Category Archives: criminal law principles

Should I Wurie about my cell phone or is there no need to get Riled up?

I don’t want to hear anything about the “puns” in the title. Just shut it.

As you’re no doubt aware, the Supreme Court of the United States heard argument yesterday in two cases, Riley v. California [PDF] and United States v. Wurie [PDF].

As I wrote about extensively in this March 28th column in the Connecticut Law Tribune, the issue in these two cases is under what circumstances can police search the contents of your cell phone after they arrest you and what is the extent of those searches.

We’d all feared what a disaster the oral argument might turn out to be, given that the Court is made up of all really old people. Well, we need to put that aside because the Court came prepared. Aside from one really bizarre exchange about phone encryption, they were mostly spot on about the phone, the amount of content the phones have and the potential for danger if they permitted a blanket rule allowing searches.

When everyone is a criminal, you don’t need the Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. By now, it should be painfully obvious that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to anyone, because there are no more “people” left in the United States, only criminals and potential criminals. Our government spies on us willy-nilly, our legislators erode our rights on a daily basis under the banner of protecting the children and our courts continually perpetuate the notion that there are two groups in the US: “us” and “them”. It is also becoming increasingly clear that “us” refers only to law enforcement and “them” is anyone else.

Yesterday, in Navarette v. California [PDF], Justice Thomas wrote a 5-4 decision in which he upheld a police officer pulling over a car and then finding marijuana.

Now, as Popehat explains, the law before Navarette was as follows:

The Unexamined Trial

A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1774, foreshadowing his more famous quote about the “inherent and inalienable rights” of men, in the Declaration of Independence.

To me, what Jefferson meant by that is that we, as humans and citizens of a great free democracy have certain inherent rights that are ours by the very nature of our existence and these rights are not dependent upon the charity of ministers, politicians and judges.

Yet, for the most part, the realm of criminal law has continually drifted away from this Jeffersonian concept of “self-executing” rights and toward a more passive, dormant view of individual liberties and freedoms that need to be invoked to be awakened into performing their duties as our guardians. The right to remain silent now only applies if you break that silence and state out loud that you wish to remain quiet. The right to an attorney has to be unequivocally and explicitly invoked. The police cannot enter your home without a warrant except when they can and may do so even over your objection.

There is, then, a new generation of jurisprudence that has turned our jurists into something akin to DMV clerks whose primary function is to determine whether the forms have been filled out correctly.

But for those that don’t practice criminal law, let President Jefferson remind you why you should care:

What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.

It is thus critical that each and every one of us is aware of the ministerial treatment given to our rights. And the primary way in which courts have done that is to make the defense attorney the steward of those rights and placed her in the driver’s seat.

Of course that makes sense, you will no doubt say. The attorney is in the best position to safeguard those rights and to make sure that they are exercised as needed. True, but when you change the very nature of the rights to make them not self-executing, but rather dormant, awaiting the utterance of an incantation by a defense attorney, is when you strip the judge of her traditional role of overseer of due process and justice and hand that responsibility to the defense attorney.  By shifting the responsibility of ensuring a fair trial to the defense attorney instead of the judge, you’re making jurists nothing more than glorified legal clerks.

Even judicial opinions spin their facts (updated)

[Update below] What, really, is a fact? The word, which seemingly should have one simple definition, in fact does not.  For example, in science, a “fact” is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” In law, on the other hand, a “fact” is what 6 people say it is. In other words, it’s not a validation of what actually happened, but what reasonably could have happened. A fact is also determined based on a rather narrow, limited universe: some things aren’t taken into account and conclusions are made by ignoring other, contradictory events.

One example of this is if you read any appellate court opinion by a Connecticut court written in the last decade or so, almost all of them will have a recitation of the “facts” that begins with the following sentence:

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts

Invariably, this recitation is skewed toward the interpretation of those “facts” that supports the court’s eventual decision. If you need to uphold a questionable stop of a car on the road, highlight the helpful police officer’s testimony while downplaying or even ignoring frame-by-frame video evidence.

