Posts Tagged ‘4th Amendment’

WHAT HAPPENED:  In North Dakota, Minnesota and countless other States in the Union, the State may penalize a suspected drunk driver if that driver refuses to submit a blood or breath test.  The test is requested after reasonable suspicion is established and refusal often results in penalties similar to that of a DUI.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Despite what you may observe from watching the TV show COPS, you do not have an obligation to cooperate with police investigations.  Consent is seen as a waiver of your rights and not a required action.  In this context, the State is penalizing you for exercising your 4th amendment right against search and seizure by giving you a penalty for refusal.  Taken broadly, that’s a problem.  This case asks whether penalties for refusing blood, breath or both, are constitutional.

WHAT IS THE RULING:  This case is not yet decided.

WHAT IS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION:  If the Court deems these statutes unconstitutional, that will be a significant problem in proving DUI convictions in most cases.  While many people admit to driving drunk when pulled over, many others receive less penalties by refusing the tests and depriving the State the best evidence to secure a conviction.  In this author’s humble opinion, this case probably will have the most effect on the average citizen than any other decision this term.

ROOT FOR BIRCHFIELD, BEYLUND & BERNARD IF:  As far as I’m aware, this is the exclusive list (1) Public Defenders, (2)  Hyper-strict AND liberal Constitution fanatics, and (3) drunks.  It should be noted that one person could qualify for all three of these things

ROOT FOR NORTH DAKOTA AND MINNESOTA IF: You don’t think drunk drivers are a class of persons worth giving strong protections to.

In the 10/18 episode about dog sniffs, a reader submitted a Washington Post article about dog sniffs.  The link is below.

Utah police stopped the defendant after seeing him congregate around a house that was being investigated for drug dealing.  The police officer in question did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant, but found out soon after the stop that Defendant had an arrest warrant.  Defendant was arrested and a subsequent search turned up drugs, which were added to Defendant’s existing charge.
Even the most nominal of stops requires the police to show some level of cause to be valid under the 4th Amendment.  Police are permitted to stop citizens for a minor search pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, provided the officer can prove a standard known as reasonable suspicion.  Here, the officer did not have any basis for the stop, so on the face of it, this case should be an easy win for the Defendant.  The issue arises because the officer could have stopped Defendant had he known of the arrest warrant, which he did not.  So the issue arises on whether or not a search lacks Constitutionality because of the officer’s subjective belief or because of the objective criteria surrounding the search.
This case is not yet decided.
Presumably if the police win, all hell could break loose.  Police are permitted a “good faith exception”, where an officer who acts reasonably on bad information gets a pass under the 4th Amendment.  This would create a bizzaro “bad faith exception” where an officer acting poorly gets a free pass if there was any basis for the search independent of the officer’s knowledge.
You enjoy the delicate balance that exists between citizens and the police, and would prefer the police avoid taking risks with our privacy.
Love dramatic irony.


WHAT HAPPENED: King was arrested under suspicion of a generally horrible crime; and at the time of his arrest, the Maryland police took a DNA sample without a warrant. The DNA sample was used to link King to the crime and then later used to convict King of the crime.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: Sadly, the Court did not review this case to pat the Maryland police on the back for effective police work. The DNA sample was taken pursuant to a Maryland law that allowed police to take DNA samples upon arrest without a warrant, provided that the sample was destroyed shortly after. King argued that taking the sample was a 4th amendment violation, since the police were seizing King’s genetic material without a warrant.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: The decision would stand to either benefit or hinder police work in lieu of current developments in genetics and DNA testing. As science continues to develop regarding our ability to use DNA in connecting or exonerating accused defendants, the King case stood to balance the 4th Amendment against an effective way of linking defendants to crimes.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the State of Maryland and upheld King’s conviction. The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, who stated that the parameters of the law which had safeguards that would ensure that the search was nominally intrusive was reasonable in light of the benefit it would provide to police.  In balancing the interests of both sides, Kennedy stated that the nominal intrusion of the DNA test was outweighed by the benefit given to law enforcement. The dissent was written by Justice Scalia, who held that the Maryland statute was an unequivocal violation of the 4th Amendment, as it permitted police to search highly private information without a warrant or probable cause. In a style that is commonly described as “scathing”, Scalia read his opinion aloud and warned that the Court was allowing the police to collect your DNA into a national database, regardless of the arrest.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: have had any practical experience with the criminal justice system.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: you a Supreme Court justice who loves literal reads of the Constitution, fiery rhetoric, and 1984 Big Brother conspiracy theories.

