Constitutional Issues

Facebook and First Amendment rights

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled " Facebook and First Amendment rights." My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Facebook and First Amendment rights

Did you know that a few years ago, the number of times that Americans viewed social media sites per day surpassed pornography site views? When that happens, you know you’ve reached a tipping point!

Reaching that dubious milestone was just one more sign that social media is more than just a fad or a passing fancy. After all, it affects every aspect of our lives, from communication and interaction with loved ones and friends to influencing our purchasing choices and the way that we conduct business.

In other words, social media use has permeated our culture and more than ever before, people are sharing information about all aspects of their lives using social networking sites. Some of these disclosures are broadcast publicly while others are limited to select friends and followers. But whether distributed publicly or to a small circle of friends, online communications via social media sites can sometimes have a sizable offline impact, as was the case in a recent federals appeals court case where online activities intersected with the First Amendment.

One issue in Bland v. Roberts, No. 12-1671, was whether the actions of one of the plaintiff’s — showing support for a political candidate by “liking” his Facebook campaign page — was a “communication” protected by the First Amendment. The case arose when one of the plaintiffs, a sheriff’s deputy, “liked” the Facebook campaign page of a candidate for sheriff who was running against the deputy’s boss. The deputy was fired and subsequently sued his former employer alleging that his termination was in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.

Previously, other courts had considered the issue of whether certain types of online statements made on social media constituted speech and and concluded that they were constitutionally protected speech, but the issue of whether a “like” on Facebook was a “substantive statement” and thus protected was an issue of first impression.

In reaching its decision on this issue, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals examined the nature of a Facebook “like,” explaining that, at its essence, it was a form of communication:

“Once one understands the nature of what Carter did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook  page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.”

The court then wisely sought out offline comparisons to the online activity of “liking” a Facebook page and concluded that the plaintiff’s Facebook “like” was indeed speech protected by the First Amendment: “In sum, liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

In other words, as I’ve repeated time and time again, the medium does not change the message. Online behavior is no different than offline behavior and seeking out the offline corollary for online behavior is the best way to reach appropriate decisions when interpreting 21st century conduct using 20th century precedent. Kudos to the Fourth Circuit for issuing a decision that will withstand the test of time.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at

Are police unlawfully accessing social media accounts?

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Are police unlawfully accessing social media accounts?"

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Are police unlawfully accessing social media accounts?

It’s undeniable: social media use has permeated our culture. People are sharing information about all aspects of their lives via social networking sites. Some of these disclosures are broadcast publicly while others are limited to select friends and followers.

This broad scale sharing of information has not gone unnoticed by the legal profession. In past columns I’ve discussed the recent efforts of lawyers to mine social media for evidence, resulting in a number of ethics opinions that attempt to provide guidance and establish ethical boundaries for lawyers as they wade into the electronic minefield of social media.

But, as an attendee asked when I recently spoke at a seminar sponsored by the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, what about law enforcement? How far can police officers go when seeking to obtain access to social media evidence in order to prove the guilt of an accused?

I thought it was a great question and suggested that it was an issue that the courts would increasingly have to wrestle with as law enforcement stampeded into uncharted social media territory.

And, an example of just such a decision arrived a few weeks later. I received an email from one of the attendees, well-known Rochester criminal defense attorney and prolific author, Gary Muldoon and he advised me of a recent case on point, People v. Munck, 92 A.D.3d 63, 937 N.Y.S.2d 334 (3d Dept. 2011).

One issue addressed by the court in Munck was whether, during a police interrogation, police had unlawfully obtained access to the defendant’s MySpace account. The court briefly addressed the issue, holding that the officer’s conduct was lawful, and cited a New York Court of Appeals decision as the basis for its holding:

“While defendant received oral Miranda warnings, which he agreed to waive, that interview was voluntary and noncustodial, no violation of his rights occurred and he was allowed to leave. Toward the end of the questioning, when Akshar feigned interest in MySpace Web page designs, defendant voluntarily provided his username and password to his accounts and verbally agreed to let Akshar access them. In our view, contrary to defendant’s claim, Akshar did not use impermissible or fundamentally unfair or deceptive tactics to gain access to these accounts  (see People v. Tarsia, 50 N.Y.2d 1, 11, 427 N.Y.S.2d 944, 405 N.E.2d 188 [1980] ).”