Two days ago I wrote a post about a juror who demonstrated that she believed the defendant to be guilty even before the presentation of evidence and who was “bullied” into stating that she could be fair despite those prejudicial beliefs. At the time i wrote the post I didn’t read the opinion. A helpful commenter has provided a link to the opinion. It perfectly illustrates the point I’m making here. First, let’s remember from my post that the transcript revealed that the juror made several assertions that she would not be able to be fair:

The prosecutor then asked the juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?”  Juror 112 responded, “I would have to vote guilty.”

The judge asked if she could return a verdict of not guilty if the government couldn’t prove it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I don’t think I would be able to,” the juror replied.

The prosecutor tried again: “Let me ask you this flat-out. Let’s say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don’t believe her. In fact, you think she’s lying. You look at her [and conclude] ‘I don’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.’ Are you going to convict this man anyway?”

Juror 112 responded before the first witness in the case had been called, “That depends. I still feel he was at fault.”

So let’s go take a look at the opinion. Find the Control and F keys on your keyboard. You’re going to need them. In the opinion, the judge explains that the trial court, before the evidence, explained to the panel that the case involved allegations of a lewd act upon a child, a lewd act upon a child under age 14, and several counts of forcible rape involving two victims, plus an allegation that defendant committed the rape offenses against more than one victim. At the time jury selection occurred, both the prosecution and the defense questioned the jurors including Juror 112, who did not indicate any problem with judging the case fairly.

Then it starts getting messy:

Potential juror thinks defendant is guilty before trial; gets to sit on jury and find him guilty (Updated)

fuck-you2

Here is another in the long line of legal fictions: that you get an impartial jury of your peers. Let’s leave aside the peer part for now, because there’s already been much study on the lack of any real peers in juries selected these days and focus on the “impartial” part.

Impartial, in this context, is supposed to mean someone who doesn’t come to the trial with any predispositions. Someone who is able to be fair, listen to the evidence, and conscientiously apply the law to the  facts, regardless of whether one emotionally agrees with the result compelled by those facts.

In reality, we aren’t stone robots. Everyone comes in with preconceived notions. In these days of increasing polarity, we have ever stronger opinions about crime and criminal justice and especially those icky child molesters.

So we come to our legal fiction: rehabilitation. That’s when the judge asks an obviously biased venireperson enough questions that they eventually get the hint, no matter how stupid they are, and end up saying the magic words “I think I can be fair in this case”. Doesn’t really matter what they’ve said prior to that point, once we get to that incantation, the juror is deemed impartial and fit to serve on the jury.

You’d be a fool, however, to think that the juror has actually changed his or her views. Just ask Jose Felipe Velasco:

Jose Felipe Velasco insists Orange County Judge David A. Hoffer cheated him out of a fair trial by placing a juror on the supposedly neutral citizen’s panel after she repeatedly declared the defendant guilty before hearing any evidence.

But you knew that anyway from the title of this post. So how bad could it have really been? Very bad.

Revenge porn bill makes it to senate: better but still unconstitutional

The Connecticut judiciary committee has voted by a margin of 39-11 to send that awful ‘revenge porn’ bill that I warned you about to the full senate. Except they’ve made a change or two to the bill that makes it better than before but still, in my opinion, quite damn unconstitutional.

Grand juries, search warrants, revenge porn – oh, my, or: today at the legislature

For a short session of the legislature, there sure have been a large number of criminal justice bills already raised and considered by some committees. Today is no different, with a large number of “groundbreaking” bills being considered by the Judiciary committee. The public defender’s office and the CT Criminal Defense Lawyers Association have submitted written testimony on some or all of these bills1. What follows is what my testimony would be if they’d let me into the Capitol after that one time with the monkey and the backscratcher.

The Investigative Subpoena One Person Grand Jury Reform Bill

S.B. No. 488 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING GRAND JURY REFORM. (JUD)

A perennial favorite of prosecutors, this bill has made its way back to the legislature. Year after year they bring up this bill, seeking to give themselves the power to just subpoena whoever and whatever to their office to conduct their investigations. Year after year this bill is defeated. But you gotta hand it to them, they keep trying.

