Search and Seizure

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Video: 5 Reasons You Should Never Agree to a Police Search

Steve Silverman and I recently started a new YouTube show called How to Deal with Cops. This is my first episode, which goes over the major points from my Huffington Post piece last week.

Future episodes will probably follow more of a Q&A format, i.e. I'll be responding to questions people posted in response to previous episodes. Unfortunately, the leading question so far seems to be "How high are you in this video?" and the answer is not at all. People who don't know me always think I look high on camera. Guess it goes with the territory.

Anyway, there are plenty of more important issues to discuss than whether or not I'm super high, so I look forward to making more videos and helping people handle police encounters.

Police Need Warrant for GPS Tracking, Supreme Court Rules

The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the decision was narrow, leaving unanswered lingering questions about citizens' expectations of privacy in an age of rapid technological advance.

The ruling came in US v. Jones, in which Washington, DC, nightclub owner Antoine Jones was convicted of drug trafficking offenses based in part on evidence developed after police placed a GPS device on his vehicle and monitored his movements for 28 days. (See the Chronicle's earlier coverage of the Antoine Jones case here.) Police had sought a warrant to place a GPS tracking device, but that warrant expired before the device was actually placed on Jones' vehicle.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said police needed a search warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle. He was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

"We hold that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search'" under the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

But the court split on whether the decision went far enough. Scalia wrote that if the government had been able to use electronic surveillance to spy on Jones without physically trespassing on his property, that may have been "an unconstitutional invasion of privacy." But, Scalia added, "The present case does not require us to answer that question."

That wasn't good enough for Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who, in a concurring opinion, said the court should have tackled the larger question instead of using "18th century tort law" to decide a case about "21st century surveillance techniques."

"The court's reasoning largely disregards what is really important (the use of a GPS for the purpose of long-term tracking) and instead attaches great significance to something that most would view as relatively minor (attaching to the bottom of a car a small, light object that does not interfere in any way with the car's operation)," Alito wrote.

It was the long-term surveillance itself, not the fact that police physically placed a tracking device on Jones' vehicle, that violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures, Alito argued.

"The use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy," he wrote. "For such offenses, society's expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not -- and indeed, in the main, simply could not -- secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual's car for a very long period."

Although Justice Sotomayor joined the majority opinion, she also seemed disappointed that the court had not ruled more broadly. She wrote that the court had in effect ducked the big question of whether warrantless electronic surveillance was constitutional and warned that Monday's decision will do little to answer that question.

"With increasing regularity, the government will be capable of duplicating the monitoring undertaken in this case by enlisting factory- or owner-installed vehicle tracking devices or GPS-enabled smart phones," Sotomayor wrote. "In cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion's trespassory test may provide little guidance."

Still, this is a win for the Fourth Amendment and for individual privacy rights, even if it is limited.

Washington, DC
United States

Supreme Court Will Hear Florida Drug Dog Case

The US Supreme Court said last Friday it would decide whether having a drug dog sniff at the door of a private residence violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches. The court agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Florida in a case where the Florida Supreme Court ruled that such searches were indeed unconstitutional.

The case is Florida v. Jardines, which began with the arrest and conviction of Joelis Jardines for marijuana trafficking and electricity theft after a Florida police officer's drug dog sniffed at Jardines' front door and alerted to the odor of marijuana, Jardines and his attorney challenged the search, claiming the dog sniff was an unconstitutional intrusion into his home.

The trial judge agreed, throwing out the evidence, but an appeals court reversed the lower court decision. In April, in a split decision, the state Supreme Court reversed the appeals court, siding with the trial judge.

What the high court decides will be watched with great interest by law enforcement, which sees drug-sniffing dogs as an invaluable tool in its fight to suppress drug use and the drug trade. Eighteen states had joined with Florida in urging the court to take up the case. They argued that the state court decision went against legal precedent and threatened a valuable and widely-used tactic.

This will be only the latest legal tussle over whether the use of dogs to find drugs, explosives and other illegal or dangerous substances violates the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. In previous cases, the Supreme Court has upheld the use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops, at airport luggage inspections, and for shipped packages in transit.

This case is different because it involves a private residence. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that a residence is entitled to greater privacy than cars on a highway, luggage at an airport, or a package in transit. The court used that reasoning in a 2001 case involving the use of thermal imaging to detect heat from a marijuana grow operation in a home, ruling that the scan constituted a search requiring either a search warrant or probable cause.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in April and render a decision by the end of June.