Tarsia is a case that delves in depth into the issue of coercion during police questioning. Specifically, the court was tasked with determining whether Tarsia’s consent to allow the police to use a voice stress test during his interrogation was the product of coercion.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals examined the essence of coercion:

“However, while more subtle methods, though sometimes harder to perceive, are equally to be condemned when they trammel on the rights of those in custody … it may take a discerning eye to tell those that are fundamentally unfair from those which are no more than permissible instances in which the police have played the role of ‘midwife to a declaration naturally born of remorse, or relief, or desperation, or calculation’ … In this case, the coerciveness argument derives from the subsidiary claims that defendant was misinformed as to the purpose of the voice stress test … (But) there was no misrepresentation made that the test results could be admissible in a trial against him. Rather, the test was used simply as an investigatory tool … Lieutenant Gaul explained in advance what the signs of stress would be and examined the stress chart in defendant’s presence.”

In other words, the court in Tarsia was focused on the use of coercion to induce a confession of guilt. The defendant understood that the officers were attempting to get him to admit to a crime. He knew why he was being asked to consent to the voice stress test.

However, in Munck, the law enforcement tactics used were far more deceptive. This becomes obvious when, as I always suggest should be done when dealing with the online world, the situation is compared to a similar offline analogy. Here, the officer feigned an interest in Web design in order to obtain access to Munck’s MySpace information. Thus, the tactics used were akin an officer claiming expertise as a book editor and then asking the defendant to disclose the location of his diary so that the officer could review it for purposes of submitting it as a memoir to a book publisher.

The reason the officer request access to Munck’s MyCase password was anything but forthright. The convoluted tactics used were “fundamentally unfair” and “trammeled” on Munck’s rights.

Just because the Internet is still viewed as the “Wild West” doesn’t mean law enforcement officers can ignore the Constitution and run willy nilly over the rights of the accused. Unfortunately, I think Munck sets that precedent. My hope is that over time, as Internet-based tools become more familiar, a new sheriff will come into town (in the form of a decision from another Judicial Department or the Court of Appeals) and will set the record straight.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations atMyCase, a powerful and intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at 

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Can Police Obtain Cell Phone Location Data Without a Warrant?


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Can Police Obtain Cell Phone Location Data Without a Warrant?"

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Can Police Obtain Cell Phone Location Data Without a Warrant?

In their continuing effort to battle alleged criminals both big and small, police are turning to the newest technologies to track and locate suspects. The latest weapon in their arsenal is cell site location information (CSLI).

Increasingly, police agencies are seeking access to the CSLI data maintained by cell phone providers, which provides them with a customer’s past location records. This information is gleaned from the signals sent by the customer’s cell phone to the carrier’s cell phone towers. In many cases, these records are obtained in the absence of a warrant.

Just this summer, two New York courts addressed the legality of this practice and reached conflicting conclusions. The New York Appellate Division, First Department held that warrantless access to this type of information was permissible whereas just last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that warrantless access to CSLI data was unconstitutional.

First, in July, the First Department handed down their decision in People v. Hall, 926 N.Y.S.2d 514, (1st Dept. 2011). The Court briefly addressed the constitutional issues presented and then concluded that access to three days of location surveillance in the absence of a warrant was permissible: “Obtaining defendant’s CSLI without a warrant did not violate the Fourth Amendment because, under the Federal Constitution, defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy while traveling in public.”

In comparison, the EDNY reached the opposite conclusion (In the Matter of  an Application of the United States of America for an Order Authorizing the Release of Historical Cell-Site Information, 10-MC-897 (NGG)). After an extensive constitutional analysis, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis concluded that a probable cause warrant issued by a judge is required before law enforcement can obtain a customer’s CLSI data: “This court…seeks to resolve the question before it: whether the request for at least 113 days of cumulative cell-site-location records for an individual's cell phone constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment…The court concludes that it does. Consequently, the information sought by the Government may not be obtained without a warrant and the requisite showing of probable cause.” 

Of course, this isn’t the first time this issue has been addressed, nor will it be the last. Courts across the country have reached conflicting decisions on this issue and the Supreme Court is expected to review a case that presents a similar issue.

Additionally, there are competing bills pending in Congress regarding geo-location data.

