Category Archives: Criminal Law

Does it really matter what Jodi Arias wants?

By: Melinda Joiner – Student Blawg

In an interview with Phoenix television station KSAZ just moments after the jury returned their verdict, thirty-two year old Jodi Arias had the audacity to say, “I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I’d rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it…I would much rather die sooner than later.” Unfortunately, Jodi, you lost your freedom when the jury convicted you of first-degree murder. Your fate lies in the hands of the jury.

Yesterday, an Arizona jury convicted Arias of first-degree murder for stabbing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander twenty times, shooting him in the face, and cutting his neck, nearly decapitating him back in 2008. If the jury finds that ‘the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner,’ Arias could face the death penalty. If they are unable to establish at least one aggravating circumstance, Arias would face the dreaded life in prison sentence.

I’m usually not one to express my opinion, but I was flabbergasted when I read her statement regarding her punishment preference. Who cares what her preference is? Not only did she commit murder. She committed it in a horrific manner. How can anyone convicted of such a heinous crime expect his or her “freedom?” All I could think when I saw Arias’ statement was “I hope the jury gives her exactly what she doesn’t want: life in prison.”

Last month Arias’ attorney filed a motion to have jury members sequestered, stating to the judge ‘The court asks the question of the jurors every morning, “Have you seen anything on the media?” No one raises their hand…To believe that to be true is to believe an absolute fiction. It is a fairytale to assume that this jury is not hearing any of this. It is all over the news, be it local or national.’ The judge denied the motion urging the jurors to avoid all media coverage of the trial. However, if I was a member of the jury and accidentally saw or heard Arias’ statement, I would find it extremely difficult to cast it aside and determine her punishment solely on the heinousness of her crime. Every fiber of my being would want to give her a lifetime in prison punished by her own thoughts and feelings.

After a bomb threat at the courthouse where the trial was being held and the rescheduling of the aggravation phase of the trial (where the jury will determine whether or not the death penalty may be imposed) today, we will have to wait until next Wednesday for the jury to begin the process to determine if Jodi Arias will get her wish.

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/09/justice/arizona-jodi-arias-trial/?hpt=hp_c2

http://abcnews.go.com/US/jodi-arias-lawyer-asks-jurors-sequestered/story?id=18876926#.UYyz8LWceSp
http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/08/18128048-jury-finds-jodi-arias-guilty-of-first-degree-murder?lite

http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/on-the-record/2013/05/09/exclusive-jodi-arias-interview-death-ultimate-freedom-so-id-rather-just-have-my-freedom

https://www.azag.gov/sites/default/files/sites/all/docs/Criminal/ccc/Final-CapPun.pdf


Supreme Court: Dog Sniffs At Persons’ Homes Are Searches Requiring Probable Cause Under the Fourth Amendment

Washington, DC (March 26, 2013) – In its decision in Florida v. Jardines (11-564), the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed the suppression of marijuana evidence unearthed by law enforcement arising out of their use of a canine sniff at Mr. Jardines’s front door without probable cause. This is the second dog sniff opinion of the term. This time, though, the Court sided with personal rights over law enforcement’s use of enhanced searching technologies.

In summary,

Police took a drug-sniffing dog to Jardines’ front porch, where the dog gave a positive alert for narcotics. Based on the alert, the officers obtained a warrant for a search, which revealed marijuana plants; Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis. The Supreme Court of Florida approved the trial court’s decision to suppress the evidence, holding that the officers had engaged in a Fourth Amendment search unsupported by probable cause.

 As in United States v. Jones, the GPS case from last term, the Court’s majority today reaffirmed a centuries-old tradition to “keep easy cases easy”—the government must obtain a warrant before it may intrude upon private property in order to gather evidence of a crime.  By finding the conduct of law enforcement in this case to have violated a person’s constitutional right to protection from unwarranted search and seizure, the Supreme Court made clear today that the Fourth Amendment is not, in fact, dead.

The use of a trained police narcotics dog is no different than the use of GPS or thermal heat imaging technology. Law enforcement may not use enhanced search technologies to intrude upon private spaces without a warrant. Today’s ruling reinforces the old adage that “a man’s home is his castle” and the Government, even in the form of a “drug sniffing” dog, cannot intrude on that fundamental right with the purpose of gathering incriminating evidence without a warrant.

Some highlights from the opinion:

 (a) When “the Government obtains information by physically intruding” on persons, houses, papers, or effects, “a ‘search’ within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment” has “undoubtedly occurred.” United States v. Jones, 565 U. S. ___, ___, n. 3.

(b) At the Fourth Amendment’s “very core” stands “the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” Silverman v. United States, 365 U. S. 505, 511. The area “immediately surrounding and associated with the home”—the curtilage—is “part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U. S. 170, 180. The officers entered the curtilage here: The front porch is the classic exemplar of an area “to which the activity of home life extends.” Id., at 182, n. 12.

