Category Archives: ct legal news

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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In disregarding FOIA laws, CT lege has assistance from police departments

For a State that bills itself the Constitution state, Connecticut sure is running into a lot of problems with the First Amendment and Freedom of Information Laws, which seek to make government transparent.

First, the legislature, in a midnight session behind closed doors severely restricted FOI access in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Then there were the disingenuous arguments by the state’s attorney to keep 911 calls private, and finally a new task force that’s further scaling back the FOIA public access provisions.

But yesterday, a tremendous investigative reporting project by the New Haven Register and associated newspapers concluded that most police departments in Connecticut are doing a terrible job of complying with FOIA laws by failing to release information to the public:

Under state Freedom of Information law, the record of arrest is public information. This means the name and address of the person arrested, the date, time and place of the arrest and the offense, and at least one of the following designated by the law enforcement agency: the arrest report, the incident report, news release or other similar report of an arrest.

The law also calls police records public records, with some exemptions: the identity of informants, signed statements of witnesses, information which would be prejudicial to a law enforcement action, investigatory techniques not known to the general public, juvenile arrest records, the identity of a sexual assault victim and uncorroborated allegations.

So, of all of these, what were they able to get?

State police troops typically got a B– range by providing arrest logs, but refusing to give detailed reports out. Troop G, however, didn’t even give an arrest log during a compliance check, so it was the only state police troop to get an F.  “That’s impossible,” state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said, when told our reporter got no information at Troop G. “Arrest logs and press releases are available to anyone in the lobby.”

Twenty-six departments got an A– rating, for both providing an arrest log and an in-depth report, though these sometimes asked for our identity, or don’t provide information online.  Overall, about 25 percent of police departments got a score in the A range.

Another 61 departments or troops, or about 59 percent of them, got a rating in the B range. These departments typically gave an arrest log, but weren’t forthcoming with in-depth reports.

Seven departments scored in the C range, such as Bristol, where they claimed FOI law prohibits them from releasing police reports on arrests until a case is adjudicated in court.  We gave out two D grades and six F grades.

Therefore, 15 percent of departments or troops scored a C+ or under.

Why, exactly, is this important, you ask? Because this is watching those that purport to protect us and have the power to change our lives drastically. Everything that police departments do should be open to public scrutiny so we can determine whether they are, indeed, serving the public or engaged in racially discriminatory tactics.

Death penalty in CT still alive

Pardon the pun, but the state’s abolition of the death penalty in 2012 was always an incomplete measure, in part because of the 10 or so men on death row who weren’t pardoned by abolition and because of the one remaining pending capital case of Richard Roszkowski.

Roszkowski killed three people, but got the death penalty for only the killing of one of them: 9-year old Kylie Flannery. This was the second penalty phase trial for him, the first also having ended with a death sentence, but that was reversed by the trial judge because of incorrect jury instructions.

It’s quite illogical to argue that our standards of decency have so evolved that we no longer consider death an appropriate punishment in the State of Connecticut, except for those people who committed their offenses before a certain date.

Ironically, I’ve been told that Roszkowski’s lawyers weren’t allowed to argue to the jury that the State has abolished the death penalty and thus they shouldn’t impose a sentence of death.

I guess when you get the taste of blood in your mouth, it’s really hard to let go.

And so now we have yet another deeply mentally disturbed man on death row, over whose murder we will spend decades and millions of dollars.

Because vengeance is more important. And killing is wrong. So we must kill to enforce that message.

Under new proposed law, no one in CT can accidentally download child porn

There can be little doubt that abuse of children has been the cause du jour. Children do get abused and used and should be protected. To that end, there’s a new bill in the CT legislature that seeks to make several “technical changes” to the child pornography laws, but which actually makes it impossible for anyone to avoid a five year minimum prison sentence, no matter how one came into possession of the video.

There’s a growing discussion among those who observe the effects of the harsh punishment meted out by our black-and-white justice system on the people who are the subject of these zero-tolerance laws: the similar treatment of those who engage in sexual behavior with children and those who, without ever touching a child, view pictures and videos of children in sexual situations or engaging in sexual acts.

