Articles Posted in United States Supreme Court

In McCoy v. Lousiana, the United States Supreme Court will address the issue of who has the authority to control the decision to admit guilt, the lawyer or the client.  Can the Lawyer for strategy reasons, concede guilt to avoid the death penalty?  This was the issue facing a criminal defense lawyer who despite his client’s wishes conceded guilty to spare his client the death penalty.  The strategy failed.  His client appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that a lawyer cannot concede guilty over his clear objection.

The defendant wanted to maintain his innocence, but the lawyer disagreed and required the defendant plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.  The issue raised by this case is that even if it is a good strategy to concede guilt, can the lawyer make that decision over the client’s objection.

In a criminal case, there are certain decisions that the client has absolute control over:

In the case of Huertas v. United States, the defendant is requesting that the United States Supreme Court grant certiorari in his case, to address the issue of when an individual can be seized for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.  In order to trigger a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the person must be seized under the law.  For example, a person is not automatically seized any time there is interaction with the police.  A court will look at the circumstances of the encounter and attempt to determine if a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.  Cases involving flight from the police raise interesting Fourth Amendment issues.

The Branden case was a gun charge.  In gun crimes, often the police will receive anonymous tips that are frequently uncorroborated that a person has a gun.  In the Branden case, the defendant initially spoke to the officer.  The defendant submitted to the officer’s show of authority for between 30 and 60 seconds.  When the officer got out of his car, the defendant ran and discarded a gun while running from the officer.

By temporarily complying with the officer’s show of authority, the defendant argued that he was seized under the Fourth Amendment. The defendant argued that since the defendant was seized, the seizure was unlawful because it was not supported by reasonable suspicion.

The United States Supreme Court is considering an appeal in the case of Gonzalez-Badillo v. Unites States which will address the issue of whether a general consent to search justifies searching a closed container under the Fourth Amendment.  In the Badillo case, the defendant gave a general consent to search as he was at a bus station.  The officer inspected the bags of the defendant and thought his shoes were lumpy.  The officer could see plastic inside the slit of the sole of the shoe but could not see anything illegal.  The officer opened up the sole without obtaining further consent for the search.

The Fifth Circuit found that the search was lawful because once the officer told the defendant that he was looking for anything illegal, the defendant could expect that he would search any item that might contain drugs.  The Court further concluded that the boots were suspicious and that the defendant failed to object during the search made the consent valid.

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Dissenting Justice Elrod of the Fifth Circuit found that a general consent to search cannot be interpreted as authorization to destroy personal property during the search.  Justice Elrod found that consent to search which includes unlocked containers cannot be said to include the right to damage property found within the containers.

In the case of Earley v. New Jersey, the defendant has asked the United States Supreme Court to address the issue of the standard to be applied when the police destroy evidence.

The leading case from the United States Supreme Court addressing this issue is Arizona v. Youngblood.  In that case, the United States Supreme Court held that the State violates a defendant’s due process rights when the police destroy potentially exculpatory evidence and the defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police.  Under this standard, the meaning of bad faith has been left to individual courts to define.

There are varying standards Courts have applied:

In February, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case which sheds light on whether or not the prosecution can legally use a defendant’s previously-obtained incriminating statement as evidence at a preliminary or probable cause hearing; the Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether or not this violates a person’s fifth amendment.

The fifth amendment of our constitution guarantees that “no person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself”.  The main issue, in this case, is that if the Fifth Amendment is violated when a criminal defendant is compelled to incriminate himself, should the statement be allowed as evidence in a probable cause hearing?

The case, City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, is a case that will challenge the scope of the fifth amendment self-incrimination clause. The defendant in the case, Matthew Vogt, was a police officer in Hays, Kansas, but was in the interview process with the police department in another town, Haysville. During the interview process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife that he obtained while working for the City of Hays.

In December, the Supreme Court began oral arguments in a Colorado case, where a shop owner denied service to a same-sex couple looking to purchase a cake. As the arguments ensued, it began clear that the justices were sharply divided and highlighted many of the issues, on both sides, in the case: religious beliefs and anti-discrimination laws.

The Colorado case dates back to 2012 when a gay couple, Charlie Craig and his partner David Mullins, walked into a cake shop requesting a cake to celebrate their same-sex marriage; their wedding was to be held in Massachusetts, but their cake was for a reception they were holding in Colorado for their friends and family. The owner of the shop, a religious man named Jack Phillips, declined to make them a cake due to his Christian values.

