find sufficient evidence of the drug dog's reliability. In both cases, the state of Florida appealed.

The Jardines case raises the issue of whether homes are subject to a higher Fourth Amendment standard than automobiles in traffic, luggage being sniffed on a conveyer belt, or packages being sniffed at a package delivery service. The Supreme Court has upheld the warrantless use of drug dogs in those cases, but has been inclined to grant greater protections to the sanctity of the home, rejecting, for example, the use of thermal imaging equipment to detect marijuana grow operations.

Gregory Garre, arguing for the state of Florida, ran into problems with some justices when he suggested that a drug dog sniff of a residence does not constitute a search under the law and thus no warrant is needed.

If that were the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg replied, wouldn't police be able to just walk down the street with a drug dog in "a neighborhood that’s known to be a drug-dealing neighborhood, just go down the street, have the dog sniff in front of every door, or go into an apartment building? I gather that that is your position."

"Your Honor, they could do that," Garre said.

Justice Elena Kagan also questioned Garre's rationale that a drug dog sniff was somehow different from a technology that allowed police to see inside a home -- such as the thermal imaging the court had previously ruled against. If someone invented a "Smell-o-matic" machine, Kagan said, police would still need to get a warrant to use it to search the home.

Jardines' attorney, Howard Blumberg, argued that the thermal imaging precedent applied to drug dogs at a home as well. Using a drug dog outside a house was cut from the same cloth, he said.

"I would submit that would basically be the same thing as a police officer walking up and down the street with a thermal imager that's turned on," Blumberg said.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a deciding vote on the closely divided court, challenged Garre on his contention that people with contraband in their homes have no expectation of privacy.

"Don't ask me to write an opinion and say, 'Oh, we're dealing with contraband here, so we don't need to worry about expectation of privacy,'" Kennedy said.

But Kennedy was also reluctant to accept Blumberg's argument that when police are trying to find something people are keeping secret, it amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

"To say our decisions establish that police action which reveals any detail an individual seeks to keep private is a search: that is just a sweeping proposition that in my view, at least, cannot be accepted in this case. I think it's just too sweeping and wrong,’" Kennedy said.

"I would add a few words to the end of that statement: Anything that an individual seeks to keep private in the home, and that's the difference," Blumberg replied.

In the Harris case, it was the reliability of drug dogs that was at issue.

"Dogs make mistakes. Dogs err," Harris's attorney, Glen Gifford told the justices. "Dogs get excited and will alert to things like tennis balls in trunks or animals, that sort of thing. There is no canine exception to the totality of the circumstances test for probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. If that is true, as it must be, any fact that bears on a dog's reliability as a detector of the presence of drugs comes within the purview of the courts."

Questions about the reliability of drug dogs have been on the rise in recent years. Last year, the Chicago Tribune analyzed three years of data from suburban police departments and found that alerts from dogs during roadside encounters led to drugs or paraphernalia just 44% of the time, and only 27% of the time for Hispanic drivers.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited an Australian study that found a drug dog only correctly identified drugs 12% of the time.

"I'm deeply troubled by a dog that alerts only 12% of the time," she said.

Garre responded that the study could be read differently, raising the number of correct alerts to as high as 70% -- if you included instances where the person the dog alerted to had used in been in contact with drug prior to the dog's alert.

And Justice Department attorney Joseph Palmore, arguing in support of Florida's position, told justices they should not let questioning of the dogs' skills go too far.

"I think it's critical... that the courts not constitutionalize dog training methodologies or hold mini-trials with expert witnesses on what makes for a successful dog training program," he said, citing the use of dogs in multiple search endeavors. "There are 32 K-9 teams in the field right now in New York and New Jersey looking for survivors of Hurricane Sandy. So, in situation after situation, the government has in a sense put its money where its mouth is, and it believes at an institutional level that these dogs are quite reliable."

The Supreme Court will decide the paired cases sometime next year.

Washington, DC
United States

Georgia Man Holding Pepper Spray Killed in Drug Raid

Georgia police executing a drug search warrant shot and killed the 60-year-old home owner holding a canister of pepper spray of during a confrontation last Wednesday. Daniel John Thomas Hammett becomes the 51st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Paulding County Sheriff's Office, agents with the Haralson Paulding Narcotics Task Force had been investigating the home's occupants for selling drugs and had made several drug purchases, as well as getting complaints from neighbors.

Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Ashley Henson said before the shooting, officers knocked on the door of the residence in Hiram and announced who they were. They then entered the home -- although Henson didn't make clear how they did so -- and encountered Hammett in a darkened hallway.

