Recently in Fourth Amendment Category

April 9, 2012

You Can Be Strip Searched Upon Arrest in Maryland

The Supreme Court decided last week that there was no constitutional bar to mandated strip searches for all individuals that are to be admitted into a jail's general population. In other words, strip searches by the police are permissible no matter the infraction - even for arrests for crimes as minor as failing to pay a fine or driving without insurance

handcuffs1.jpgOur Annapolis-based criminal defense attorneys have to knowledge and background to protect the rights of criminal defendants. Every stage in a criminal proceeding, from the arrest and initial booking (and potentially-accompanying strip search) to the culmination of a trial are moments when a defendant needs proper representation to protect his or her rights.

In the Supreme Court's decision, Florence v. Board of Freeholders, the Supreme Court addressed Albert Florence's claims that his civil rights were violated. Mr. Florence was arrested in 2005 when his car, being driven by his wife, was pulled over by the police for speeding. His crime? According to an inaccurate warrant, he had failed to pay a fine; in reality, the warrant should not have been issued, but was because of a computer error. After his arrest, he was twice strip searched, and then held for six days without charge, until the police realized the mistake.

The Supreme Court had to determine whether Mr. Florence's rights were violated by the two strip searches, following his arrest for a nonviolent crime, when there was no suspicion that he had drugs or weapons on him. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that Mr. Florence's rights were not violated, because jail security was more pressing than Mr. Florence's privacy. According to Justice Kennedy, who drafted the opinion,

Courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.

While those words might suggest some instance where strip searches would be unreasonable, such would almost never be the case. Any time an individual is coming into the jail, concerns for the security of the officers and other inmates will override the arrestee's personal issues of privacy. The only time that would not apply is if there is substantial evidence that an individual does not pose a risk. And the fact that the individual was arrested for a minor crime does not meet the "substantial evidence" standard. "Correctional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities."

Continue reading "You Can Be Strip Searched Upon Arrest in Maryland" »

January 27, 2012

Supreme Court Decides - But Doesn't Decide - Issue of GPS Tracking

In a case profiled here in October, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling this week reversing the conviction of Antoine Jones. The case held the potential to drastically alter the Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but due to the very narrow grounds the Court based its ruling on, many of the issues related to warrantless electronic monitoring of suspects has been left to future cases.

gps.jpgWhile the Fourth Amendment may seem technical or scholastic to some, the meaning of the right to be secure in one's person and possessions has far-reaching effects in most criminal cases. The charges the State brings against a defendant, whether murder charges or drug possession, almost always implicate the Fourth Amendment. Our experienced Annapolis drug possession attorneys have the knowledge and understanding of the Fourth Amendment necessary to protect our clients' rights.

The Supreme Court held that the case was a "classic trespassory search" within the meaning originally provided by the framers of the Fourth Amendment, because of the nature of the police's action: "[t]he Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.". The earliest case law on the Fourth Amendment only addressed violations of privacy that involved physical trespass. For example, in Olmstead v. United States, decided in 1928, the Court held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation when a wiretap was attached to telephone wires on public streets; without a physical trespass to an individual's property or person, there was no search.

The Court altered its analysis of what a Fourth Amendment search was in Katz v. United States, a 1967 case in which a listening device was placed on the outside of a public telephone booth. With that case, the Court expanded the protections of the Fourth Amendment to include more than situations where there was a physical trespass to a person or his or her property. Under Katz, a Fourth Amendment violation occurred when the police violated an individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy." The Katz decision did not, however, get rid of the restrictions on traditional "trespassory" searches.

Thus, applied to this case, the Court held that the police's action in placing the GPS tracking device on Jones' vehicle constituted a Fourth Amendment search because there was a physical trespass to his property. Because the police did not have a valid warrant at the time they placed the tracking device, they violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Court reversed Jones' conviction.

What is perhaps most interesting to this decision is what it did not decide. Justice Scalia, along with Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy joined, provided what is considered to be the majority opinion, because Justice Sotomayor concurred with the opinion. Justice Sotomayor suggested that she wished the majority had expanded its opinion, pointing out that "[i]n 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."

