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Category: Criminal Procedure

10

What Does It Take to Establish Probable Cause?

search2a.jpgIn a concurring opinion in United States v. McClain, No. 04-5887 (6th Cir., Dec. 2, 2005), Chief Judge Danny Boggs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit seeks to explain what “probable cause” entails. Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officials often must have probable cause to believe that the place to be searched contains evidence of a crime in order to conduct a search. In describing the standard, however, Judge Boggs defines it as a ridiculously low threshold:

Finally, a word on “probable cause.” While courts have resisted mightily putting a number on probable cause, see Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003), at bottom a review of cases indicates that there must be some, albeit inchoate, feeling as to what kind of probability constitutes probable cause. My reading is that it does not require a belief that there is more than a 50% probability of evidence being found in a particular location. See, e.g., United States v. Gourde, 382 F.3d 1003, 1015 (9th Cir. 2004) (Gould, J., concurring) (collecting cases). If that were the case, one could never get a search warrant to search all three cars of a person for whom there was overwhelming evidence of general drug dealing, and specific evidence of a drug transaction the proceeds of which were now certainly in one of three cars in his garage, and certainly not in any of the others. However, to be more than a hunch or a supposition, in my own mind, requires a legitimate belief that there is more than a 5 or 10 percent chance that a crime is being committed or that evidence is in a particular location. Using this standard, my judgment would be that there was probable cause to believe that criminal activity was afoot in the house, based on the information on which the officers could reasonably rely that there was not a legitimate reason for activity in the house.

This strikes me as far too low a precentage. Just five to ten percent? It would be nearly impossible for law enforcement officials to fail to establish probable cause, unless they were just conducting a random search. If probable cause is just slightly more than five to ten percent, then what number would Judge Boggs give for “reasonable suspicion,” the lower standard for the police to engage in a stop? One percent?

Hat Tip: How Appealing

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Orin Kerr on the USA Patriot Act Compromise

My colleague Orin Kerr has gone through the nearly 100 pages of statutory text of the new USA Patriot Act renewal compromise bill. He offers his tentative conclusions here. The bill makes changes in Section 215 Orders, National Security Letters, and Sneak and Peek Warrants. Basically the changes are more recordkeeping and more judicial review — both laudable improvements. There are, however, many other problems in the USA Patriot Act as well as in the underlying electronic surveillance laws that still remain. Check out Kerr’s analysis, which is insightful and intelligent as usual. You could, of course, read the almost 100 pages of statutory code yourself, but I’m sure you’ve got a life. Thank goodness there are folks like Kerr to do it for us. That’s why we keep him around.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, National Security Letters

2. Solove, More on National Security Letters

3. Solove, The USA Patriot Act: A Fraction of the Problem

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More on National Security Letters

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr has a post about National Security Letters (NSLs) with comments by Michael J. Woods, former chief of the National Security Law Unit in the FBI. Woods was quoted in a recent Washington Post story that provided extensive information about NSLs. Check out Orin’s post, which quotes from an email Woods sent in response to Orin’s request for further comments.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, National Security Letters

2. Solove, The USA Patriot Act: A Fraction of the Problem

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Kerr v. Goldstein on Georgia v. Randolph

home.gifThere’s a terrific debate going on over at the VC between Orin Kerr and Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog about the recently argued U.S. Supreme Court case, Georgia v. Randolph. Tom Goldstein argued the case for Scott Randolph. The case involves an incident where Janet Randolph (Scott’s wife) consented to the police searching the couple’s home. Scott, who was present at the time, objected. The police searched nevertheless, and they found evidence against Scott of drug violations. The issue, as framed by the grant of cert is: “Can police search a home when a co-habitant consents and the other co-habitant is present and does not consent?”

A few quick thoughts:

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National Security Letters

confidential3.jpgDid you know that the FBI can issue a letter to an Internet Service Provider or a financial institution demanding that they turn over data on a customer? The letter doesn’t require probable cause. No judge must authorize the letter. The FBI simply issues the letter and gets the information. There’s a gag order, too, preventing the institution receiving the letter from mentioning this fact.

A recent lengthy Washington Post article examines National Security Letters (NSLs) in depth:

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

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Should We All Be in the National DNA Database?

dna4.jpgThe Senate recently voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. But nestled in the Act was an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) to add arrestee information to the national DNA database. The national DNA database, which is run by the FBI, is called the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”), and it includes DNA from over two million convicted criminals. This DNA is used to identify matches with DNA found at crime scenes.

In a press release, Senator Leahy (D-Vermont) states:

Regrettably, this important bill was saddled in Committee with an extraneous and ill-considered amendment, offered by Senator Kyl, relating to the national DNA database. Current law permits States to collect DNA samples from arrested individuals and to include arrestee information in State DNA databases. In addition, States may use arrestee information to search the national DNA database for a possible “hit.” The only thing that States may not do is upload arrestee information into the national database before a person has been formally charged with a crime.

Under the Kyl amendment, arrestee information can go into the national database immediately upon arrest, before formal charges are filed, and even if no charges are ever brought. This adds little or no value for law enforcement, while intruding on the privacy rights of people who are, in our system, presumed innocent. It could also provide an incentive for pretextual and race-based stops and arrests for the purpose of DNA sampling. Congress rejected this very proposal less than a year ago, after extended negotiations and consultation with the Department of Justice.

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The USA-PATRIOT Act: A Fraction of the Problem

usa-patriot1.jpgOver at Legal Affairs Debate Club, Geoffrey Stone and Judge Richard Posner are debating the USA-PATRIOT Act. The focus of the debate thus far is on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which states:

The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

Further, this section requires that the person ordered to turn over the materials shall not “disclose to any other person . . . that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.”

Stone calls for curtailing Section 215 and Posner comes out in favor of a modified version of it.

The problem with this debate, as with many debates over the USA-PATRIOT Act, is that it is focused only on the USA-PATRIOT Act. Many of the issues that people are debating about already existed in federal electronic surveillance law before the USA-PATRIOT Act.

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