"It was very dark because the windows in the front portion of the residence had been covered and were blacked out," Henson said. "When agents first made contact with Hammett, they instructed him to show his hands and he initially did not comply. Hammett then raised his hands up in an aggressive manner while he was holding a black shiny object which was pointed toward agents," Henson said.

"It was then that agents opened fire on Mr. Hammett, fatally striking him once," Henson explained. "It was later determined that Hammett had raised a canister of pepper spray toward the agents."

Hammett was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he died later that afternoon.

Hammett's son Clyde challenged the police version of events in an interview with WSB TV later that same day. His father was arthritic and unarmed, and there was nothing in his hands or next to him after he fell to the floor, he said. Clyde Hammett also said there would be no drugs found at the house.

"They killed him. They killed an innocent man and that's all there is to say to it," Clyde Hammett said. "They say he was armed. They can search all they want, there's no guns in that house."

Cpl. Henson said evidence related to drug trafficking was later found in the home, but didn't specifiy exactly what had been found.

The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending the results of a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Hiram, GA
United States

ACLU Fighting Decision in Cell Phone Tracking Case [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

The American Civil Liberties is challenging a federal appeals court ruling that it is legal for the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to track GPS-equipped cell phones without a warrant. The group has filed an amicus brief urging the full 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the ruling of a three-judge panel last month in US v. Skinner, with ACLU attorney Catherine Crump warning that "the Sixth Circuit ruling in August in Melvin Skinner's case undermined the privacy rights of everyone who carries a cell phone."

Melvin Skinner was suspected of being part of a massive marijuana trafficking organization. Without getting a warrant or showing probable cause, the DEA forced Skinner's cell phone company to provide them with his GPS coordinates continuously as they tracked him cross-country for three days. Using that data, they tracked him down in Texas, searched his mobile home, found 1,100 pounds of marijuana, and arrested him on drug charges. Skinner was convicted and then appealed, arguing that the GPS tracking of his cell phone without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

"There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his 'pay-as-you-go' cell phone, the kind of phone called 'burners' that drug dealers often use for business and quickly dispose of," Judge John Rogers wrote in the majority opinion in Skinner. "If a tool is used to transport contraband and it gives off a signal that can be tracked, certainly the police can track the signal." 

A well-known tool of the trade for those in the drug underworld, 'burners' were also popularized by the HBO show The Wire, which hyped the notoriety of the prepaid phones in its series.

Legal experts say if the Sixth Circuit decision stands it would severely undercut the US Supreme Court decision this past January in the case of accused drug dealer Antoine Jones. In US v. Jones, the Supreme Court issued a historic decision prohibiting law enforcement from tracking vehicles with GPS device without first obtaining a search warrant -- a tactic the feds used against Jones case when the FBI and DEA installed a GPS device on his SUV for 28 days.

Jones' life sentence without parole was reversed and he was remanded for retrial scheduled in 2013. The chilling effect of the Supreme Court ruling in the Jones case forced the FBI to pull the plug on 3,000 GPS tracking systems that had been secretly installed on vehicles across the nation.

"While the Jones case imposes constitutional restrictions on law enforcement to track vehicles with warrantless GPS devices, the Sixth Circuit has now held that agents can engage in even more intrusive surveillance of cell phones without implicating the Fourth Amendment at all," the ACLU noted in its brief to the court.

In their efforts to overturn Skinner's lengthy prison sentence, his attorneys argued that the use of the GPS location information in the cell phone that led to his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures. The primary question in the case was whether Skinner had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy in the data that his cell phone emitted.

The Sixth Circuit ruling comes exactly a month after a Congressional inquiry discovered how law enforcement made over 1.3 million requests for cell phone data last year, seeking subscriber information, text messages, location data and calling records. If upheld, it would be a major boost for government surveillance power as state and federal prosecutors shift their focus to warrantless cell-towers to ferret out cell phone data and track the GPS signals in cell phones without a warrant in a bid to get out from under the Supreme Court's ruling in that police cannot use warrantless GPS to track vehicles.

Lawyers and law enforcement officials agree there are too many conflicts over what information the police are entitled to legally get from wireless cell carriers.

"It's terribly confusing, and understandably so, when federal courts can't agree," cell phone industry attorney Michael Sussman told the New York Times earlier this year. The companies "push back" often when confronted with "urgent" requests for cell phone data, he said. "Not every emergency is an emergency."

US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Rogers (wikimedia.org)
Without a doubt, cell phone data and GPS signals in cell phones are hot commodities in the surveillance business. Business is booming for wireless carriers who sell customers data and cell phone locations to police either by the hour or for one big fee.(See our May story on the practice and the legal challenges to it here.)

