Thursday, March 12, 1998

US Supreme Court US v. Place 81-1617

Decided 6-20-83.

   Place was flying from Miami to New York when he somehow aroused the suspicion of law enforcement officers.  They contacted him, and he presented ID and consented to a search of his checked luggage.  The police did not search him, because his flight was due to leave in ten minutes.  As they released him, he made some remark about how he had recognized that they were police officers.  Because of this (?), they did a little more digging and figured out that he had listed fake addresses on his luggage tags.  They called the police in New York to let them know Place was coming.

   In New York, DEA agents contacted Place as he about to leave the airport with his luggage.  He made the same remark about knowing that they were cops.  They told him that based on their own observations and on information from Miami, they believed he was carrying narcotics.  They asked for consent to search his luggage, and he refused.  They told him that they were going to detain his luggage in order to get a search warrant, and gave him a choice to either accompany them or not.  He chose not.

   The DEA "detained" Place's luggage for about an hour and a half, then ran a dog on it.  The dog alerted on one of the two bags.  This was on a Friday, and they held on to the luggage until Monday when they got a warrant for the bag the dog had alerted on.  There was cocaine in there, and Place was later arrested.

   The trial court applied the reasoning of Terry v. Ohio to the DEA's "detention" of Place's luggage.  The Court of Appeals called bullshit on the 90 minute detention, and this case found it's way to the Supreme Court.

   The Court ruled that the authority to briefly detain people based on reasonable suspicion also applied to the detention of property, so the initial detention of the luggage was permissible.  The court also ruled that because a K9 sniff involves such limited intrusion, and only gives the police information about the presence of contraband (which people do not have a right to possess, and therefore have no legitimate privacy interest in), a K9 sniff is not a search for fourth amendment purposes and does not require probable cause.  Finally, although the court declined to put a specific time limit on investigative detentions, the court held that the facts of this case did not support a 90 minute detention of luggage.  So even though this decision expanded government authority to both detain property and conduct K9 sniffs, the police in this case violated the fourth amendment and Place's conviction was reversed.

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Reynolds 83SA346

Decided December 5, 1983

   Officers responded to a call that a gun had been fired during a domestic dispute, and that the reporting party's mother had locked herself in the bathroom.  When they got there, Reynolds admitted the police into the house and gave the police permission (entirely unnecessarily, in my opinion) to break down the bathroom door in order to render aid to his wife, who he said had been shot.  The cops broke down the door, and found Reynolds' dead wife in the bathroom.  Reynolds was subsequently arrested, and in continuing their search of the house (looking for additional victims), the police found additional evidence (including a revolver).  An hour and a half later, CSI photographed the scene, took measurements, and generally did what CSI does.  No warrant had been obtained. 

   The trial court ruled that the police had lawfully made entry into the residence based on the emergency exception to the warrant requirement.  The court also ruled that the evidence was discovered during a lawful search and validly seized under the plain view exception.  However, the pictures and measurements taken by CSI were suppressed because the court held that a warrant was required before CSI could do their thing (the emergency having apparently expired).  The people filed an interlocutory appeal.

   In its decision, the Colorado Supreme Court discussed three exceptions to the warrant requirement: exigent circumstances (in particular, the emergency exception), consent, and plain view.

   The emergency exception exists where there is "a colorable claim of emergency threatening the life or safety of another."  Searches under this exception must be limited to the scope of the emergency (so you can't go looking for gunshot victims in the kitchen drawer.  If they fit in there, the emergency has passed).  The circumstances of this case supported searching the entire house for victims, suspects, or weapons under the emergency exception.

   Consent exists where a person voluntarily waives his rights.  Consent may be limited in scope, time, area (or pretty much whichever way the person giving consent wants to limit it, although the court doesn't come right out and say that).  Consent was also present in this case (at least when the police were kicking down doors), although the district court did not consider it.

   The plain view exception allows police to seize incriminating evidence which they discover under three conditions: 1- the initial intrusion into the protected area must be valid (either under a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement), 2- the discovery of the evidence must be inadvertent, and 3- the officer has to know that the evidence is incriminating (seems simple enough, but it apparently has to be said.  I almost hate to wonder who screwed that one up so that the court had to spell it out?).

