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Category: Criminal Procedure

Badge = Deference & Submission

We know that, in theory, citizens have some rights vis-a-vis police. But in practice, does it make sense to simply submit to any person waving a badge? Reason magazine features a story where that seems to be the lesson:

A group of state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents clad in plainclothes approached [Daly], suspecting the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water to be a 12-pack of beer. Police say one of the agents jumped on the hood of her car. She says one drew a gun. Unsure of who they were, Daly tried to flee the darkened parking lot. “They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform,” she recalled Thursday in a written account of the April 11 incident. . . . That led to Daly spending a night and an afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

This story also suggests a wider range of opportunities for abuse of the discretion granted to officers.

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Probabilistic Crime Solving

In our Big Data age, policing may shift its focus away from catching criminals to stopping crime from happening. That might sound like Hollywood “Minority Report” fantasy but not to researchers hoping to leverage data to identify future crime areas. Consider as an illustration a research project sponsored by Rutgers Center on Public Security. According to Government Technology, Rutgers professors have obtained a two-year $500,000 grant to conduct “risk terrain modeling” research in U.S. cities. Working with police forces in Arlington, Texas, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Glendale, Arizona, Kansas City, Missouri, and Newark, New Jersey, the team will analyze an area’s history of crime with data on “local behavioral and physical characteristics” to identify locations with the greatest crime risk. As Professor Joel Caplan explains, data analysis “paints a picture of those underlying features of the environment that are attractive for certain types of illegal behavior, and in doing so, we’re able to assign probabilities of crime occurring.” Criminals tend to shift criminal activity to different locations to evade detection. The hope is to detect the criminals’ next move before they get there. Mapping techniques will systematize what is now just a matter of instinct or guess work, explain researchers.

Will reactive policing give way to predictive policing? Will police departments someday staff officers outside probabilistic targets to prevent criminals from ever acting on criminal designs? The data inputs and algorithms are crucial to the success of any Big Data endeavor. Before diving head long, we ought to ask about the provenance of the “local behavioral and physical characteristics” data. Will researchers be given access to live feeds from CCTV cameras and data broker dossiers? Will they be mining public and private sector databases along the lines of fusion centers? Because these projects involve state actors who are neither bound by the federal Privacy Act of 1974 nor federal restrictions on the collection of personal data, do state privacy laws limit the sorts of data that can be collected, analyzed, and shared? Does the Fourth Amendment have a role in such predictive policing? Is this project just the beginning of a system in which citizens receive criminal score risk assessments? The time is certainly ripe to talk more seriously about “technological due process” and the “right to quantitative privacy” for the surveillance age.

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Maryland v. King: What’s a “serious offense” (and, is the Fourth Amendment transsubstantive)?

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Maryland v. King, which upheld, over a scathing dissent by Justice Scalia, the constitutionality of DNA searches of arestees for “serious offenses” under Maryland’s public safety statute.  One open question after King is how the majority’s rule would apply to other states’ DNA collection statutes, which permit DNA collection for a broader range of offenses than does Maryland’s statute.

The King majority repeatedly limited its holding to DNA searches that followed arrests for a “serious offense.” But what counts as a serious offense?  This is a live question in Haskel v. Harris, the ACLU’s challenge to California’s DNA collection law (Prop. 69). According to the ACLU, California’s law would permit DNA collection for arrests on suspicion of “simple drug possession, joyriding, or intentionally bouncing a check.” An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit is considering the case in light of Maryland v. King. If the ACLU’s characterization is correct, then California’s law may not survive intact under King’s “serious offense” limiting principle.

While the task of determining the seriousness of an offense as a triggering condition for a legal rule can be difficult–particularly in light of the patchwork of criminal laws that forms the quilt of our fifty-state, federalist system–it is not outside the province of what courts do. For instance, in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 130 S. Ct. 2577 (2010), the Supreme Court had to decide whether state or federal standards should apply in determining whether a person convicted of a second state drug possession offense committed an “aggravated felony” under the immigration laws, and was therefore subject to automatic deportation. (The Court ultimately held the drug possession conviction was not an aggravated felony).

Is the Fourth Amendment transsubstantive (and should it be)?

More generally, King’s “serious offense” principle raises questions about whether the Fourth Amendment is, or remains, transsubstantive.  The Supreme Court has previously suggested the Fourth Amendment is transsubstantive–namely, that all other things equal, the Fourth Amendment applies the same way regardless of the severity of the underlying crime that’s being investigated.  (Though I’m not familiar with the scholarship on this issue, it appears scholars agree this is the governing rule: see here and here).

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Maryland v. King: Are suspiconless DNA searches permissible for crime solving or suspect identification? (Probably, both).

dnaI’m thrilled to be guest-blogging at Concurring Opinions just in time for Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court’s decision today on the constitutionality of DNA testing. The Court held (5-4) that the police’s collection (and testing) of King’s DNA after his arrest for a violent crime, and pursuant to Maryland’s public safety statute, was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

Though the case’s up/down holding is straightforward enough, the majority’s rationale is not. Read in a vacuum, the majority opinion reads as a full-throated legal and policy defense of the government’s use of DNA to verify a suspect’s identification at various stages following a lawful arrest.