And this iteration is slightly different. Instead of seeking to give themselves the power, they vest it in a “one person grand jury” – the presiding judge of the judicial district courthouse.

The rest of the shit is the same. As I wrote extensively last year, their standard for issuing subpeonas is the lowest, most nebulous, undefined piece of nonsense I’ve ever seen: the interests of justice.

What does that mean? Nothing. It’s not a real thing. It’s a free pass. The bill explicitly removes a requirement of probable cause and replaces it with this interest of justice nonsense.

What’s worse is that there’s no limitation on when the investigative grand jury can be used. Under the law as it existed, the State’s Attorney had to make a showing that they’d made an effort using normal investigative tools. They have to show that their regular methods weren’t working and they needed this invasive tool to make one last ditch effort at cracking a case. If they hadn’t tried their normal methods, they had to include a statement saying why. In other words, accountability.

This proposal does away with that and replaces it with the sort of investigative subpoenas that are coercive and dangerous.

But go ahead, keep trusting the State to do its business in secret. That’s never backfired on us.

george-costanza-couch

The “revenge porn” bill

S.B. No. 489 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF AN INTIMATE IMAGE OF ANOTHER PERSON. (JUD)

This is the bill that seeks to specifically criminalize the act of taking a nude photograph of a person who you were once intimate with and distributing that photograph on the internet without their permission.

Let’s be clear: it’s a totally douchey thing to do. It’s violative of someone’s trust and makes you out to be a complete asshole.

But is it a crime? Should it be a crime? Can it be a crime? These are the important questions.

As I understand it (and you really should read this post by Mark Bennett for a complete deconstruction of its unconstitutionality), a picture is speech. So when a picture is made public and the government seeks to put restrictions on it, it becomes a question of the Freedom of Speech which implicates the First Amendment.

As Mark explains, the bills don’t seek to criminalize all pictures posted, only pictures posted that meet certain criteria: nudity, non-consensual.

That’s a content-based restriction: you’re restricting speech based on the content of it. For example, in 2010 in U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court refused to find that “crush videos”2 were illegal.

But let us assume, for the purposes of this post, that “revenge porn” should and can be criminalized.3 What would a bill look like? CT’s proposal is:

(a) A person is guilty of unlawful dissemination of an intimate image when, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, such person electronically disseminates, without the consent of such other person, a photograph, film, videotape or other recorded image of (1) the genitals, pubic area or buttocks of such other person, or the breast of such other person who is female with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion of such breast below the top of the nipple, or (2) such other person engaged in sexual intercourse, as defined in section 53a-193 of the general statutes.

I’m just going to list the problems with this in bullet format, because it’ll be easier:

  • The “Intent to annoy” language. That’s exceedingly vague and a terribly low standard that’s so variable dependent on the person being so “annoyed”. Your face is annoying to me. Are you a criminal now?
  • “Electronically disseminates”. The bill seeks to criminalize electronic dissemination but nowhere defines that. What if I show the picture to my dying brother in the hospital room? What if I post it on a flyer on a lamppost outside my house?
  • “The genitals, pubic area or buttocks” apparently don’t need to be naked. So I can take a picture of your fat ass as you bend over to pick up a McFry and put it on the internet and now I have to go to jail because you have low self-esteem.
  • This might already exist. Here’s “Breach of Peace in the 2nd Degree“, which states, in relevant part: (a) A person is guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person: (4) publicly exhibits, distributes, posts up or advertises any offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning any person. Doesn’t that hit every note on the revenge porn bill? Why do we need a separate one again?4

The Search Warrant That Tracks Your Movement and Gets Your Email and Social Media

H.B. No. 5587 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING SEARCH WARRANTS. (JUD)

It’s innocuously named, but it covers a wide swathe and is important also for what it doesn’t cover. Primarily, the bill purports to bring into line our statutes to comply with two cases: U.S. v. Jones (the GPS case) and State v. Esarey (a case about out of state warrants for email). Also, this bill has nothing to do with the scope of search warrants for the search of your cell phone. That’s the subject of an upcoming column.