(c) The officers’ entry was not explicitly or implicitly invited. Officers need not “shield their eyes” when passing by a home “on public thoroughfares,” California v. Ciraolo, 476 U. S. 207, 213, but “no man can set his foot upon his neighbor’s close without his leave,” Entick v. Carrington, 2 Wils. K. B. 275, 291, 95 Eng. Rep. 807, 817. A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home in hopes of speaking to its occupants, because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” Kentucky v. King, 563 U. S. ___, ___. But the scope of a license is limited not only to a particular area but also to a specific purpose, and there is no customary invitation to enter the curtilage simply to conduct a search. Pp. 5–8.

(d) It is unnecessary to decide whether the officers violated Jardines’ expectation of privacy under Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347.

And the best part about it: Scalia delivered it!

A link to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Florida v. Jardines is available here.


Because sometimes the finger just isn’t enough…

I have to appreciate the New York Courts and the recent decisions that have come through the gates.  Recently, I wrote about how giving a cop the finger didn’t amount to reasonable suspicion to warrant an investigation by that officer.  (See Hello Officer, Read my Middle Finger!).  Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals declared swearing at a police officer equally didn’t amount to the commission of a crime or probable cause.

Here are the facts:

… Officer Johnson and another police officer were parked in separate marked police vehicles on a residential street in Rochester. Johnson noticed that a woman (later determined to be defendant’s girlfriend) was standing in front of a house across the street from where he was parked and was videotaping his activities. Curious about the woman’s identity, Johnson ran the license plate of a Cadillac that was parked in her driveway and discovered that the plate number had been issued for a Toyota — not a Cadillac.

Johnson briefly stepped out of his car to ask who owned the automobile and the woman responded that it was her grandfather’s vehicle. The officer then reentered his patrol car. A few minutes later, defendant Trevis Baker approached the open passenger-side window of Johnson’s car, leaned his head in and inquired why Johnson had checked the license plate. Johnson said something to the effect that he could run a plate if he wanted to.

Defendant started backing away from the police vehicle towards the middle of the street, swearing at the officer. When Officer Johnson asked “what did you say,” defendant repeated the profanity and accused Johnson of harassing him. After radioing his partner that he intended to make an arrest, Johnson exited his vehicle and, with the assistance of his partner, placed defendant under arrest. These activities apparently attracted the attention of various civilian bystanders and, by the time of the arrest, about ten people had congregated on the sidewalk behind defendant and his girlfriend. In a search incident to arrest, the police discovered that defendant was in possession of 25 bags of crack cocaine.

 Based on these facts, Baker was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and disorderly conduct. Baker attorney argued at a suppression hearing, that “the First Amendment protects the right of a citizen to express disagreement with police actions, which was precisely all that defendant was doing in this case.”

The trial court denied Barker’s motion to suppress evidence and to dismiss the case.  But the Court of Appeals had a different view, deciding that the proof was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest because there was no “public harm”  in Barker’s statements.

 The court rationalized because the swearing at the police officer occurred

 During daylight hours on a public street, defendant made two abusive statements claiming harassment to a police officer who was seated in a patrol car. It is clear from the videotape that the public outburst was extremely brief, lasting about 15 seconds. The statements were not accompanied by menacing conduct — defendant was stepping away from the vehicle when he made them.

 And my favorite part of the opinion,

there is no basis to infer that Officer Johnson felt threatened by the statements. If he had, he would likely have remained in his vehicle, rolled up the windows, radioed his partner to do the same and requested backup.

 If you’re scared, you stay in your car. You don’t do what Officer Johnson did…

Instead, Johnson immediately exited his vehicle. The fact that another police officer was present — also safely ensconced inside his own patrol car and fully able to provide assistance — diluted the risk that others in the vicinity would join forces with defendant and gang up on Johnson.

 Brilliant!

And the last important aspect of the case, the exchange occurred between a single civilian and a police officer. Baker’s statements were directed exclusively at a police officer who, according to the courts, is “a party trained to diffuse situations involving angry or emotionally distraught persons,” which further undermined any threat of public harm because the police officer was in a position of safety and could have closed his windows and ignored Baker.

Here’s the Opinion.


Social media prohibition, unconstitutional

The 7th Circuit court of appeals yesterday declared an outright ban on social media usage by convicted sex offenders to be a violation of the First Amendment. At the crux of the arguments is the public’s right to be protected from convicted sex offenders and the offender’s right to send and receive information – a core, fundamental concept under the First Amendment. The 7th Circuit recognized this conflict, but ruled that an outright ban on such information, even to sex offenders, violates the First Amendment. The court stated,

The state initially asserts an interest in “protecting public safety, and specifically in protecting minors from harmful online communications.” Indiana is certainly justified in shielding its children from improper sexual communication. Doe agrees, but argues the state burdens substantially more speech than necessary to serve the intended interest. Indiana naturally counters that the law’s breadth is necessary to achieve its goal.

The Sate of Indiana agreed that the goal of its statute was to curtail communication between convicted sex offenders and minors. However, the Court did not believe the statute was tailored in a fashion to limit such conduct, but instead cast a broader net, restricting speech that did not meet the ends of the Indiana law.