But law enforcement is especially well-placed to take advantage of the data. With a simple judge's order, it can easily obtain reams of data and the GPS location of a target's cell phone without a warrant.

As the Times noted, tracking GPS signals in cell phones has become such a tempting technique that the Iowa City Police Department had to issue a stern warning to officers: "Do not mention to the public or the media about the use of cell technology or equipment used to locate targeted subjects and its use should be kept out of police reports."

Similarly, a 2010 training manual written by California prosecutors informed investigators on "how to get the good stuff" using technology. Another police training manual describes cell phones as "the virtual biographer of our daily activities," providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.

The easy availability of cell phone data could spell big trouble for accused drug dealer Antoine Jones as he prepares for retrial next year. This time around, the feds will not use GPS evidence from his vehicle because the Supreme Court prohibited that in his case last year, but it plans to use Jones' cell phone data and the GPS signal in his phone as evidence to connect him with numerous kilos of cocaine.

On September 4, the Obama administration, citing a 1976 Supreme Court precedent, told the federal judge in Jones case that such data, like banking records, and cell phone records, are "third-party records," which means customers have no right to keep it private.

Jones' attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, disagreed. "The government seeks to do with cell site data what it cannot do with the suppressed GPS data that's already been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court," he argued in his brief in the case.

Jones, who is still behind bars despite his victory at the Supreme Court because the government insists on retrying him, is steadfast.

"I am going to fight this all the way to the end," he told the Chronicle.

Aside from the Fourth Amendment implications of the Skinner decision, the case raises another question: Did the courts misinterpret the arcane federal laws governing electronic surveillance?

Jennifer Granick, director for civil liberties, the Stanford Law School Center for the Internet and Society
A Stanford University attorney who is an expert on the legalities now says even the trial court erroneously applied the wrong "trap and trace" statute in denying to suppress the evidence the DEA used to obtain a court order to track the GPS signal in Skinner's phone.

"It was basically the government's "hybrid theory" of what constituted a legal trace of the phone and the court intrepreted the wrong statute," Jennifer Granick told the Chronicle. "The tracking order the DEA used to track Mr. Skinner's phone was not applied correctly under the statute. Pinging a phone in real time is governed by the Pen Register/Trap and Trace statute. To get a trap and trace order, the government usually needs an order under [the relevant] section."

But as Granick has argued in federal criminal defense seminars, the Communications Assistance for Enforcement Act (CALEA) prohibits use of the pen register authorization to obtain subscriber location information."So, the feds should have gotten a warrant under [a different] rule for this information, but clearly did not," Granick concluded.

The confusion is around whether to apply the Pen Register statute or the Stored Communications Act (SCA). The SCA was used by the judge to authorize the trace on Skinner's phone. Under SCA, police cannot receive the contents of the electronic communication, but, police are allowed to find out "where whom said what."

The advantage for law enforcement, prosecutors and judges in such matters is the fact they often use this reasoning to obtain location data that can easily turn a cell phone into a tracking device without a warrant -- whereas legal experts say it should require a much higher threshold -- like a probable cause warrant.

Granick was surprised to learn the court relied on the SCA instead of the other relevant laws.

"You mean the court authorized real time tracking based on the Stored Communications Act, without even a reference to the Pen Register statute or CALEA?" she asked incredulously. "Well, it's not right, but that's what the court did."

Restrained by the Supreme Court from using warrantless GPS tracking by the Jones case, federal law enforcement and local police are making greater use of cell phone data to track suspects. Whether that is constitutional is still an open question. Federal courts are splitting on the issue of whether the collection of cell phone data and the warrantless tracking information of the GPS signal in a phone is legal. That means the issue is likely headed for the Supreme Court for final resolution.

Meanwhile, it looks like Skinner may have yet another issue to raise on appeal.

No Warrant Needed for Illinois Drug Audio Recordings [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

No warrant needed for listening in on drug suspects (wikimedia.org)
In Illinois, the war on drugs has delivered yet another blow to citizens' privacy rights. In the Land of Lincoln, it is illegal for citizens to record or videotape Illinois police in public, yet the Illinois legislature last month gave police the right to engage in those very same activities -- without a warrant -- during drug investigations.

On July 24, citing police safety and the need for quicker drug arrests, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed into law House Bill 4081, which exempts police doing drug investigations from the provisions of the state's eavesdropping law. It also allows them to audio or videotape drug suspects without having to get a warrant.

