Category Archives: 4th Amendment – Search & Seizure

Supreme Court Rules that Warrants Needed for Driveway Searches

supreme court facadeI haven’t had much time to post lately, but a substantial Supreme Court ruling this week demands a post. The Court ruled, by an 8-1 margin, that police searches that take place in the driveway of a home also require a warrant. Essentially, the court ruled that the curtilage of a home, that is, the immediate area surrounding the home, has similar protection to the home itself. In this case out of Virginia, an officer suspected that a stolen motorcycle could have been been stolen, and took it upon himself to peek under the cover. The Court found that the search was illegal because the officer did not obtain a warrant first.

Ultimately, this may not prove to be the most influential ruling… how many searches take place in a home’s driveway? Will this extend to the parking spot of an apartment complex? (I think so.) This ruling is not a great surprise, as the Supreme Court in the last few years has been very clear on the Constitutional protections for privacy against searches, particularly in relation to the home. And this will not hamstring law enforcement too much: cases like this one would present plenty of evidence to obtain a warrant.

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Don’t Obscure your License Plates!

tagAn appellate court decision came down this week that ruled that none of the lettering on your car tag can be obscured, even the “myflorida.com”. This appears to be a more strict interpretation of the law than had previously been enforced, due to language changes in the statute, and probably means that most license plate frames will be in violation. It’s not a defense if the dealer put it on there! Nor is it a defense for your tint being too dark if the dealer does it… These little nuisance violations can give the cops probable cause to stop you, even if you’re driving fine, and can result in expensive tickets!

via NBC-2

If You Think You Have a Secret, You’re Probably Wrong

Thanks to the omnipresence of electronic devices in our lives today, somebody probably knows everything you do. You have a cell phone in your pocket, which is essentially a listening device, your computer might have a camera on it that is potentially watching your every move, HAL 9000 style, and you might even be wearing a smart watch that is literally following you every step. All of those are able to collect data, store it, and potentially share it with others… perhaps even authorities. It’s potentially an avenue for the government to get in your homes and bedrooms.

Much of this technology is new, and the courts are still trying to determine what the limitations are on privacy, and what the government can access and use. The latest test case is actually in Germany, where prosecutors are using data compiled by Apple iPhone’s Health App: an app that is standard and pre-installed on the last several versions of iPhone. The Defendant refused to give up his passcode, by a cyber-forensics firm was able to crack it and give the data to prosecutors.

There are a lot of issues related to this, particularly here in the United States where different Constitutional rights come in to play. Obviously, the rights to privacy, unreasonable search and seizure, and due process are involved, but a major case last year even involved First Amendment aspects. In Arkansas, James Bates was accused of killing his friend Victor Collins, who was found drowned in Bates’ hot tub. In order to strengthen their case, prosecutors sought info from his iPhone to track his phone calls, and even his smart utility meter to demonstrate his water use (they planned to argue that he had hosed down his deck).

The prosecution also went after Alexa- the digital assistant program that works with his Amazon Echo device. Alexa listens and potentially records everything within the range of its microphone, so there’s a major question whether people would have an expectation of privacy around one. The prosecutors sought to obtain the data, when Amazon itself entered the fray with another claim: that they should not have to turn over the data because it would violate the First Amendment… that it could have a chilling effect on protected expression.

Ultimately, the Bates case did not decide the matters. Kathleen Zellner, the attorney who is handling Making a Murderer’s Steven Avery’s post-conviction claims, took over the case and since her defense was not dependent on the Amazon data, waived any objection and it was turned over. Ultimately, it probably did not play a role, as additional medical and forensic reviews apparently convinced the prosecutors that there was not a murder, at least not one that could be proven, and the charges were dropped without the case having to go to trial.

In the meantime, be aware that there is the potential that the government can find out a lot about you, from your computer, your social media, your phone, your watch, your car, your video game, your pacemaker, and in this case, they didn’t just go after Alexa, they used Bates’ hot water heater to charge him with a murder.

Fort Myers Pays Nate Allen $440,000 for Wrongful Arrest

nate allen

Nate Allen

The city council yesterday finalized a settlement of nearly a half-a-million dollars for NFL player Nate Allen for his wrongful arrest. (While he was detained, and ultimately released without a formal arrest, it was easily a ‘de facto arrest’ due to time and totality of the circumstances.) It was enough to make the news, especially since he is a professional football player. Even though he was released that day, the suit was worth a lot more because of the demonstrable negative effects it had on his NFL contract situation. Worse, the FMPD chief at the time, Doug Baker, was caught lying in the investigation into the cover-up, leading ultimately to his termination. The entire incident was a black eye on the city. To the council’s credit, they recognized the wrongdoing, and have repeatedly apologized. Neither the chief, nor the detective on the case are still with the city. Sawyer Smith handled the case for Allen, and tells me he is as nice a guy you could ever meet.

Sadly, the lessons are still being learned. Just a few months ago I encountered a case where the FMPD utilized the same faulty show-up procedure to identify someone, in spite of the pending lawsuit. The state ended up dropping the case. Meanwhile, the 2-year anniversary of Zombie-con has passed with no arrests, charges, or even named suspects. And just last week, more details have come out about the officers suspended after the Freeh Report. FMPD has a long way to go…

Man Gets $37,000 after Doughnut Arrest

daniel rushing

Daniel Rushing

Daniel Rushing was arrested in 2015 when an officer mistook the glaze from his Krispy Kreme doughnut for Crystal Meth. He bonded out after 10 hours, even though he should not have been locked up at all. He sued the maker of the field test kit, as well as the city, who failed to properly train their officer on how to use the field test. They settled this week for $37,500. That’ll buy Mr. Rushing a lot of doughnuts!