   In this case, the items of evidence were validly seized under the plain view doctrine, pursuant either to consent or the emergency exception.  Now on to the recordings.  The court held that although 90 minutes had passed between the discovery of the evidence and the processing of the scene, the scene was processed as part of an ongoing investigation and was justified under the same circumstances that justified the initial entry and search.  The court didn't see any logic behind the suppression of pictures of lawfully seized evidence.  The suppression order was reversed, and the case remanded back to the trial court to determine whether or not the scene processing exceeded the scope of the original justified search.  Just like an emergency can't justify a general exploratory search, CSI processing of lawfully obtained evidence can't justify a further exploratory search.  If the processing expands beyond the previous search, then the evidence obtained can be suppressed.

Wednesday, March 4, 1998

US Supreme Court Illinois v. Lafayette 81-1859

Decided 6-20-83.

   Lafayette got into a fight with the manager of a theater, and was arrested for it.  He had a "purse-type shoulder bag" with him. :)

   At the station, Lafayette was ordered to empty his pockets (and purse) onto a table to be inventoried.  The arresting officer searched the purse as part of the inventory, and found meth.  Lafayette was charged with possession, but the state courts suppressed the evidence (holding that the search of his property wasn't valid either as a search incident to arrest, or as an inventory because Lafayette had a greater expectation of privacy in his purse than he would have in a car, and the purse could have just been secured without being searched).  The US Supreme Court reversed this decision.

   The court discussed the dwindling of a suspect's expectation of privacy during an arrest: At the time of an arrest, the police may search the suspect's person and the area under his immediate control.  This authority doesn't rest on the likelihood that the suspect is armed or in possession of evidence, but on the lawfulness of the arrest.  When an arrested person is subsequently taken to a police station (which is not always the case), the government's interests in searching the suspect may be even more compelling than the government's interests in searching at the time of the arrest.  Searches that would be too invasive to reasonably perform at the place of the arrest may reasonably be conducted at the police station.  The court also applied the reasoning of Opperman (vehicle inventories) to a prisoner's personal property, and held that inventories of a prisoner's property are a proper means for protecting that property while in police custody, protecting the police from allegations of theft, etc...

   The court also held that it didn't matter whether or not less intrusive means were available to protect the government's interests.  The relevant question is only whether or not the means actually employed by the police are reasonable.

US Supreme Court Texas v. Brown 81-419

Decided April 19, 1983.

   Brown was stopped at a driver's license checkpoint.  After the officer requested his license, he took a tied-off balloon full of something out of his pocket and dropped it in the car, then opened the glove compartment (which contained drug paraphernalia), rummaged around in it for a moment, and then admitted he didn't have a license with him.  Why he chose to proudly display the incriminating contents of his glove box to the officer, we will never know.

   The officer told him to get out of the car, and he did.  Knowing that balloons like that are often used to package controlled substances, the officer retrieved the balloon and then arrested Brown.  The balloon was later found to contain heroin, and an inventory of the car revealed a "green, leafy substance."  Brown argued that none of this should be admissible as evidence, and that the plain view doctrine did not apply to this case, and the case found its way to The Supreme Court.

   In its decision, the court explored some exceptions to the warrant requirement (there's actually a nice little laundry list of landmark cases in the middle of the decision).  Focusing on plain view: the court stated that the question whether property in plain view of the police may be seized must turn on the legality of the intrusion that enables them to perceive and physically seize the property in question, and plain view provides grounds for seizure of an item when an officer's access to an object has some prior justification under the Fourth Amendment.

   In other words, the plain view doctrine allows officers to seize evidence which they already legally have access to (such as if the evidence is in a public place, or if the evidence is discovered while they're executing a search warrant or conducting a search pursuant to an exception to the warrant requirement).  The decision also notes that the evidence has to be inadvertently discovered, which specifically means that the police can't use plain view as a ruse to discover evidence that they already knew the location of.  Finally, the decision states that the incriminating nature of the evidence must be immediately apparent.

   That last one was a sticking point for one of the lower courts, which had incorrectly suppressed the evidence in this case.  The lower court had interpreted "immediately apparent" to mean that the police must have iron-clad proof that something is incriminating before they could seize it under plain view.  The supreme court clarified that in order to seize something under plain view, the police need only have probable cause to believe that it was evidence.

