While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.
In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.
It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?
Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.
Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.
The Supreme Court today heard arguments in two cases concerning warrantless searches of cell phones. The old rules about searching belongings and the immediate area in the course of an arrest need to be reassessed now that most people carry a great deal of information around on their smartphones.
Lyle Denniston’s argument recap is here. The rest of my sketches are posted below.
Frigid temperatures this morning means that, no, I didn’t sketch that Carolina wren al fresco outside the Supreme Court. A friend took a picture of it yesterday in Ellicott City which I stole for this composition. So, sue me.
Do police officers who fire shots at a vehicle during a high-speed chase violate the Fourth Amendment by using “unreasonable” force? Most of the Justices seemed not to think so, as long as the chase itself poses a danger.
Chief Justice Roberts: “is there any situation in which it would violate clearly established constitutional law for the police to use lethal force?”
Michael Mosley: “I hate to use television as an example, but perhaps the way the white Ford Bronco fled in the early 90’s that everybody saw on TV.”
The lawyer arguing for the daughter of the driver slain in the volley of shots fired by the police was peppered with questions from the bench, often incredulous or sarcastic.
Justice Scalia: “Okay, . . . You think it is clearly established law that you cannot shoot to kill a driver whose car is moving? Is that it?”
Gary K. Smith: “If . . . “
Scalia: “Is that the principle you say is clearly established?”
Smith: “If doing so . . . “
Scalia: “My goodness, they do it all the time. You watch the movies . . . it happens all the time. Are these movies unrealistic? You cannot shoot to kill somebody in a moving car?”
Smith: “In a . . . “
Scalia: “And that is not just your view. It is, you say, clearly established law?”
The case is Plumhoff v. Rickard
When professional gamblers Gina Fiore and Keith Gipson passed through the Atlanta airport on their way home to Nevada after a gambling trip to Puerto Rico a search of their bags turned up $97,000 in cash. The DEA was contacted and Fiore and Gipson were detained for questioning. They told Anthony Walden, a local police officer deputized as DEA agent, that they learned the cash legitimately at the gambling tables. Nevertheless the cash was seized and Walden told them that they would get it back once they provided proper documentation.
Upon their return to Las Vegas they sent the necessary documentation, but the DEA continued to hold on to the cash based on a questionable affidavit drafted by Walden. Eventually the money was returned and the gamblers filed a lawsuit against officer Walden in Nevada federal court.
The question before the Supreme Court at Monday’s argument in Walden v. Fiore is whether the court in Nevada has jurisdiction over an officer doing his job in Georgia and where should the case be tried. The above sketch shows Walden’s lawyer, Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, arguing that the case belongs in Georgia.
Tom Goldstein, on the other hand, argued that the injury occurred in Nevada and, as the Ninth Circuit concluded, should be tried there. He concluded by warning, “. . . if that’s not enough, you are closing the door absolutely to all internet cases . . . where someone sits at the computer and targets someone in another State.
How far can the police go in procuring a warrant based on an affidavit “so lacking in indicia of probable cause” that the resulting search not only violates the Fourth Amendment, but exposes the officer to civil action? Beats me.
The case is Messerschmidt v. Millender.