Continue reading "Supreme Court Decides - But Doesn't Decide - Issue of GPS Tracking" »

October 11, 2011

Supreme Court to Address Warrantless Use of GPS Tracking Device

gps.jpgNext month, in a case that has multiple connections to the State of Maryland, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument over whether the prolonged, warrantless use of a GPS tracking device is an unreasonable search precluded by the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The case, United States v. Jones, could have far-reaching effects on the government's ability to track its citizens without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.

The Jones case will have a direct impact on Maryland criminal jurisprudence. In 2008, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in Stone v. State that the use of a GPS device without a warrant is consistent with the 4th Amendment and prior Supreme Court decisions. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, Maryland search and seizure law will change. An Anne Arundel County attorney experienced in the application of the 4th Amendment to the State's ever-increasing use of technology is essential to protect the rights of individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated.

In Jones, the DC police department obtained a warrant to place a GPS device on Jones' Jeep, but the police installed the GPS device after the warrant had expired, and while the Jeep was in Maryland, outside of the jurisdiction of the DC court that authorized the warrant. The police thereafter tracked Jones' movements for a month, including his visits to a suspected "stash house" in Fort Washington, Maryland. Based in part on the evidence obtained from the GPS tracking, Jones, an owner of a DC nightclub, was convicted of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute over 5kg of cocaine, and over 50g of cocaine base.

The closest Supreme Court precedent to the issue before the Court is United States v. Knotts. In that case, the police placed a radio transmitter in a container of ether, and tracked the movements of an individual from a location in Minnesota to a secluded cabin in Wisconsin. The Supreme Court held that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy while driving on public roads, and thus the monitoring of those movements did not constitute a search.

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia held that the tracking of Jones movements for an entire month constituted a search that implicated the 4th Amendment's protections, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court in Knotts. The Circuit Court reasoned that the aggregation of an entire month's worth of Jones' movement was distinguishable from the tracking of a discrete trip that the Supreme Court considered in Knotts. The Court acknowledged that whether an expectation of privacy is reasonable depends in large part upon whether the "private" information has been exposed to the public, and that when an individual drives on a public road, his or her activities are "public." The court nevertheless determined that "to track Jones's movements 24 hours a day for 28 days as he moved among scores of places, thereby discovering the totality and pattern of his individual movements from place to place to place," was distinct from merely tracking his "movements from one place to another." As the Court stated, "the whole of one's movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood anyone will observe all those movements is effectively nil." In other words, even if all of the movements were in public, an individual can reasonably expect that his or her movements are not all being tracked by the government by way of a hidden device on his or her vehicle.

Continue reading "Supreme Court to Address Warrantless Use of GPS Tracking Device" »

September 8, 2011

Maryland Court Retains 4th Amendment Protections in Building Curtilage

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday in McGurk v. State that an overnight guest was entitled to 4th Amendment protections when on a second-floor balcony at a friend's home in Ocean City, Maryland. The decision is notable because of the Court's analysis of the extent to which the 4th Amendment protections apply in an area that is arguably within the public view.

The application of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution to a particular set of facts in a criminal proceeding often involves a complex analysis of a convoluted area of the law. Fourth Amendment protections have evolved significantly over time, frequently changing with the evolution of the United States Supreme Court, as well as the Maryland appellate courts. An attorney experienced at presenting technical arguments to the Maryland Courts is essential for an individual who finds himself or herself facing criminal charges.

balcony_with_wooden_railing.JPGThe balcony in question in McGurk was a second-floor balcony with a wooden railing. There were plants, a glass table, and chairs on the balcony. A set of stairs led from the balcony down to the sidewalk in front of the house, and there was no gate blocking the entrance to the stairs or the balcony. Notably, the balcony was not the primary entrance to the residence. At 3:15 a.m. on a summer morning, an officer walked up the stairs to the balcony where McGurk and another individual were sitting because he was searching for the source of an odor of burnt marijuana. After questioning and ultimately searching McGurk and the other individual on the balcony, the officer found marijuana, cocaine, and a large amount of cash in McGurk's possession. McGurk was found guilty after her attempts to suppress the evidence were futile, and she appealed.