   There's also some discussion in this decision of the probable cause standard: "As the Court frequently has remarked, probable cause is a flexible, common-sense standard. It merely requires that the facts available to the officer would warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief, that certain items may be contraband or stolen property or useful as evidence of a crime; it does not demand any showing that such a belief be correct or more likely true than false."

   Other than that, the most interesting part of the decision spells out that using flashlights to illuminate the interior of a car (like using a "marine glass or field glass") is not a search, and neither is moving around to get a better vantage point to see what is inside a car.

   The Supreme Court ruled that the evidence in this case was admissible under the plain view doctrine.

US Supreme Court Michigan v. Long 82-256

Decided July 6, 1983

   Long was speeding through a rural area when two deputies saw him swerve into a ditch.  When they caught up to him, he had gotten out of his car.  He seemed to be under the influence of something, and was slow to respond to questions.  He eventually gave them his license, then headed back towards his open car door in response to a request for his registration.  One of the deputies noticed a hunting knife on the floorboard, so they stopped Long from entering the car and searched him for weapons.  Then one of the deputies visually inspected the interior of the car, looking for more weapons.  Instead, he found pot.

   Long was arrested, and the car was impounded.  During an inventory of the car, the deputies found 75 lbs of pot in the trunk.  Long was later convicted of possession.  He appealed his conviction, arguing that Terry v. Ohio only authorized the deputies to search his person for weapons, not his car.

   The US Supreme Court held that where circumstances justify a protective frisk, that search extends to the suspect's person and to the area under his immediate control.  Under these circumstances, the areas of the car which the deputies first searched (basically, what you could get to through the open driver's door) were held to be sufficiently under Long's control to justify the search even though Long was being prevented from accessing the car.  The court recognized that if Long were to break free of police control, or if he were to be allowed back into his car at the completion of the stop or during the stop (such as if he were allowed to retrieve his registration), then he would have access to any weapons that might have been concealed there.

Tuesday, March 3, 1998

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Bartowsheski 81SA556

Decided March 7, 1983

   Bartowsheski and Tarwater were living with a guy who ran the landscaping business where they worked, when there was an argument over money.  Bartowsheski and Tarwater thought their boss owed them money, he thought they owed him money.  After a night of drinking, the two decided to handle their dispute by stealing a bunch of guns from their boss and leaving town.  Tarwater stayed in the car, ready to drive away, while Bartowsheski went into the house to get their stuff (and their boss' stuff).  When Bartowsheski didn't come out for a while, Tarwater fell asleep.

   Meanwhile, Bartowsheski was inside murdering their boss' eight year old daughter.  Apparently, she was in the front room and he had to walk past her to get to the guns, and he was too stupid to come up with a less final way around her than to stab her eight times and slit her throat.  After that, he went outside and woke Tarwater up and the two of them left.

   They made it as far as Kansas, but they were arrested there.  Tarwater had apparently been unaware of the murder and testified against Bartowsheski.  Bartowsheski was convicted of 1st Degree Murder (after deliberation), 1st Degree Murder (Felony Murder), and Robbery.  He appealed, arguing insufficiency of the evidence (among other things).

   Bartowsheski argued that the evidence didn't show that there was deliberation before the murder, but circumstantial evidence suggested that he had killed the little girl so that she couldn't interfere with the theft.  Deliberation doesn't have to be something that takes a long time, it's just a matter of the defendant taking a moment to evaluate what he is going to do and then deciding to do it.

   Bartowsheski also argued that the evidence didn't support robbery.  He acknowledged that there was evidence to support the unlawful taking of property from the house, but contended that the taking didn't happen at the same time as the use of violence.  The court held that it doesn't have to, though.  Robbery is basically the use of violence or intimidation at any point in a transaction which culminates in the unlawful taking of property.  It doesn't matter if the victim is even aware of the taking, or if the taking and the violence occur at different times or places within that transaction.  So long as the victim would have been able to retain control of the property but for the use of violence or intimidation, the elements of robbery are met.  In this case, the eight year old girl was killed so that she would not interfere with the taking of some guns, so even though the guns were taken from a different part of the house and even though they weren't taken at the same time as the girl was killed, the elements are met.

   And finally, Bartowsheski made some double jeopardy arguments.  The court held that robbery is a lesser included offense of felony murder, and so the robbery conviction had to be vacated.  On the other hand, since felony murder and murder after deliberation have distinct elements, both of those convictions stood.