First, in June, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) submitted “The Geolocation and Privacy Surveillance Act,” which would require probable cause and a warrant before the government could access all types of geo-location data, including information related to past movements, such as CSLI data.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), proposed legislation that would only require a warrant for real-time cell phone data, not past data. Ironically, that same piece of legislation includes a provision that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to accessing data stored in the cloud.

With the rapid pace of technological change, Fourth Amendment privacy issues are of ever-increasing importance. That people choose to utilize technologies that provide private companies with extensive amounts of personal data does not mean the information magically becomes part of the “public realm” or that consent to governmental access of said data is somehow presumed.

As law enforcement becomes more creative in their efforts to spy on US. Citizens, changes must be made to ensure that our constitutional rights are not obliterated in the face of a fundamental lack of understanding of new technologies.  Or, as Judge Garaufis so eloquently put it: “While the government's monitoring of our thoughts may be the archetypical Orwellian intrusion, the government's surveillance of our movements over a considerable time period through new technologies, such as the collection of cell-site-location records, without the protections of the Fourth Amendment, puts our country far closer to Oceania than our Constitution permits. It is time that the courts begin to address whether revolutionary changes in technology require changes to existing Fourth Amendment doctrine.”

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at

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Should social media passwords be a job requirement?


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Should social media passwords be a job requirement?"

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Should social media passwords be a job requirement?

I recently learned that the Yates County Sheriff’s Department was requiring current employees and job applicants to provide the Department with their social media passwords. The requirement was later rescinded for current employees.

The Yates County Sheriff’s Department isn’t alone. Requiring social media passwords as part of the job application process is an increasing trend—and a disturbing one, especially when the employer is a governmental entity, such as a law enforcement agency.

A similar case made the news earlier this year when Maryland corrections officers were required to provide the Maryland Division of Corrections access to their Facebook accounts as part of the job recertification process.

The ACLU of Maryland became involved and challenged the policy, asserting that the policy violated the privacy right of employees, job applicants and their “friends” on social networks. In January of 2011, the ACLU sent a letter to the DOC (online: summarizing its objections. In part, the ACLU objected to the privacy violations occurring because of the policy: 

Neither Officer Collins nor his Facebook “friends” deserve to have the government snooping about their private electronic communications. Login information gives the DOC access to communications that are intended to be private…(and) the DOC demand for login information is equivalent to demands that they produce all of their private correspondence and photographs for review, or permit the government to listen in on their personal telephone calls, as a condition of employment.

The Maryland DOC later suspended the policy for 45 days as it related to current employees and in April 2011, revised the social media policy somewhat, but the revisions did little to alleviate the ACLU’s privacy concerns.

The Maryland DOC and the Yates County Sheriff’s Department aren’t the only law enforcement agencies requiring applicants to provide social media passwords. In fact, according to a November 2010 report, the IACP Social Media Survey, issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, nearly one third of all law enforcement agencies required access applicants to provide access to their social media profiles as part of the background check.

That so many law enforcement agencies engage in this practice is troubling for any number of reasons. Many social media users choose to limit public access to their social media profiles in order to enhance their levels of privacy and they do so for a reason: to keep their personal information private. When an agency obtains passwords to an applicant’s social media profiles, the agency is able to access all electronic communications related to the profiles, regardless of the privacy settings in place.

Additionally, when agencies obtain passwords to these profiles, they gain access to a vast array of information, including communications from unsuspecting third parties. These communications include messages and photographs posted to the applicant’s wall, status messages from friends that appear in the applicant’s social media stream and private messages from other users that are intended for the applicant’s eyes only.

Even if law enforcement job applicants consent to allow hiring agencies access to social media profile passwords, the “friends” of the applicants most certainly did not consent to having communications that they believed to be private perused by law enforcement officials. Thus, policies of this type infringe upon the privacy rights of innocent, unsuspecting third parties who happen to be friends with and correspond with job applicants. For that reason alone, this practice should be terminated.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at

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I Have a Date With TSA Next Month


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "I Have a Date With TSA Next Month."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


I Have a Date With TSA Next Month

In early December I’m speaking to the IP section of the Colorado Bar Association about the legal and ethical issues of social media for lawyers. My trip to Denver will be the first time that I’ll have flown since the TSA’s new screening procedures were implemented.