But this case—and indeed, the Maryland statute at issue—was not merely about the use of DNA testing for a routine purpose ancillary to police investigations, such as verifying a suspect’s identification. It was, instead, also about the use of suspicionless DNA searches as part of the police’s quintessential activity: investigating and solving crimes.  And that is precisely the conduct which the majority’s opinion authorizes.  (Do read Justice Scalia’s dissent, which argues this point persuasively).

In that vein, here’s what I take to be the majority’s honest holding: the government can engage in suspicionless and warrantless DNA searches of a suspect, including for investigating and solving crimes, in at least one context—when the subject of the search is lawfully arrested for a serious, even if unrelated, offense; and the search is performed as part of a routine, bounded, post-arrest procedure.

The police’s legitimate need to verify an arrestee’s identity, which takes up most of the majority opinion, is weak justification for this exception to the individualized suspicion and warrant requirements.  The more plausible arguments supporting the majority’s holding are, instead, to be found (one might argue, buried) in Part V of the opinion:  Suspicionless DNA searches are permissible in this context because persons lawfully arrested for violent crimes have diminished privacy rights, and DNA swabbing and testing within the bounds of the Maryland statute is (the Court says) relatively unintrusive in light of those diminished rights.  (The Court calls these the “circumstances” of “diminished expectations of privacy [and] minimal intrusions,” citing McArthur, 531 U. S., at 330).

The Court’s decision in King is important and will have potentially far-ranging effects on how police conduct investigations. Even assuming the Court reached the right result (a question I haven’t addressed in this post), the case’s key question merited a more direct and forthright discussion than the majority opinion provides.  For this reason alone, the majority invited, indeed, deserved, every quip and jab in Justice Scalia’s dissent.

The case raises some (but perhaps not so many) interesting doctrinal questions, which I’ll explore in a later post.

 

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Recommended Reading: Garrett and Kovarsky’s New Casebook on Federal Habeas Corpus

A new casebook co-authored by University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett and my brilliant colleague Lee Kovarsky is the first to comprehensively cover habeas corpus, particularly exploring the topics of post-conviction review, executive and national security detention litigation, and the detention of immigrants. The book, just published by Foundation Press, is titled “Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-conviction Litigation.” 

The privilege of habeas corpus — which ensures that a prisoner can challenge an unlawful detention, such as for a lack of sufficient cause or evidence — has grown increasingly complex and important. Just this week, the Supreme Court decided important habeas cases recognizing an innocence-exception to habeas time-limits, and making it easier for state inmates to use habeas corpus to challenge the ineffectiveness of their trial lawyer. See Garrett and Kovarsky on ‘Two Gateways to Habeas’)

Here is an excerpt of an interview of Professor Garrett and Professor Kovarsky posted on the UVA website:

“In writing this casebook, our goal was to create the subject,” Garrett said. “There is something deep connecting different parts of habeas corpus that are often taught in far-flung parts of courses or are not taught at all. Habeas corpus is now an extremely valuable and exciting course to teach, and we thought the subject demanded a rich set of teaching materials.”

Garrett, who has taught habeas corpus at UVA Law for eight years, co-wrote the book with Kovarsky, a 2004 Virginia Law graduate and a leading habeas and capital litigator who joined the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law as an assistant professor in 2011.

“A few years ago, I started talking to Lee about habeas corpus,” Garrett said. “Lee writes insightful scholarship about habeas corpus, and is also a longtime habeas practitioner; he still works on high-profile death penalty cases in Texas. I sent him my course materials because he was starting teaching as a law professor at Maryland. And he immediately said that this should be a casebook.”

Kovarsky said he and Garrett decided to work together on the project to identify — and establish — a habeas canon that was “divorced from any immediate political, ideological or institutional objective.”

 “The decisional law and academic literature is polluted with too much erroneously accepted wisdom about the [writ of habeas corpus'] essence and, by implication, its limits,” he said. “That accepted wisdom, in turn, fuels legally substantial narratives that are, in many ways, best explored, challenged and modified in a classroom.”

Traditionally, Garrett said, law schools have taught habeas corpus as a short segment in federal courts or criminal adjudication courses rather than as a full class. Yet these brief segments, he said, are no longer sufficient.

The law of habeas corpus became significantly more complicated after Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996, which was passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center bombing. Read More

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Overturning the Third-Party Doctrine by Statute: Hard and Harder

Privacy advocates have disliked the third-party doctrine at least from the day in 1976 when the Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Miller.  Anyone who remembers the Privacy Protection Study Commission knows that its report was heavily influenced by Miller.  My first task in my long stint as a congressional staffer was to organize a hearing to receive the report of the Commission in 1977.  In the introduction to the report, the Commission called the date of the decision “a fateful day for personal privacy.”