As for the GPS. the bill states that police can seek a warrant if they believe that “probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been, is being, or will be committed and that the use of a tracking device will yield evidence of the commission of that offense”.

So almost immediately we hit upon the first problem: how will a tracking device provide evidence of a crime that has already been committed? Because the warrant seeks to authorize the attachment of a device that tracks the movement of a person or object. So unless that movement in the future (for up to 30 days – another problem with the length of time) corroborates a crime in the past, I see that portion as problematic.

Next, the scope. As it currently stands, there is no limitation on the scope of the data collected and what it can be used for. For example, if the warrant states that the data is being sought to prosecute a high-level drug trafficker and the data shows that the suspect was at the residence of his girlfriend, who has a protective order against him, can the information be used to prosecute him for that? Just like warrants for the searches of homes are very specific as to what can be sought and seized, so should any warrant for this “tracking data”.

If not, doesn’t it become closer to those general warrants the founding fathers of our country so hated?

Speaking of general warrants, the other part of the bill that seeks to address State v. Esarey also succumbs to the same problem. The section incorporates the warrant requirement discussed above and applies it to out of state providers of data “or business entity that provides electronic communication services or remote computing services to the public”. In other words, your email providers and Facebook and Twitter.

Now imagine that: the police believe that you are about to commit a crime, so they get a judge to issue a warrant for your emails. As we’ve already discussed above, with a lack of particularity requirement in the statute, they get everything. EVERYTHING. All your emails.

Who’s to say they can’t read your emails and go on fishing expeditions to find other things that may be evidence of other crimes? Who’s to say they can read your emails and try to find crimes to fit what they see?

Worse, notice isn’t immediate, so you can’t move to quash the subpoena in time or file a motion seeking to limit its scope. The statute says that they have to let you know within 48 hours, but the company has only 5 days to provide all that data. There’s no provision that says they have to turn over the data unless there’s a motion to quash filed.

The Wiretapping/Eavesdropping Bills

S.B. No. 487 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECORDING OF TELEPHONIC COMMUNICATIONS. (JUD)

This is one strange bill. Not by itself. By itself it’s a “revision” to the eavesdropping statute. It states that no one shall record a private telephonic conversation without alerting the other party in various ways and obtaining that party’s consent. It then lays out various exceptions, including ones for law enforcement and:

(4) Any party who records a telephonic communication, provided the intent of the recording is to memorialize evidence of a crime before, during or after the fact and the unaltered and undisclosed recording must have been submitted to law enforcement within a reasonable amount of time;

One of the exceptions is also the corporation that provides these telephone services as defined in C.G.S. 53a-187(a)(1). This is important when you combine this bill with the next; it becomes a little confusing as to its purpose.

H.B. No. 5585 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING SURVEILLANCE OF CELL PHONE COMMUNICATION BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS. (JUD)

Remember that 53a-187 I just cited above? This one makes changes to that bill. And the change is good, but it’s still a bit confusing in context. The change essentially is that the exception to unlawful wiretapping doesn’t apply to law enforcement acting in the scope of their duties. “Scope of their duties” is amended to now include:

when such official (1) has probable cause to believe that the cellular radio telephone has been used in furtherance of the commission of a crime and has obtained a search warrant that authorizes wiretapping of the cellular radio telephone, or (2) is otherwise authorized by state or federal law to engage in wiretapping of the cellular radio telephone.

There is, of course, already a whole set of wiretapping statutes (54-41a-41u) which aren’t mentioned anywhere.

So I’m confused. Why did we need the previous bill? What does this do? What do any of them do to the actual wiretapping statute?

More importantly, why was this necessary? What are we trying to fix? Is there a problem of law enforcement listening to conversations without warrants and/or PC and if so, why haven’t we heard about it?

Now you know. Call your legislator.

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