My hope is that I won’t be “randomly” selected to walk through one of the new full-body scanners that were rolled out to airports, including the Rochester International Airport, across the country earlier this month. These scanners dose the subject with radiation and create a detailed, graphic image of the person’s nude body. According to TSA representatives, the radiation levels are safe, but others dispute this claim.

If I am one of the 20 percent of travelers selected to receive a full-body scan, I intend to opt out, both for health-related reasons and as a matter of principle.

Unfortunately, now that the screening procedures have changed, that means I’ll be subjected to the new, more invasive pat-downs that were implemented at the same time as the new full-body scanners.

A TSA agent will use the fronts of their hands to pat down all areas of my body, including my breasts and groin. Previously, TSA agents used the backs of their hands and avoided engaging in non-consensual fore- play with air travelers.

Not anymore.

In the name of national security, forced intimacy strangers is now par for the course

Hopefully, my experience will be less traumatic than that of other recent air travelers.

First, there’s Tom Sawyer, a 61-year-old bladder cancer survivor who had urine from his urostomy bag spilled onto his clothes following a rough TSA search that left him humiliated and in tears. Then there are the breast cancer survivors, a number of whom have complained that TSA agents forced them to remove their prosthetic breasts.

Sexual assault victims have also been traumatized by the experience, describing heart-wrenching accounts of encounters with TSA agents. Many have said that the pat downs caused them to experience flash backs from the original sexual assault.

Then there are the children appearing in widely circulated YouTube videos. One is of a 3-year-old girl receiving an invasive pat down from a TSA agent and screaming “Don’t touch me!” as her mother holds the hysterical child during the search. In another video, a young boy is seen removing his shirt during a TSA pat down as bystanders express their disbelief.

Many security experts have likened the new procedures to an ineffective “security theater” performed only for show. In other words, the newly revised security dance looks good, but does very little to actually protect us from a terrorist attack.

This, to me, is simply unacceptable. I’m outraged by the invasiveness and ineffectiveness of the new security procedures and it pains me to hear of my fellow citizen's humiliating experiences at the hands of government agents.

They deserved better. We all do.

Needless to say, I don’t relish my upcoming “date” with TSA. I’m not looking forward to the possibility of being groped by a stranger after refusing the full-body scan. However, I plan to make the best of it and will pass the time by humming Meat Loaf’s song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” as the TSA agent pats me down. After all, it only seems fitting.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at

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Curfew Fails Abused Children


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Curfew Fails Abused Children."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


The Rochester youth curfew was defeated once again last week when the New York State Court of Appeals issued its decision in Jiovon Anonymous v. City of Rochester.

At issue in the case was the legality of the youth curfew law, which became effective September 2006. The ordinance made it unlawful for those younger than 17 to be in a public place Sun- days through Thursdays between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.,
and between 12 and 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

A minor accused of violating curfew could taken into custody immediately, and a conviction of the ordinance constituted a “violation,” as defined in the Penal Law,
punishable by a sentence of up to 15 days in jail.

The court limited its review to the constitutional issues raised on appeal and concluded that intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, was the appropriate level of analysis. Thus, in order to prevail, the City of Rochester was required to show that the curfew ordinance was “substantially related” to the achievement of “important” government interests.

The court applied the test to the constitutional claims of both the minors and parents affected by the law and determined that the Appellate Division, Fourth Department concluded correctly that Rochester’s curfew law was unconstitutional.

The court emphasized that the city failed to offer sufficient evidence to establish that the imposition of a curfew significantly reduced juvenile crime or victimization: “Without support from the City’s own empirical data, we conclude that the justifications made by the Mayor and the Chief of Police for the nighttime curfew, based primarily on opinions, are insufficient since they do not show a substantial relationship between the curfew and goals of reducing juvenile crime and victimization during nighttime hours.”

Similarly, the court concluded that the curfew law impermissibly interfered with parental due process rights, arguably interfering with stated goal of promoting parental supervision rather than supporting it: The “curfew ‘does not allow an adult to pre-approve even a specific activity after curfew hours unless a custodial adult actually accompanies the minor. Thus, parents cannot allow their children to function independently at night, which some parents may believe is part of the process of growing up’ (Nunez, 11 F3d at 952). Consequently, we conclude that the
challenged curfew is not substantially related to the stated goals of promoting parental supervision.”

The court then implied that the law would have had a better chance of passing constitutional muster if it had included a parental consent exception.