Last year, privacy advocates cheered when Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s concurrence in U.S. v. Jones asked if it was time to reconsider the third-party doctrine.  Yet it is likely that it would take a long time before the Supreme Court revisits and overturns the third-party doctrine, if ever.  Sotomayor’s opinion didn’t attract a single other Justice.

Can we draft a statute to overturn the third-party doctrine?  That is not an easy task, and it may be an unattainable goal politically.  Nevertheless, the discussion has to start somewhere.  I acknowledge that not everyone wants to overturn Miller.  See Orin Kerr’s The Case For the Third-party Doctrine.  I’m certainly not the first person to ask the how-to-do-it question.  Dan Solove wrestled with the problem in Digital Dossiers and the Dissipation of Fourth Amendment Privacy.

I’m going at the problem as if I were still a congressional staffer tasked with drafting a bill.  I see right away that there is precedent.  Somewhat remarkably, Congress partly overturned the Miller decision in 1978 when it enacted The Right to Financial Privacy Act, 12 U.S.C. § 3401 et seq.  The RFPA says that if the federal government wants to obtain records of a bank customer, it must notify the customer and allow the customer to challenge the request.

The RFPA is remarkable too for its exemptions and weak standards.  The law only applies to the federal government and not to state and local governments.  (States may have their own laws applicable to state agencies.)  Bank supervisory agencies are largely exempt.  The IRS is exempt.  Disclosures required by federal law are exempt.  Disclosures for government loan programs are exempt.  Disclosures for grand jury subpoenas are exempt.  That effectively exempts a lot of criminal law enforcement activity.  Disclosures to GAO and the CFPB are exempt.  Disclosures for investigations of crimes against financial institutions by insiders are exempt.  Disclosures to intelligence agencies are exempt.  This long – and incomplete – list is the first hint that overturning the third-party doctrine won’t be easy.

We’re not done with the weaknesses in the RFPA.  A customer who receives notice of a government request has ten days to challenge the request in federal court.  The customer must argue that the records sought are not relevant to the legitimate law enforcement inquiry identified by the government in the notice.  The customer loses if there is a demonstrable reason to believe that the law enforcement is legitimate and a reasonable belief that the records sought are relevant to that inquiry.  Relevance and legitimacy are weak standards, to say the least.  Good luck winning your case.

Who should get the protection of our bill?  The RFPA gives rights to “customers” of a financial institution.  A customer is an individual or partnership of five or fewer individuals (how would anyone know?).  If legal persons also receive protection, a bill might actually attract corporate support, along with major opposition from every regulatory agency in town.  It will be hard enough to pass a bill limited to individuals.  The great advantage of playing staffer is that you can apply political criteria to solve knotty policy problems.  I’d be inclined to stick to individuals.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Unintended Upsides and Changes

Some day we might do away with pretext traffic stops, because some day autonomous vehicles will be common. At ReInventlaw Silicon Valley, David Estrada from GoogleX, made the pitch for laws to allow autonomous vehicles a bright future. He went to the core reasons such fuel sustainability and faster commutes. He also used the tear jerking commercial that showed the true benefits of enabling those who cannot drive to drive. I have heard that before. But I think David also said that the cars are required to obey all traffic laws.
If so, that has some interesting implications.

I think that once autonomous vehicles are on the road in large numbers, the police will not be able to claim that some minor traffic violation required pulling someone over and then searching the car. If a stop is made, like the Tesla testing arguments, the car will have rich data to verify that the car was obeying laws.

These vehicles should also alter current government income streams. These shifts are not often obvious to start but hit home quickly. For example, when cell phones appeared, colleges lost their income from high rates for a phone in a dorm room. That turned out out to be a decent revenue stream. If autonomous vehicles obey traffic laws, income from traffic violations should go down. Cities, counties, and states will have to find new ways to make up that revenue stream. Insurance companies should have much lower income as well.

I love to drive. I will probably not like giving up that experience. Nonetheless, reduced traffic accidents, fewer drunk drivers, more mobility for the elderly and the young (imagine a car that handled shuttling kids from soccer, ballet, music, etc., picking you up, dropping you home, and then gathering the kids while you cooked a meal (yes, should I have kids, I hope to cook for them). The time efficiency is great. Plus one might subscribe to a car service so that the $10,000-$40,000 car is not spending its time in disuse most of the day. Add to all that a world where law enforcement is better used and insurance is less needed, and I may have to give in to a world where driving myself is a luxury.

Coates on Racism

I found this a particularly powerful column by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the frisking of Forest Whitaker at a New York City deli:

Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was stopped in a Manhattan delicatessen by an employee. Whitaker is one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation. . . Since the Whitaker affair, I’ve read and listened to interviews with the owner of the establishment. He is apologetic to a fault and is sincerely mortified. He says that it was a “sincere mistake” made by a “decent man” who was “just doing his job.” I believe him.

We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years. But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner.

The “invisible violence” extends to the newsmagazine of NYC’s billionaire mayor, to his law enforcement policies. Implicit bias is pervasive. We need not accuse any particular person of evil intent to observe the corrosive structures that reinforce it.