Washington, DC
United States

Supreme Court Asked to Take Drug Dog Case

The state of Florida is asking the US Supreme Court to reverse a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that having a drug dog sniff the front door of a residence is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches. Court followers told the Associated Press the high court is likely to take up the case.

drug dog (wikimedia.org)
In Florida v. Jardines, a case that originated with the arrest and conviction of Joelis Jardines for marijuana trafficking and electricity theft after a Florida police officer's drug dog sniffed at Jardines' front door and alerted to the odor of marijuana, the state Supreme Court held that the drug dog sniff was indeed a search under the Fourth Amendment and thus required either probable cause or reasonable suspicion if conducted without a search warrant.

The justices could decide this month whether to take the case, the latest dispute about whether the use of dogs to find drugs, explosives and other illegal or dangerous substances violates the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. In previous cases, the Supreme Court has upheld the use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops, at airport luggage inspections, and for shipped packages in transit.

This case is different because it involves a private residence. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that a residence is entitled to greater privacy than cars on a highway, luggage at an airport, or a package in transit. The court used that reasoning in a 2001 case involving the use of thermal imaging to detect heat from a marijuana grow operation in a home, ruling that the scan constituted a search requiring either a search warrant or probable cause.

"We have said that the Fourth Amendment draws a firm line at the entrance to the house," the court held in that case, Kyllo v. United States. The opinion noted that thermal imaging could detect such private matters as "at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath."

Jardines and his attorney challenged the search, claiming the dog sniff was an unconstitutional intrusion into his home. The trial judge agreed, throwing out the evidence, but an appeals court reversed the lower court decision. In April, in a split decision, the state Supreme Court reversed the appeals court, siding with the trial judge.

Now, attorneys for Florida are seeking US Supreme Court review. They argue that the state Supreme Court decision conflicts with previous rulings that a drug dog sniff is not a search.

"A dog sniff of a house reveals only that the house contains drugs, not any other private information about the house or the persons in it," wrote Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida associate deputy attorney general. "A person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in illegal drugs."

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Live Webchat About Dealing with Police

Steve Silverman and I will be joining the popular political site FireDogLake this evening for a webchat about our film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. Please join us from 8:00-9:30ET for what I'm sure will be a lively discussion. Just click into FireDogLake.com at 8:00 and register here if you'd like to comment or ask questions. Hope to see you there.

NYPD Only Arrests Minorities for Marijuana. Here's How They Do It.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/newyorkmarijuanaarrests.png

Since 1977, it's been technically legal in the State of New York to carry around a concealed bag of marijuana weighing less than 7/8 of an ounce. But you could be forgiven for not knowing this, since getting popped for petty pot possession is easier in New York City than anywhere else on the planet.

It's a monumental injustice that owes its costly continuation to one simple tactic: tricking people into committing the crime of displaying their marijuana in plain sight:

What's happening is that disproportionate numbers of black and brown young men, ages 16 to 29, are being duped into publicly revealing their allowable marijuana and then being arrested, thereby gaining a criminal record, advocates say. Police officers will say, "Empty your pockets!" turning a routine stop into an arrest and a police record.

"In 2010 in New York State, there were 54,000 marijuana arrests ... 50,000 of them came from New York City, and -- surprise, surprise -- from neighborhoods that primarily are black, Latino and low income," says Kyung Ji Kate Rhee, executive director of the IJJRA. "It's not like these individuals had a felony charge and marijuana happened to be an additional charge ... You're telling me that 50,000 had marijuana in plain view? Does that sound right to you? After that initial point of police contact, they trick you into turning out your pockets."

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment. (The Root)

Now this is where I get confused, because if arresting young black and Latino men for tiny little bags of marijuana were as important to me as it is to the New York Police Dept., I would be extremely pleased with these results and eager to take credit for them. It makes little sense to provide your officers with special training in how to make trivial arrests for petty crimes under legally-dubious circumstances if you aren't going to be proud of the outcome.

Why not instead spend the $75 million that all of this costs on something that you're at least willing to admit you've been doing? Surely they can think of something to do with those resources that will make sense to the public, something -- anything! -- other than a massive, utterly pointless exercise in transparent racism that plainly violates the spirit of the laws of the State of New York.

Please click here to send a message to Mayor Bloomberg that New York City's senseless war on marijuana must be ended once and for all.