As I’ve noted in the past, my concern with youth curfews is that they effectively prevent children from escaping traumatic home environments. The inherent assumption behind curfews is that all guardians are caring, selfless and emotionally stable individuals.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For children with drug-addicted or abusive guardians, their homes are anything but safe. In many cases, the safest recourse for these children is to go elsewhere; sometimes the street simply is the safest alternative.

Arguably, curfew laws that include a parental consent exception at least provide a  neglected child with some flexibility, since it’s safe to assume that drug-addicted or otherwise neglectful parents are more than happy to have their children out of their sight.

The parental consent exception does little to protect the well being of abused children, however, since many abusers refuse to allow their child to leave the home. The home is the abuser’s playground and the child is their toy.

Any type of curfew law, then, is harmful to abused children. Such laws effectively imprison children in their abuser’s lair, actually encouraging —rather than preventing —victimization.

Any initiative that results in harm to a percentage of the population it is intended to protect is a failure.

Accordingly, rather than appealing the Court of Appeal’s decision or attempting to amend the curfew law, the city should simply abandon its failed initiative.

In New York, Privacy Trumps Technology


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "In New York, Privacy Trumps Technology."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Last week the New York Court of Appeals handed down its decision in People v. Weaver, a case I wrote about when oral arguments occurred in March.

At issue in Weaver was whether GPS tracking device evidence obtained by law enforcement without a warrant should have been suppressed.

The disputed evidence was obtained after a GPS tracking device was placed on the defendant’s car in the absence of a warrant and his movements were tracked for 65 days without his knowledge.  He was eventually arrested and charged with 2 counts of burglary, for which he was later convicted.

The Appellate Division, Third Department, concluded that the evidence obtained from the GPS device was admissible since the defendant had no expectation of privacy regarding movements that would have been visible via the naked eye.

In my earlier article, I vehemently disagreed with this conclusion, urging that the constitutional interpretation of our laws must conform to the ever-changing technological landscape, and that the failure to do so would render our laws and constitutional protections obsolete:

Technological advances are changing our lives in ways we never before imagined. New devices are being invented that enhance the ability of law enforcement officers to observe and follow our movements in ways not envisioned just 10 years ago. Who knows what capabilities law enforcement will have 20 years from now?…Judicial oversight of the use of advanced technologies is necessary to prevent baseless, invasive and limitless intrusions into the lives of law-abiding Americans.

I was pleased to learn that the New York Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the evidence was inadmissible. 

The Court noted that GPS technology does not simply enhance the senses, but rather allows a “new technological perception” that could not otherwise be obtained without massive amounts of manpower, equipment and funding. 

Also of importance to the Court in reaching its determination was the vast amount of personal information that could be collected via constant GPS tracking of a person’s whereabouts, including the individual’s political, professional, religious and amorous associations.

Accordingly, the Court concluded that the evidence should have been suppressed pursuant to the New York State Constitution:

Technological advances have produced many valuable tools for law enforcement and, as the years go by, the technology available to aid in the detection of criminal conduct will only become more and more sophisticated.  Without judicial oversight, the use of these powerful devices presents a significant and, to our minds, unacceptable risk of abuse. Under our State Constitution, in the absence of exigent circumstances, the installation and use of a GPS device to monitor an individual's whereabouts requires a warrant supported by probable cause.

Judge Smith, Judge Read and Judge Graffeo dissented.  In Judge Smith’s dissent, he asserted that the majority’s holding amounted to the constitutionally unsupportable proposition that certain technological devices were too advanced to be utilized by law enforcement in the absence of a warrant.

To an extent, I agree with Judge Smith—the majority’s holding encompasses the idea that the complexity and invasiveness of emerging technologies warrants judicial scrutiny of the methods utilized by law enforcement in order to prevent abuse. We part ways to the extent that he asserts that this proposition is unconstitutional.

Rather, the majority’s holding is simply an acknowledgement that the right to be free from unlawful governmental intrusions must not be permitted to be whittled away in the face of increasingly intrusive technologies. 

Simply put, in New York, the right to privacy should always remain paramount.

It is, for that very reason, that Weaver is one of those heartening decisions that makes me proud to be a New Yorker.  It is rare that a lone opinion is able to single-handedly restore my faith in the judicial process and the protections offered by our State Constitution.  People v. Weaver is just such a case. 