In other words, people are starting to realize that the two situations are disparate and should be treated as such. For one thing, the federal sentencing guidelines are over-the-top and maddeningly inconsistent. For instance:

Prosecution by installment: the King Bruce theory

King Bruce of Scotland, you will recall, was a king driven into exile by those damn British. During the course of this, he was taking refuge in a cave, defeated, when he chanced upon a spider which was unable to spin a web, presumably having nothing to do with the fact that it was Scottish and hence drunk. So it tried and failed and tried and failed until it finally succeeded, which gave the Good King Bruce an epiphany that if you try enough times you will eventually succeed at what you want. He then promptly defeated the British and Scotland has been an independent country ever since but he doesn’t get nearly all the credit that Mel Gibson does presumably because he wasn’t wearing blue war paint.

I know what you were thinking. Pervert.

Just last week, the Connecticut Appellate Court issued an opinion [PDF] endorsing the ‘King Bruce’ theory of prosecutions: try as many times as you want. But in order to understand the opinion in State v. Brundage II, you have to start at the beginning with State v. Brundage I.

In the beginning, Brundage was a creep. Over a period of roughly 8 years, he allegedly sexually assaulted his then-girlfriend’s daughter. The girlfriend ended the relationship in 2003 and the girl finally reported the abuse in 2007.

He was charged by the prosecution with two counts of Sexual Assault in the First Degree and two counts of Risk of Injury to a Minor. Out of all the possible crimes available to them, these are the two they chose to proceed on. Brundage, on cue, got convicted and was sentenced to a long time in jail.

Except he appealed, claiming that the criminal charges were actually barred by the statute of limitations. On appeal, the prosecution and the Appellate Court agreed that all charges for all incidents occurring prior to 2003 were barred and could not be prosecuted:

Mama said knock you out

ll-cool-j

What can be more frightening to the innocent man walking down a city street, minding his own business, when a bunch of thugs comes out of nowhere, and for no apparent reason, violently strikes that innocent man causing him physical injury?

Nothing, which is why there was widespread panic last year about the emergence of a new activity that further signaled the moral decay of America’s urban youth: the knockout game.

A game in which seemingly innocent people were randomly targeted to be punched in the head for no other reason than apparent boredom on the part of the hooligans.

And so it comes as no surprise that this viral act of violence that has put fear into the minds and hearts of innocent city working folk and has caused our urban areas to become veritable fields of random assaults has brought about a strict new legislative fix: by God we’ll fix ’em.

The new bill, proposed by legislator and Police Officer Joe Verrengia of West Hartford, CT, would make a “knockout” punch a felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail1. The bill states (and I’ve reproduced the entire section because context is relevant):

(a) A person is guilty of assault in the second degree when:

(1) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person; or

(2) with intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument other than by means of the discharge of a firearm; or

(3) he recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument; or

(4) for a purpose other than lawful medical or therapeutic treatment, he intentionally causes stupor, unconsciousness or other physical impairment or injury to another person by administering to such person, without his consent, a drug, substance or preparation capable of producing the same; or

(5) he is a parolee from a correctional institution and with intent to cause physical injury to an employee or member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, he causes physical injury to such employee or member; or

(6) with intent to cause the loss of consciousness of another person, he causes such injury to such person by a single punch or kick or other singular striking motion.

As you can see from the entire statute reproduced above, (6) is redundant. We must, of course, concede that “loss of consciousness” is “serious physical injury”. Putting aside caselaw that states that a fist or shoe can indeed be a dangerous instrument (thus covering subsections 2 and/or 3), subsection (6) seeks to carve out a specific subset of subsection (1), i.e. causing of serious physical injury. Subsection (1) has no restrictions on the type of injury (loss of consciousness) or the manner in which it is caused (single punch or kick).

So, simply put, (6) is useless. But that’s not all. The bill would make a conviction of subsection (6) have a mandatory prison sentence of at least 2 years.

Because getting a warrant is just so tedious. Grumble

“I mean, it’s like, oh my gosh, as if!” said Wethersfield, CT police chief James Cetran when asked whether obtaining cell phone records of citizens of Connecticut should require a showing of probable cause.1Warrants based on probable cause are, like, so “tedious”, he followed up2. Further:

“It makes things faster, easier and better for us,” said Cetran. “It’s something you can do within minutes, not hours.

“Best of all, of course, would be no requirement to get a pesky judge involved, but I’m feeling like a fat cat from where I’m sitting already, so…” he most certainly did not say, but I’m going to pretend that he thought it to himself nonetheless.