ACLU Sues Florida Governor on State Employee Drug Tests [FEATURE]

The ACLU of Florida Tuesday filed suit in federal court in Miami to block Gov. Rick Scott's (R) executive order mandating random, suspicionless drug testing of state employees. The lawsuit contends the drug testing amounts to an unlawful and unreasonable search and seizure, violating state employees' Fourth Amendment rights, and seeks an immediate halt to the practice.

Florida state workers, be prepared to submit one of these if Gov. Scott has his way. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
"We are taking this action to prevent Gov. Scott from trampling on your rights in Florida," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon during a Wednesday afternoon press call. "We don't have a system of government run only by the executive and the legislative branch. It's time for the courts to step up and defend the rights of Floridians. This is an abuse of government power."

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 79, which represents 50,000 state employees and an additional 200,000 county and municipal employees in Florida. Also joining the lawsuit is Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research scientist Richard Flamm.

"AFSCME has for decades supported drug-free workplace policies while preserving the fundamental right of public servants to be free of extreme governmental intrusions," said Alma Gonzales, general counsel for AFSCME Council 79. "We negotiated objective standards for drug testing for reasonable suspicion or if there is a safety risk, but at no point has the governor's office ever contacted us to negotiate over this. We're talking about taking their bodily fluids without probable cause or consent," she pointed out. "It's surprising and disappointing that the chief executive of Florida is unaware or doesn't care that this is the law of the land."

"I've been a state employee for almost 18 years," said Flamm. "There is absolutely no suspicion based on my behavior at work that I am a drug user. I joined as a plaintiff in this lawsuit because I find this extremely costly and wasteful. There is no threat to society. As a Florida taxpayer, I find it outrageous that given our current economic climate, with the loss of services and public jobs, that we would be wasting millions with unnecessary drug tests. As a citizen of the United States, I find this executive order an egregious attack on the Constitution. I'm surprised more people haven't stepped up," the research scientist said.

Scott signed the executive order on March 22, and it called for state agencies to have devised drug testing regimes by May 21, but it is unclear whether any state employees have been subjected to drug testing at this point.

The US Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The only exceptions allowed by the high court are "special circumstances," such as employees who work in jobs where there is "concrete danger of real harm."

"This executive order is profoundly un-American," said Simon. "This is a governor who masquerades as a conservative, but who is a radical. We had a revolution in this country that led to the enactment of the Fourth Amendment and the bill of rights, and that was a reaction to warrantless searches by the troops of King George."

"When we were asked to look at this and represent AFSCME, we did a painstaking analysis of constitutional law precedents dealing with employee drug testing," said Peter Walsh, an ACLU of Florida attorney working on the case. "This isn't a case of a governor arguably acting within the bounds of the US Constitution or even pushing the envelope to test the limits; the governor has ripped the envelope apart and jumped way over the line of what is permissible. He has violated the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure clause and done so in a big way."

There is also precedent from the Sunshine State itself. The city of Hollywood, Florida, enacted a municipal employee drug testing law little more than a decade ago, only to have it thrown out by the Florida courts in 2000. Four years later, the state Department of Juvenile Justice's effort to conduct suspicionless drug tests on employees was also thrown out. The department is a state agency covered by the governor's executive order.

"I'm not surprised but a little bit shocked that the governor would go ahead with issuing an executive order when this is about as close to settled law as possible," said Simon. "Federal judges have struck such programs down as searches without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion."

"Employee drug testing by urinalysis is particularly destructive of privacy, offensive to personal dignity, demeaning and an affront to dignity," said Walsh. "Those are the words of Justice Antonin Scalia from his dissenting opinion in a seminal case on employee drug testing."

In that case, the high court upheld suspicionless drug testing by private employers. US law provides few worker protections from employer drug testing. But drug testing by the government is a different matter, and constitutional protections unavailable to private sector workers come into play.

"People say this is so widespread in the private sector that what's the big deal," said Simon. "But just because it's widespread doesn't make it right. Public sector employees are protected by the Fourth Amendment; they have more protection of their rights to privacy. We are proud to be filing this lawsuit on their behalf."

Simon also hinted strongly that the ACLU of Florida would soon be filing another lawsuit, this one aimed at the welfare drug testing bill Gov. Scott signed this week. Like state worker drug testing, the courts have frowned on the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. The last state to try to implement such a plan, Michigan, had its law thrown out as unconstitutional by a US district court in 2003.

Gov. Scott ran on a platform of reducing needless spending in the public sector. But he's about to spend big bucks on defending an executive order that is constitutionally indefensible and likely to spend even more defending the welfare drug testing law that is just as constitutionally indefensible.