WHO WAS RIGHT: This decision predated the podcast by about two years, so let’s say we were both right.


WHAT HAPPENED: Riley is a criminal defendant who was arrested following a traffic stop, where guns and drugs were found in his vehicle. During the stop, the California Police took and looked through Riley’s cell phone without a warrant, where they found additional evidence that was used against Riley at trial.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: The 4th Amendment generally limits the police’s ability to search your belongings, but police have almost unlimited authority to search your car following a valid vehicle stop which results in an arrest. “Almost” is the key word there, because police may only search a car if they are looking for dangerous weapons or evidence that could be tampered with. The question here is whether or not the defendant’s cell phone qualifies in the general rule allowing searches or the more limited exception.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: The Supreme Court, which is composed generally of old attorneys in antiquated robes and tradition, is about as apt to resolve cell phone problems as you would generally expect. This decision would determine how much privacy citizens have in their cell phone and whether police have any limitations on looking through your text messages and google history.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled unanimously that the search and seizure of Riley’s phone was unconstitutional. Based on the test articulated above, the Court held that a cell phone was neither a dangerous weapon nor evidence required preservation. Furthermore, the Court held that cell phones contain highly private information that require a warrant before police may conduct any form of search. The Court stated that just because cell phones allow us to carry more private information on our persons does not give that information less protection.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: have a cell phone.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: who knows, man. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like this opinion, you’re a weirdo.

WHO WAS RIGHT: This decision came out a few years ago, so Brett and Nazim could only revel in its afterglow.

Heien v. North Carolina

Posted: December 27, 2014 by beguide in case summaries

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WHAT HAPPENED: Heien is a criminal defendant who was arrested for drug possession. North Carolina is the criminal agency prosecuting Hein for said drug possession. Heien was pulled over for driving with one broken taillight. During the stop, the police officer searched Heien’s car and found illegal drugs.   Later, it was determined that driving with one taillight is not against the law in North Carolina, so Hein should have never been pulled over to begin with.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: The Fourth Amendment puts limitations on when, where, why, and how the police can search the vehicle of a person who is pulled over. Ordinarily, the police are allowed to search a person’s car when the car is stopped for a traffic violation; however, the police have significantly less authority when the defendant is stopped for actions that are technically not illegal. The issue here is whether or not the search should have been allowed when it originated out of a policeman’s mistake.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: Police are limited by the Fourth Amendment and the warrant requirement when searching the property of citizens; however, the police have something called the “good faith exception” that serves as an escape valve for searches that are technically bad but done in good faith. One would have to wonder whether a policeman, who is tasked with knowing the law, would be given such leeway when the law that they are tasked with enforcing is interpreted incorrectly. One could argue that this extends the good faith extension too broadly and into conduct that police could take advantage of.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled 9-1 in favor of North Carolina. Justice Roberts issues a majority opinion that held that the 4th Amendment is based on reasonableness and the mistake by the officer was objectively reasonable in light of the circumstances. Justice Kagan issues a concurrence that agreed with the holding, but made the test for reasonableness a bit stricter against the police than the majority opinion and limited this case to the specific facts of an officer’s mistake in arresting the defendant for legal conduct. Justice Sodomayor had the lone dissenting vote in which she broadly worried that 4th amendment protections were eroded by the holding.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: are a lazy police officer with a bad memory.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: are the kind of person who likes to drive your drugs around in a crappy car.

WHO WAS RIGHT: Nazim correctly picked the holding, but believed the decision would lead to general disorder and chaos. Needless to say, the jury is still out on the last part.