Turning to the Indiana statute, the state agrees there is nothing dangerous about Doe’s use of social media as long as he does not improperly communicate with minors. Further, there is no disagreement that illicit communication comprises a minuscule subset of the universe of social network activity. As such, the Indiana law targets substantially more activity than the evil it seeks to redress. Even the district court agreed with this sentiment, stating the law “captures considerable conduct that has nothing to do” with minors. Indiana prevents Doe from using social networking sites for fear that he might, subsequent to logging on to the website or program, engage in activity that Indiana is entitled to prevent.

I have followed cases like this one for quite sometime. The general consensus among the appeals courts is any form of “blanket prohibition” on Internet, or social media usage, will be a violation of the First Amendment. This issue has not directly been decided by the US Supreme Court, but the consensus among the circuit courts of appeal, and many state supreme courts, indicates a blanket prohibition will likely be overturned.

Here’s the opinion.


Social Media Decisions

I ran across these two court decisions recently.  Two very different interpretations of First Amendment Protection.

PFLAG v. Camdenton School Dist. III, out of the Western District of Missouri,the Court granted an injunction against the Camdenton school district when it prohibited students’ access to Lesbian and Gay friendly websites but allowed access to Anti-lesbian and gay websites.

The court ruled that the school district violated students’ First Amendment rights by intentionally blocking websites supportive of gays and lesbians using filtering software.PFLAG claimed the School District administrators intentionally blocked 41 websites based solely on their LGBT-supportive content, but allowed anti-LGBT websites through the filter. The Court ordered Camdenton to “discontinue its Internet-filtering system as currently configured, and any new system must not discriminate against websites expressing a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”

In another case,John Doe v. Bobby Jindal, out of the Middle District of Louisiana, the Court upheld a criminal defendant’s First Amendment rights when the government attempted to impose a state law prohibition against his use if Facebook while on sex offender probation. The Court ruled that the law imposed “a sweeping ban on many commonly read news and information websites,” as well as social networking sites. The definition of “chat room” in the law is so broad, for instance, the court’s own website could fall under the ban.


AZ Shootings Spark 1st Amendment Debate

State Legislators in Arizona moved quickly to approve emergency legislation to head off picketing by a church near the funeral service for the 9-year-old girl who was killed in Saturday’s attack.

According to the Associated Press,

Unanimous votes by the Arizona House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed it Tuesday night. It took effect immediately. Without specifically mentioning the Tucson shooting, the law prohibits protests at or near funeral sites.

The Westboro Baptist Church has made strides in its attempts to gain recognition for its cause, primarily by picketing military funerals to draw attention to its view that the deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. It plans to picket Thursday’s funeral for Christina Taylor Green because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.”

I’ve mentioned this group in the past and one of my students wrote extensively on the subject. (Student Blawg – What Price Freedom of Speech).

I understand the issues here, but I don’t think that chipping away at one’s fundamental liberties is the proper response.  I don’t think it sends the right message to people.  Just because you don’t like, or want to hear, the message of the speaker at a certain location, doesn’t mean you pass a law to prohibit it. Make a special note here, the WBC was not singled out in the law.  So, the law applies to any person protesting under these circumstances. I’m still looking for a copy of the law itself, and will bring you more when I find it.

Generally, The Arizona legislation is modeled on an Ohio law that was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The four-paragraph Arizona bill makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service — about the length of a football field. The prohibition applies from one hour before the event to one hour after.

This will all boil down to whether this is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on the location of the speech, since it doesn’t ban the speech in its entirety and is essentially content neutral. Our courts will decide…

Source


CA Supreme Court: No warrant needed to search cell phone

This disturbs me.  One’s expectation of privacy has been shattered in California. The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can search the cell phone of a person who’s been arrested — including text messages — without obtaining a warrant, and use that data as evidence.

This ruling opens up the flood gates of abuse by law enforcement, such as unfettered warrantless searches of e-mails, documents and contacts your IPhone or Blackberry.  Not to mention, that tablet and laptop computer you’re toting around.

The ruling involves the 2007 arrest of Gregory Diaz, who purchased drugs from a police informant. Investigators later looked through Diaz’s phone and found text messages that implicated him in a drug deal.  Diaz appealed his conviction, saying the evidence was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The court disagreed, comparing Diaz cell phone to personal effects like clothing, which can be searched by arresting officers.

“The cell phone was an item (of personal property) on (Diaz’s) person at the time of his arrest and during the administrative processing at the police station,” the justices wrote. “Because the cell phone was immediately associated with defendant’s person, (police were) entitled to inspect its contents without a warrant.”

What a bunch of junk. When are the courts going to stand up for the 4th Amendment instead of chipping away at it?  Generally, the 4th Amendment protects one from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant.  The CA Supremes here didn’t even carve out an exception to the warrant requirement, such as exigency or a crime in progress.  So, where does that leave us?  That makes this ruling the RULE, not the exception.

What’s the moral here?  Don’t have your cell phone in your pocket when you’re arrested.  Stick it in the trunk along with your gym bag; that seems to be the only place where the 4th Amendment maintains a little dignity.

Read the opinion here!

MSNBC Link