The rules governed by anti-discrimination agencies in Colorado suggest that Phillips’ refusal to provide a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration violated laws and that, legally, he had no right, by free speech, to turn down the cake request by the two men. Phillips was informed that if he was to make wedding cakes for heterosexual weddings, he is also legally required to do so for weddings where the two parties are of the same sex.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that states cannot make it a crime for a drunken driving suspect to refuse to take a blood test but can criminalize the refusal to take breath tests to determine alcohol levels.  The ruling will affect laws in 11 states.  The justices ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before requiring drivers to take blood alcohol tests, but not breath tests.  The court considers breath tests less intrusive than blood tests, hence no need for a warrant.  The ruling came in three cases in which drivers challenged so-called implied consent laws in Minnesota and North Dakota as violating the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.  Other states that have criminalized a driver’s refusal to take alcohol blood or breath tests include Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Implied consent laws make the assumption that by driving on a state’s roads, you are deemed to have consented to testing if you are suspected of drunk driving.  All fifty states have imposed some form of implied consent laws.  Many states have tough laws if a driver is found to be driving under the influence.  These tough laws have created a problem of their own: drivers, particularly those who have had a lot to drink or have prior drunk driving convictions, may opt to refuse the tests, because the consequences of doing so may be less severe than what they would face if convicted of drunk driving. This dilemma led the eleven states mentioned above to create statutes that make refusing alcohol testing a crime.

Alcohol testing is a physical trespass search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and therefore it must fall within a Fourth Amendment exception in order to be conducted without a warrant.  The Court ruled two years ago in a case involving the search of an arrestee’s cellphone, courts should instead look at the extent to which the search intrudes on the privacy of the person who is being arrested, as well as the extent to which the search is needed to promote “legitimate governmental interests.”  The Court today held that there is no real physical intrusion from the breathalyzer test, and that keeping drunk drivers off of the street is a legitimate government interest.By contrast, the Court concluded today, blood tests do not pass constitutional muster to be conducted without a warrant.  Although they too help promote “legitimate government interests,” they are “significantly more intrusive” than breath tests: they require the technician taking the sample to pierce the driver’s skin, extracting a sample that provides law enforcement officials with more information than a breath test.

The Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California that a warrant is required to search a defendant’s cell phone, incident to arrest. The 4th Amendment is having a hard time keeping up with quickly advancing technology. Virtually everyone carries a cell phone on their bodies today, and these phones hold much more information than just call logs. The Supreme Court has upheld this sentiment, making a distinction between cell phones and other items that someone may carry around with them, saying that today’s mobile devices are “in fact minicomputers that have the capacity to be used as telephones.” This advancement in technology has raised questions about where the information stored on people’s cell phones falls within the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Supreme Court has held that cellphones are protected from warrantless searches, even incident to arrest. So much of an individual’s personal life is available on their mobile device that there needs to be the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search. Cellphones contain private information that people might not otherwise carry on themselves, and the information is worth of the protection of the 4th Amendment.

In Riley v. California, the defendant’s cell phone was searched incident to arrest for possession of firearms. Defendant’s cell phone had pictures of defendant making gang signs and other gang indicia. Instead of just being indicted for the possession of firearms, defendant was also indicted for separate charges of shooting at an occupied vehicle, attempted murder, and assault with a semi-automatic firearm, all charges stemming from what was discovered on defendant’s cell phone. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the search of defendant’s cell phone violated defendant’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. The Robinson warrantless search exception following an arrest exists for the purposes of protecting officer safety and preserving evidence, neither of which is at issue in the search of digital data. Police officers have the ability to preserve evidence while awaiting a warrant simply by disconnecting the phone from the network and holding it until a warrant is secured.

The Supreme Court will be back in action next week, and will hear a case about the future of the exclusionary rule when it hears the arguments of Utah v. Strieff on February 22nd. The specific question is whether evidence seized incident to arrest on a minor traffic warrant, discovered during a concededly unconstitutional detention, is inadmissible under the “attenuation” exception to the exclusionary rule.

Breaking the Chain of Events

Evidence seized after an illegal search or detention may be admitted under three exceptions to the exclusionary rule:

  • (1) the independent source exception,
  • (2) the inevitable discovery exception,
  • and (3) the attenuation exception.

 

The attenuation exception applies where the police engaged in unlawful conduct, but the unlawful conduct was not the proximate cause by which the police obtained the evidence, because of an intervening circumstance breaking the causal chain. Under the attenuation exception, the intervening act is one that was made voluntarily by the defendant, such as a confession or consent to search given after illegal police action. The defendant’s voluntary act is sufficiently independent to break the legal connection to the primary violation, and therefor the evidence will not be excluded.

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The United States currently has thirteen states which have criminalized drunk driving test refusal, allowing police officers to arrest and charge individuals for refusing the Breathalyzer or blood test. Unlike these thirteen states, it is not a crime to refuse such tests in Massachusetts. Although there will be a license suspension, drivers in Massachusetts can refuse a breath test without incurring any criminal penalty or adverse inference during an OUI trial; however, the driver will face a license suspension depending on the number of OUI convictions they have in their lifetime.

While the ruling of the United States Supreme Court will not directly impact Massachusetts drivers, it is an important decision for DUI attorneys.  The decision would impact DUI convictions from Rhode Island.  Currently under Rhode Island DUI law, a second offense refusal to submit to a breath test is a criminal offense, even though a first offense refusal is only civil.  This decision would invalidate this provision of Rhode Island law criminalizing a second offense refusal. bluegavel

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