In perhaps the most famous case addressing the protections provided by the 4th Amendment, the United States Supreme Court in Katz v. United States said that "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected."

The McGurk case turned primarily on an analysis of what part of the area surrounding a dwelling is part of the "curtilage" of that dwelling, and thus whether there was an expectation that the balcony in question was open to the public or preserved as private. The United States Supreme Court held in United States v. Dunn that an area is considered to be part of the curtilage of a dwelling house if it is "intimately tied to the home itself." For an area to be part of the curtilage of a home such that the 4th Amendment protections should apply, there must be a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is a two-part test to determining whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy - an individual must demonstrate that he had an actual subjective expectation of privacy, and society must be willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable."

Continue reading "Maryland Court Retains 4th Amendment Protections in Building Curtilage" »

June 16, 2011

Miranda Warning Requirement Strengthened for Juvenile Suspects

The Miranda warnings that a police officer is required to provide to an arrested individual, including the fact that the suspect is entitled to an attorney and has the right to remain silent, are ingrained in American culture through their frequent depictions in movies and television. The reality of the Miranda warnings was strengthened today when the Supreme Court ruled in J.D.B. v. North Carolina that a police officer interrogating a juvenile must take youth's age into consideration when determining whether to give the individual a "Miranda warning."

The effect of this ruling will be to expand protection for all juveniles suspected of criminal activity, including those faced with possible criminal charges in Maryland. Unfortunately, as the underlying facts of this case demonstrate, the rights of criminal suspects are often violated during police investigations. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can stand up for the rights a person charged with a crime, and protect the constitutional rights that a defendant is entitled to.

In the J.D.B. v. North Carolina case, a 13-year-old suspected in a string of local burglaries. A police officer came to the boy's school and took the young man out of the classroom to a closed-door conference room where the boy was questioned for 30 minutes. The police officer did not provide J.D.B. with a Miranda warning. Likewise, he was not given the opportunity to call his grandmother or legal guardian. North Carolina argued that the officer's questioning of J.D.B. was not an interrogation, and J.D.B. was not under arrest, because he could have left the room at any time.

The Supreme Court overturned J.D.B.'s conviction, based on the fact that he had not been provided the proper Miranda warnings. The Court held that sometimes Miranda warnings are required even when an individual is not technically detained, if that person would not understand that he or she was free to leave. Here, the Court felt that the 13-year-old, sitting in a closed-door conference room at his school in the presence of school officials and a police officer, without the assistance of his guardian, might not have understand what his rights were.

The Court held that J.D.B. was essentially in custody, and that interrogation of an individual in police custody creates "inherently compelling pressures." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 467 (1966). The Court pointed out that these pressures can induce individuals to wrongly confess to crimes they never committed at a "frighteningly high" rate. Specifically, the Court's ruling required that a police officer must take a person's age into account when determining whether to read to that person his or her Miranda rights. This decision could lead to a dramatic proliferation of Miranda warnings; "the practical effect of the ruling may be that officers, to be on the safe side legally, would give warnings to any suspect who does not appear to be close to age 18."

Continue reading "Miranda Warning Requirement Strengthened for Juvenile Suspects" »

March 15, 2011

"Reach-in" Strip Searches OK in Maryland if Reasonable

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled last month that "reach-in" strip searches by the police were not a violation of a suspect's rights, if the searches were reasonable in scope, manner, and place, and the initiation of the search was justified. The holding permitted the introduction of evidence of the defendants' drug possession, which had been obtained when the police reached into the defendants' boxers on a public street and removed baggies containing drugs from the defendants' buttocks.

The nature of a police search of an individual's body by necessity involves questions of privacy and an individual's Constitutional rights. When these rights are implicated, the services of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is vital to ensuring that those rights are protected.

The Court cited a holding by the United States Supreme Court, which set out four reasonableness factors for consideration, as the standard for determining whether a strip search incident to arrest violated the Fourth Amendment:

The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application. In each case it requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.

Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979).

The Court concluded with regard for the justification factor that "when a person is arrested for drug dealing, the nature of the offense provides reasonable suspicion to believe that the arrestee is concealing drugs on his or her person." The manner of the search was reasonable because the police merely pulled the defendants' boxers away from their bodies, rather than fully exposing the "private areas" of the defendants' bodies to the public. For the same reason, the scope of the search was reasonable. The location was reasonable, because, despite being on a public street, there were no civilians present at the time of the search who could observe what was going on.

In practice, the police are frequently given a lot of leeway in their determinations of what is "reasonable," and arguing to suppress evidence based on the unreasonableness of a search is often an uphill battle for a criminal defendant. The evaluation and presentation of each of these four factors by an attorney that is experienced in representing criminal defendants in Maryland criminal courts can be the difference between winning and losing a case.

January 31, 2011

Maryland Court Reverses Murder Conviction

The Maryland Court of Appeals today reversed the murder conviction of Christian Darrell Lee because the detective interrogating him lied about whether their conversation was being recorded. Lee, who had been convicted of first degree murder in 2008 and sentenced to life plus 110 years, will now be granted a new trial, because of the violation of his Miranda rights.

Brassel, Alexander & Rice's experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys represents individuals charged with all types of criminal offenses, including individuals charged with murder.

Lee asked Detective Steve Schrott, who was interrogating him, whether the conversation was being recorded. In response, the detective said that the conversation was "between you and me, bud." The Court of Appeals found that Detective Schrott's statement undermined the Miranda warning, the well-known statement of a criminal defendant's rights deriving from the United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. The Court's ruling is significant, because Lee had signed a waiver of his Miranda rights prior to the interrogation, and had begun to discuss the events on the night that he allegedly shot the murder victim.

The Court held that "[n]o reasonable lay person would have understood [Schrott's] words to mean anything other than that conversation, at that moment and thereafter, even if not before, was 'between' only Detective Schrott and Petitioner." The detective essentially promised confidentiality of the statement, which contradicted the aspect of the warning that the individual's statements can be used against him in court. Thus, the Court determined that the detective's statements had so undermined the Miranda warnings that Lee had been given that any subsequent statement became inadmissible in court.

Having representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney at all stages of a criminal prosecution is essential to protect an individual's rights. From the moment an individual is charged with a crime, he or she is at a disadvantage when facing the power of the state; an experienced criminal defense attorney can protect the rights of criminal defendants when faced with the possibility of criminal penalties.

December 30, 2010

Anne Arundel County Police Effectively Use Surveillance Video

Police in Anne Arundel County, Maryland have charged two individuals with first-degree murder in the case of an August 9, 2010 shooting that occurred during a robbery at a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven store. Although the surveillance video was not central to the arrest of the suspects, which occurred following an unrelated shooting at a local Mr. Wings & Pizza, the video is being used to seek a third suspect.

Maryland police often rely on surveillance video in their efforts to reduce crime, including Baltimore's controversial "blue light cameras," of which there are more than 500, speeding and red light cameras, which are becoming more prevalent on Maryland roads, and security cameras from local businesses. Often, these cameras present serious evidentiary issues in criminal cases, and sometimes the use of video improperly obtained by the police can violate an individual's Constitutional rights. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is essential to protect all of the rights of a criminal defendant.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has found that video of a person in a public place generally does not intrude on an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy. In contrast, however, the Maryland Court of Appeals has found that warrantless video surveillance inside a person's home does violate an individual's Fourth Amendment rights. Regardless of how video evidence has been obtained, such evidence can be the deciding factor in a criminal case. Without the aid of an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer who has developed a keen understanding of Maryland rules of evidence, a criminal defendant often faces an unfair, unwinnable fight in the courts.

An interesting use of surveillance video by police occurred this month in New York. On December 22nd, a woman's body was found in a suitcase in East Harlem. The police scoured local surveillance video and came across the following video which eventually led to a suspect's arrest in the case.