Miami, FL
United States

Chicago Housing Authority Wants to Drug Test Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority wants to require all current and future adult residents -- including senior citizens -- to pass a drug test. A positive drug test would result in an eviction notice for the resident.

The CHA wants you to pass a drug test if you live in the Kenmore or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The proposal is one of several changes to the CHA's Admission and Continued Occupancy Policy submitted by CEO Lewis Jordan. Jordan and other agency officials argue they need more tools to fight crime and drugs in the housing projects.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the CHA of subjecting the poor to a double standard, while resident leaders said the proposal was humiliating.

"The ACLU opposes drug testing in the absence of suspicion as a condition of residency in public housing," senior lawyer Adam Schwartz told the Chicago Sun-Times. "From our perspective, drug testing without suspicion is humiliating. It's stigmatizing. There's a double standard here," he said. "All across our city and our country, when most of us who are in whatever income bracket rent housing, we don't have to take a drug test. This is an emerging one standard for poor people and another standard for everyone else."

"Singling us out for this type of humiliation is a slap in the face of what this whole 'Plan for Transformation' supposedly is about," Myra King, chair of the central advisory council of tenant leaders for all CHA housing in the city, told the Sun-Times. "CHA says they're doing this plan to make us privy to the same standards as any other citizen in any other community. If that's true, why are we the only citizens to be drug tested?"

Lewis's "Plan for Transformation" also includes eliminating the "innocent tenant defense," which allows residents whose relatives or guests committed a drug offense or crime of violence to avoid eviction if they can show they were unaware of the activity. In a 2002 case, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing authorities could evict innocent tenants, but they are not required to. Former CHA head Terry Peterson had reached an agreement with tenants that allowed the continued use of the defense if it could be proved in court.

Spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller defended the proposals, pointing out that several CHA mixed-income properties currently require drug testing. "These are policies to help strengthen and improve the safety of our public housing communities," O'Connell-Miller said. "We're constantly hearing from law-abiding residents that they want us to hold the non-law abiding residents more accountable. We're trying to tighten up our lease with some of these issues. Drug dealers won't come where there are no buyers. If you remove the folks who are interested in drugs, hopefully it will remove some of the problems," she said.

Making the policy system wide would apply it to some 16,000 families living in family and senior public housing. The CHA has not estimated the cost of the proposal, O'Connell-Miller said.

The proposals are open to public comment through June 16, with a public hearing set for Thursday. If the proposal is adopted, it must then be approved by the CHA Board and then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And then the CHA can spend good money fighting (and most likely losing), the inevitable legal challenges. The precedent here is the state of Michigan's 1990s law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. It was rejected by the federal courts in 2003 for violating Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable search and seizure.

Chicago, IL
United States

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Signed Into Law

Florida welfare applicants and recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to undergo drug tests at their own expense to receive cash benefits after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a drug testing bill, HB 353, that passed the state legislature earlier this month. Scott also signed HB 1039, a law banning "bath salts," or new synthetic stimulant drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) scores political points on the backs of the poor. (Image courtesy state of Florida)
More than 21,000 Floridians receiving benefits as heads of households will have to pay for and take the drug tests, as well as any new applicants. If they pass the drug test, they will be reimbursed for the cost. If they fail the drug test, they become ineligible to receive benefits for one year or until successfully completing drug treatment. Children of heads of household who test positive would still be eligible to receive benefits through a designated third party.

Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature argued that the law is necessary to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. But opponents cited studies demonstrating that drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than among the general public.

"While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," Scott said in a press release. "This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars."

The ACLU of Florida was quick to attack the new law. It noted that the only other state law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients -- one in Michigan -- was overturned by the federal courts in 2003 for violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

"Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon in a statement Tuesday. "The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse."

Citing the Michigan decision, Simon continued: "Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the state's own earlier experimental drug-testing program," he said. "Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida's poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution. Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law."

Wednesday the ACLU of Florida announced it was filing suit against the governor over an executive order he issued earlier this year requiring suspicionless drug testing of state employees. At the same time, it promises an announcement soon about how it plans to respond to the welfare drug testing law. 

Tallahassee, FL
United States

The Supreme Court's Stinky Ruling on Marijuana Odor: What Does it Really Mean?

I have a new piece at Huffington Post attempting to make sense of the Supreme Court's ruling in Kentucky v. King. This thing is a mess, for sure, but it's not exactly the deathblow to our 4th Amendment rights that some have made it out to be.

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