Under the bill, sponsored by state Reps. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria) and William Haine (D-Alton), the normal requirement of a warrant based on probable cause is replaced by the lower and constitutionally-suspect requirement of only reasonable cause. In a further victory for the imperatives of the drug law enforcement, police will be able to bypass judicial scrutiny of their need to record someone and instead will merely have to obtain prior approval from a prosecutor to listen in on suspected drug conversations.

"The world of illicit drugs moves very quickly," explained Terry Lemming, an Illinois State Police commander, during a May hearing on the bill. "It's very difficult to find a judge in the middle of the night. I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner -- and that's the feeling of many narcotic officers."

Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel told the Chronicle the new law was desperately needed. Weitzel is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who, along with his comrades, fought for 14 years to get the law passed.

"The law is critical to undercover narcotic officers for several reasons," he wrote in an email. "First, it's an officer safety issue because many times backup teams are blocks away when drug transactions either take place in cars, within homes or apartments, or just on the streets."

Weitzel even went as far as to say the law would benefit defendants, too.

"The legislation will help secure better evidence for prosecutors and protect suspects from police misconduct, including the fact the same audio recordings made by police can be used by defendants who claim entrapment," he argued.

But while the bill is now law, not everyone is happy about it. Rumblings of discontent have been heard from civil rights advocates, legal experts, and opposing lawmakers.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) argued during hearings on the bill that if judicial responsiveness is a problem for police, then the fix would be to make judges more available for warrant requests -- not to take them out of the loop.

"I'm struggling with taking away where you'd go to get a judge's approval to have a wiretap," he said.

Under the new law, judges are not completely frozen out of the process, but their role is limited to determining whether evidence gained from a wiretap can be admitted at trial.

"I understand the desire to enhance law enforcement tools to deal with crime, and I am certainly on the side of law enforcement, but it's a very slippery slope we go down when we start removing safeguards that has historically exist to make sure certain tools not be used inappropriately," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

State Sen. Michael Nolan (D-Elgin) also weighed in on the matter. Nolan's dissatisfaction with the bill is the fact the new law deals with reasonable cause as the standard for having private conversations recorded, as opposed to probable cause, which is the standard bearer for the integrity of the law.

"This legislation does not base that determination of admissibility on 'probable cause,'" he said. "This is basically upending the Fourth Amendment."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ed-yohnka-200px.jpg
ACLU of Illinois' Ed Yohnka
The ACLU of Illinois had a similar reading. Its spokesman, director of communications and public policy Ed Yohnka, told the Chronicle the new law was not only constitutionally suspect but also unnecessary.

"In all the years that Illinois law enforcement worked for this change, they never been able to point to a particular need for this new power. In many years, we have seen drug related arrests in Illinois rise over a yearly period without this new authority -- which begs the question: is this power really necessary?" he asked.

"The legislature should have left things alone because judges act as a neutral third party and they can already act fast enough," Yohnka continued. "Our personal conversations are the most intimate we have and government should make certain it is necessary to intrude before engaging in eavesdropping."

For Yohnka, the new law doesn't pass the smell test. He noted that current law already allows police to wiretap or do audio recording in an emergency and suggested the real intent is to allow police to more easily listen in on targets not directly involved with drug trafficking, targets merely associated with a prime suspect.

"The current law permits an officer to conduct warrantless wiretapping or audio-recording if police or citizens were in imminent danger," Yohnka said. "The creation of this new authority suggests this is not about protecting police officers."

What makes the new law all the more galling to some is that police, who can now wiretap drug suspects without a warrant, have a habit of arresting members of the public who do the same thing to them. Under current Illinois eavesdropping law, citizens have the right to video a police officer making a public arrest, but a person cannot record an audio of police without permission.

That law is now under review by the state's appellate courts in a case arising from the 2009 arrest of self-employed artist Christopher Drew. When police arrested him for selling art on the street without a proper permit, they discovered him recording the encounter. They then charged him with felony eavesdropping for recording them without their permission.

Drew went public and fought to have the law declared illegal and earlier this year he won a partial victory when Circuit Court Judge Stanley Sacks declared it unconstitutional. Sacks ruled that the law criminalized innocent conduct and violated due process. But state prosecutors appealed the ruling and vowed to keep it on the books.

One standard for police, another for citizens. Police can record private conversations without a warrant, but citizens face years in prison if they record police in the line of duty -- at least until the Illinois courts definitively rule that portion of the eavesdropping law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, look for legal challenges to the new law allowing police to bypass judges and the warrant process in their never-ending war on drugs.

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