This kind of thing happens more often than you would think. I saw a guy get arrested for patchouli that the officer said tested positive for heroin. A man in Ovideo was recently held for 90 days until a lab test proved that his drywall was not cocaine. He may be seeking an even more substantial lawsuit, that the taxpayers are going to end up footing. And to compound his problems, he may not be able to get the arrest record expunged because he has a prior history, which prohibits expungement under current Florida law.

News of this settlement comes as the City of Fort Myers seeks to finalize a settlement for wrongly arresting football star Nate Allen: which crimcourts will be following closely.

UPDATE: TRIAL POSTPONED – Jury Selection to Begin in Lavaya May Trial

Tuesday morning update: the trial has been postponed. As of this morning, the State is asking to stay the trial to appeal the court’s ruling yesterday that the notebook written by Lavaya May would not be admissible. The problem with that is, the Defendant had demanded a speedy trial, so the state is asking the judge to stay the speedy trial until the appeal can be ruled on. That’s extraordinary relief. WINK news is reporting that the trial will be put off up to 90 days, but it sounds like things are very much in flux, at this point.

  • May Accused of 2nd Degree Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder and other charges
  • May Allegedly persuaded 2 of her friends to kill 58-year-old Ted Lee
  • May, who is still a minor, claims Lee started molesting her when she was 8-years-old
lavaya may

Lavaya May

The trial and jury selection for the murder trial of Lavaya May is scheduled to start Tuesday morning, the trial could take 2 or even 3 weeks to complete, according to the attorneys handling the case. Although May was 16 at the time, she has been charged as an adult, and is facing life in prison on the murder charge.

The prosecution just found out that they lost some of their evidence after a day-long suppression hearing. The judge heard evidence and argument on Friday, and just Monday afternoon ruled that the state cannot introduce evidence from a journal that Ms. May was keeping in custody.

That’s the second suppression loss for the state, as the court previously ruled that the statement Ms. May made when she was arrested was illegally obtained in violation her rights. After the killing, May and the others fled out of state. When they were arrested, an attorney ad-litem who had been appointed to May contacted the Sheriff’s office and indicated she was invoking Ms. May’s right to have her attorney present. Detectives, recognized the issue, and contacted the State Attorney’s office, who incorrectly advised them to proceed with the interrogation of the juvenile May without her attorney. It was a clear violation of her right to counsel, and now they will not get to use her statement, either.

Jonathan Ruffini

Jonathan Ruffini

The State’s star witness will likely be the co-defendant, Jonathan Ruffini. Ruffini, who was 18-years-old at the time of the offense, a year ago, has already entered a guilty plea, and agreed to accept 25 years in prison for his role, in exchange for agreeing to testify. The other defendant, then-23-year-old Hunter Tyson, has also accepted a plea agreement for 40 years in prison, and there is no indication in his court file that he was given consideration for cooperation. It’s anticipated that Ruffini will testify that he and Tyson committed the murder at the behest of his friend/girlfriend May, due to her complaints about being molested by Lee. (Ruffini doesn’t have a DOC photo yet, as he’s being held in the Lee County Jail in anticipation of his being called to testify in the May case. There have been some changes in his story, and only recently did the state list him as a witness, so he may not be that reliable for them.

hunter tyson

Hunter Tyson

The challenge for the state is substantial, as it appears pretty clear that Ruffini and Tyson committed the murder, by baseball bat and knife- with Tyson being the primary killer. To prove a murder, they don’t have to show that May personally took part in the killing, but they can prove that she was a principal to the murder if she aided, abetted, or even encouraged the crime. Under Florida’s principal theory, she is

hunter tyson doc.jpg

Hunter Tyson in DOC

just as guilty as the others if she is found to be a principal. She is also charged with Conspiracy, for plotting the killing with the others. She may garner some sympathy, if the Defense is able to introduce the allegations that Lee had molested her for years. However, that is not legal justification for murder, as the abuse was in the, and would not present an immediate danger for self-defense/justifiable use of deadly force. More likely, the Defense team is going to try to frame the case as an act that was done by Tyson and Ruffini on their own, and not at the instigation of May. Both Tyson and Ruffini have admitted to committing the murder, and plead out to murder charges, but May can only bring that up if they are called in to testify. She can still blame Tyson, even if his admission is not introduced. Ruffini’s statement points the finger primarily at Tyson, and the Defense will try to say he’s blaming May to get a lesser sentence. The trial will be interesting to watch.

 

Major Allegations of Misconduct at Naples PD

The Naples Police Department is currently fighting a Federal lawsuit for police misconduct, and the allegations that have come out in the course of the case are more and more shocking. In an affidavit filed Monday, a former Naples officer stated that he and his fellow officers were “constantly pressured” to increase numbers for arrests, stops, and citations, and that supervisors would chastise officers who did not “produce statistics”. The affidavit makes it sound as though the department had a de facto quota system that encouraged officers to be reckless.

The lawsuit claims over a million dollars in damages against former Officer Kyle Bradshaw, who has since left the department. The city was dismissed from the case, but could still end up on the hook for at least part of the damages Bradshaw could be facing. Bradshaw’s attorney contends he was just doing his job. Naples police, including Bradshaw, initially responded to Bayfront for a noise complaint, and things escalated quickly. There is video of the incident, which has been played to the jury for dramatic effect for the beating allegedly given to the suspects. The trial continues in Fort Myers this week.