A Confounding Victory


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "A Confounding Victory."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


A Confounding Victory

A rule that gives police the power to conduct such a search whenever an individual is caught committing a traffic offense, when there is no basis for believing evidence of the offense might be found in the vehicle, creates a serious and recurring threat to the privacy of countless individuals. Indeed, the character of that threat implicates the central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment —the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects.

—ARIZONA V. GANT, NO. 07-542

Last week, on April 21, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Arizona v. Gant, a decision being touted as a constitutional victory by privacy rights advocates.

The court held that arresting officers may search a vehicle incident to arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search, or if the officers have a reasonable belief that the vehicle contains evidence of the crime for which the person is being arrested.

The decision is both fascinating and a profound example of why Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is worth little more than the paper on which it’s written.

What is most fascinating about the decision is the unlikely judicial alliances found in the 5-4 decision. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Stevens, who was joined by the rather motley crew of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Souter and Ginsberg. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Alito and Breyer dissented.

That Justice Scalia joined the majority in limiting the scope of a search incident to arrest is, in and of itself, unusual. For so-called “liberal” Fourth Amendment champions such as myself, however, Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion is all the
more surreal.

First, Justice Scalia indicated that he would go further than the majority and hold that a search of a vehicle incident to arrest is reasonable only when the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Justice Scalia
explained that officer safety procedures dictate that the arrestee should be removed from the car prior to the arrest, therefore the arrestee should virtually never be within reaching distance of the passenger compartment, rendering that exception unnecessary.

Even more confounding is that, when discounting that exception, Justice Scalia acknowledged that police actions do not occur in a vacuum. He explained that the exception allowing officers to search for weapons within reach of the passenger compartment “leaves much room for manipulation, inviting officers to leave the scene unsecured (at least where dangerous suspects are not involved) in order to conduct a vehicle search.”

And, with that simple statement, Justice Scalia broke the golden rule of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, forever changing the course of Constitutional Law classes across this great land. Hypothetical factual scenarios will necessarily have to be rooted in reality from now on.

No longer will robot-like police officers, devoid of emotion or ulterior motives star in hypothetical arrests. Rather, the factual scenarios will take into account that law enforcement officers are just as human as the rest of us and enter the field carrying
their own set of psychological baggage: ripe with prejudices and under pressure, both professional and personal.

Hypothetical examples will be grounded in reality, with the full knowledge that police officers not only are tempted to, but actually do, alter the sequence of events occurring before an arrest to conform to current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Evidence obtained illegally ultimately is rendered admissible after creative narration in police reports.

That is the reality, rarely acknowledged, when carefully scripted, fictional scenarios reach the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

That Justice Scalia, of all people, acknowledged that fact, makes this particular victory all the more confounding.

Carelessness Trumps the Exclusionary Rule


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Carelessness Trumps the Exclusionary Rule."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Carelessness Trumps the Exclusionary Rule

In February 2008, I wrote an column about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant certiorari in Herring v. U.S.

I predicted the court would conclude that the exclusionary rule did not apply to the facts of the case. At issue in Herring was whether the exclusionary rule should apply to evidence discovered during an unlawful arrest, when a suspect’s arrest is based on erroneous information from another law enforcement officer. Herring was arrested based on an arrest warrant that was recalled, but not purged, from the
computer database, as it should have been.

Earlier this month, the court issued its decision in Herring v. U.S., No. 07-513, and confirmed my suspicion that it would, once again, chip away at the exclusionary rule:

In light of our repeated holdings that the deterrent effect of suppression must be substantial and outweigh any harm to the justice system, e.g., Leon, 468 U. S., at 909–910, we conclude that when police mistakes are the result of negligence such as that described here, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, any marginal deterrence does not ‘pay its way.’ Id., at 907–908, n. 6 (internal quotation marks omitted). In such a case, the criminal should not ‘go free because the constable has blundered.’”People v. Defore, 242 N. Y. 13, 21, 150 N. E. 585, 587 (1926) (opinion by Cardozo, J.).

The holding is problematic for any number of reasons, but two of the court’s underlying assumptions are particularly disturbing: One being that any deterrent effect of the exclusionary rule in the case would be “marginal”; the second, that all arrestees are necessarily criminals.

