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Articles Posted in United States Supreme Court

The Fourth Amendment protects against government intrusion in the home and provides for a reasonable expectation of privacy. But does this protection extend to the most intimate areas of a person’s body? The case of Brown v. Wisconsin is pending before the Supreme Court and looks at the issue of whether police officers were justified in searching a woman’s vagina and anal cavity without a warrant. The Supreme Court of the United States must grant cert and decide whether the Fourth Amendment protects a person from unreasonable and humiliating searches by law enforcement officers.

What happened in the Brown case?

Sharon Brown is a Native American woman residing in Minnesota. In May of 2017, she was a passenger in her boyfriend’s car following a trip to Wal-Mart. The police stopped the vehicle after learning that her boyfriend allegedly shoplifted from the store. Despite her only being the passenger in the car, the police took her along with her boyfriend to jail and placed her in the holding cell. The jail’s policy allowed manual body-cavity searches without a warrant, probable cause, or exigency. Less than a day after Brown was detained, another detainee told a correctional officer, Steven Hillesheim, that Brown was hiding drugs. This detainee was a know liar and troublemaker. Hillesheim, however, did not investigate the legitimacy of these claims, despite Brown not having a history of drug use and being held in prison for shoplifting, an unrelated claim.

Peremptory challenges are an essential tool used by trial lawyers.  They allow an attorney to object to a proposed juror during selection without giving a reason or justification.  However, when peremptory challenges are coupled with racial bias, dangerous results can occur.  The case of Miles v. California is pending before the Supreme Court and asks the question of whether a court may consider reasons distinguishing stricken jurors from those accepted by the prosecutor when the prosecutor did not cite a reason.

What happened in the Miles case? 

The Miles case concerns Johnny Duane Miles, a Black man charged with the rape and murder of a white woman.  He was eventually convicted and sentenced to death.  The issue here is not whether Miles was innocent or guilty, but instead whether Mile’s case would have turned out differently if the jury selection process was different.  During jury selection, the prosecutor raised some eyebrows when he used peremptory challenges to remove every single Black juror from the main panel.  The prosecutor tried to justify his strikes but it seemed that race was the only factor because the prosecutor even removed a young Black man named Simeon Greene, who had pro-prosecution and pro-law enforcement beliefs, which would help the prosecution.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable intrusion and promises that citizens will not have their “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” 

 

Carlisle v. Kentucky asks the question of whether courts can adopt a categorical rule allowing law enforcement to prolong every traffic stop by performing a criminal records check, or on the other hand, whether the Fourth Amendment requires an individualized, case-by-case approach that allows checks only when the government offers some evidence that the check related to the officer’s safety. The circuits are split concerning this issue.  This case is current pending a petition for certiorari before the Untied States Supreme Court.  

 

Five courts allow law enforcement to perform a criminal record check in every traffic stop in theory and agree that these checks are inherent to officer safety. On the other hand, two courts have adopted a case-by-case basis for officers searching a criminal record. These courts adopt the approach where the court will evaluate the specific circumstances of the particular stop to determine whether the officer’s safety was so at the risk that the search of criminal records was appropriate. 

Donald Trump is soon leaving office, but there is a case that the United States Supreme Court may hear concerning whether the President has a right to block people on Twitter.  Donald Trump v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is a case that concerns the president blocking people on Twitter.  If we’ve learned anything these past four years, it’s that Trump loves to use his personal Twitter account.  The Obama Administration created the @POTUS account in 2015, and since then, all presidents get access to the @POTUS Twitter account when they take office.  Donald Trump has access to this account, but he overwhelmingly uses his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account that he has had since 2009.  He has continued to use his unofficial personal account while in office on the daily, sometimes posting over 100 tweets in a single day.

Like any social media user, Trump will block individuals that he does not care to associate with.   However, this novel issue begs the question;  if a public official who uses a social media account as an extension of his office—by, for example, making official announcements, inviting members of the public to respond, and allowing members of the public to communicate with one another about matters relating to government—violates the First Amendment when he ejects members of the public from that forum based on viewpoint.

Does the Public forum Doctrine precent President Trump from blocking followers?

The Community Care taker Exception to the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to make warrantless search when the purpose of the officer to to help the public and not look for evidence of criminal activity.  A case pending before the United States Supreme Court, Caniglia v. Strom, asks the question of whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home.

What is “community caretaking?”