Justice Ginsberg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 decision, noting that the most troublesome outcome likely will be an increase in the wrongful arrests of innocent citizens:

[T]he ‘most serious impact’ of the Court’s holding will be on innocent persons ‘wrongfully arrested based on erroneous information [carelessly maintained] in a computer data base.'

She also addressed the concern I previously raised —that a decision holding the exclusionary rule inapplicable in such a situation would remove any incentive to promptly remove recalled arrest warrants from government databases:

The Court assures that ‘exclusion would certainly be justified’ if ‘the police have been shown to be reckless in maintaining a warrant system, or to have knowingly made false entries to lay the groundwork for future false arrests.’ … This concession threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means. … In keeping with the rule’s ‘core concerns,’ … suppression should have attended the unconstitutional search in this case.

As Justice Ginsberg notes, widespread use of computer databases is now the norm in America and massive amounts of data are collected, stored and shared among various governmental agencies.

Undoubtedly, such sharing of information has the potential to increase law enforcement’s ability to protect U.S. citizens from harm. The Herring decision, however, essentially guarantees just the opposite will occur. As the economy falters
and budgets tighten, governmental entities most certainly will fail to allocate sufficient resources toward the periodic regulation and review of law enforcement databases, since there is now little, if any, incentive to do so.

As a result, ordinary, law-abiding citizens —especially those with common names or names resembling those on terror watch lists —will bear the brunt of the decision.
Such an outcome is unfortunate, unacceptable and un-American.

Fear and Liberty Must Co-exist


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Fear and liberty must co-exist."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

Fear and Liberty Must Co-exist

“[F]ear cannot…allow…the evisceration of the bedrock principle of our Constitution that no one can be arrested without probable cause that a crime has been committed.”
Farag v. U.S., __F.Supp.2d__, 2008 WL 4965167 (EDNY 2008)

Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York addressed the intriguing issue of whether federal agents could rely solely on airline passengers’ Arab ethnicity when determining whether probable cause exists for their arrest.

In Farag v. U.S., the plaintiffs brought a Bivens claim against governmental entities and employees, asserting that their arrest and subsequent detention and interrogation violated their constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs, both of Egyptian descent, were long-time friends. One was an American citizen and a retired New York City police officer while the other possessed a valid U.S. Visa and was an Egyptian citizen, employed as a sales manager by General Electric.

After vacationing in California, the plaintiffs boarded a plane in San Diego bound for New York City. Counterterrorism agents were on the flight as well and subsequently detained and arrested the plaintiffs based on suspicions of terrorism.

The government asserted probable cause for the plaintiffs’ arrest existed based on non-ethnic factors. The court dismissed that argument, then turned to the government’s claim that the plaintiffs’ Arab ethnicity and use of the Arabic language were relevant factors in the determination of probable cause since the individuals who “participated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks were Middle Eastern males … [and] the United States continues to face a very real threat of domestic terrorism from Islamic terrorists.”

In other words, their position was that, in our post-9/11 world, the mere fact that an airline passenger is believed to be of Arab ethnicity is of great importance when determining probable cause since Arabs have a greater propensity to commit acts of terrorism than non-Arabs.

The court flatly rejected this argument, noting that precedent from both state and federal courts squarely supported the conclusion that ethnicity should not be used as the basis to support governmental intrusion under the Fourth Amend-

There is no doubt the specter of 9/11 looms large over the case. Although it is the first post-9/11 case to address whether race may be used to establish criminal propensity under the Fourth Amendment, the court cannot subscribe to the notion that in the wake of 9/11 doing so now is permissible. As the Second Circuit recently admonished, “the strength of our system of constitutional rights derives from the steadfast protection of those rights in both normal and unusual times.” Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 159
(Second Cir. 2007), cert. granted sub nom. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __U.S.__, , 128 S.Ct. 2931, __L.Ed.2d__ (2008).

It is heartening to read those words in the context of a court decision, rather than an editorial. The United States is a great country founded on the principles of liberty and freedom from baseless governmental intrusions. Such protections, embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, are what separate us from much of the world.

We cannot allow the horrors of 9/11 to reduce us to a land of people paralyzed by fear, full of hatred and distrust. Our legitimate concerns regarding our safety and the safety of our families must never be permitted to override the liberties and freedoms to which all people are entitled, regardless of their race, religion or creed.

Fear and liberty can co-exist. They must co-exist; otherwise the America we know will be no more.