Community care taking has been recognized as an exception to the Fourth Amendment by the United States Supreme Court.  In Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973), the United Starts Supreme Court held that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched the trunk of a car that had been towed after an accident.  The Court acknowledged that, “except in certain carefully defined classes of cases,” police cannot search private property without consent or a warrant.  It emphasized, however, that “there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars.”  Since Cady, there has been a whole host of cases that took this holding and created the doctrine of “community caretaking.”  Cady defined community caretaking activities as those “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”

Criminal Defendants are required to be given Miranda warnings prior to any custodial interrogations being used against them in court.  What happens when these warnings deviate from the requirements that the United States Supreme Court set forth in Miranda v. Arizona.  A case pending before the United States Supreme Court, Michigan v. Matthews will address whether there can be deviations from the traditional Miranda warning under the 5th Amendment.

Michigan v. Mathews is a case that is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court and asks the Court to clarify whether Miranda is satisfied when a suspect in custody is advised at the beginning of an interrogation that they have the right to an attorney, but is not explicitly advised that they are entitled to the attorney’s presence before and during interrogation.

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that a general “right to counsel” warning is insufficient, and that Miranda requires language expressly warning the suspect of the right to the presence of counsel before and during interrogation.  This decision conflicts with the Sixth Circuit, so there are different standards for Miranda warnings depending on whether the case goes to state or federal court.

The United States Supreme Court in favor of an inmate in Taylor v. Riojas, a decision that was issued yesterday.

What happened in Taylor?

Texas inmate Trent Taylor was subjected to inhumane conditions in his Texas jail cell, after being committed to the unit following a suicide attempt.  The conditions described were horrifying.  Taylor was stripped naked and placed in a cell covered in feces from previous residents.  The feces contaminated his water supply, leading Taylor to not eat or drink for four days out of fear of becoming ill.   Correctional officers then moved Taylor to another cell, which was equally horrific.  The second cell was a “seclusion cell” with no bed or other furniture,  and no toilet to use, just a drain for bodily fluids.  As if the conditions would not get worse, the cell was frigidly cold, and Taylor had nothing but a suicide blanket for warmth.  He was forced to sleep on the urine-soaked floor.  As a result of these conditions, he could not use the bathroom for over 24 hours, and as a result, Taylor suffered a distended bladder requiring catheterization.

The United States Supreme Court may review a case called United States v. Williams that deal with the issue of what is the scope of a permissible search at the border:  Can the search include personal computers and cell phones under the Fourth Amendment?

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to review a case concerning the Fourth Amendment rights travelers have when entering the country with their personal electronics.  The circuits are split multiple ways regarding this issue of warrantless searches of personal electronics at the border.  Some courts allow the search of electronic devices at the border under any circumstances, while other courts hold these searches to a higher standard.  In the case of United States v. Williams, the Tenth Circuit declined to rule on whether searches of personal electronic devices at the border must be subject to reasonable suspicion.  United States v. Williams, 942 F.3d 1187, 1190 (10th Cir. 2019).  But reasonable suspicion is sufficient to justify a warrantless border search of personal electronic devices, and that is the point at issue in this case.

What happened in the Williams Case? 

The United States Supreme Court may hear a case that involves the intersection of the 1st Amendment right to free speech with the right to post on social media.  The case is Hunt v. Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico which may set a legal standard for students’ freedom of speech when they use social media — an issue that has frequently been litigated in recent years with no clear legal standard.  The issue in this case is whether a student’s outrageous and inappropriate Facebook post was a content based restriction on freedom of speech that is prohibited by the First Amendment regardless of how offensive the message.

What did Paul Hunt say on Facebook to incur punishment by the University?  

Paul Hunt was a 24-year-old medical school student at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 2012. He stated that Democrats were “[d]isgusting, immoral, and horrific,” and “sick, disgusting people.” He said Democrats were “WORSE than the Germans during WW2,” Hunt posted a comment on his personal Facebook news feed stating Democrats view on abortion were “disgusting, immoral, and horrific.” He said Democrats were “WORSE than the Germans during WW2,” The comment was reported to administrators at the medical college, who told Hunt he was in violation of the schools “Respectful Campus Policy,” which made it a punishable disciplinary offense to engage in “untrue allegations, unduly inflammatory statements or unduly personal attacks.”

Is your “semiprivate” area in your home’s curtilage protected from prying eyes?

The Fourth Amendment protects all Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Courts define what that means everyday in terms of how far Fourth Amendment protections are extended.  One case that raises an interesting issue is Cyde S. Bovat v. State of Vermont.  This case may be heard by the United States Supreme Court as the defendant has filed a writ of certiorari.

The Question presented in Clyde S. Bovat v. State of Vermont was whether a police officer can access “semiprivate” areas within a home’s curtilage to conduct an investigation without a warrant.What happened in Clyde?

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