Search and Seizure

RSS Feed for this category

Live Webchat About Dealing with Police

Steve Silverman and I will be joining the popular political site FireDogLake this evening for a webchat about our film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. Please join us from 8:00-9:30ET for what I'm sure will be a lively discussion. Just click into FireDogLake.com at 8:00 and register here if you'd like to comment or ask questions. Hope to see you there.

NYPD Only Arrests Minorities for Marijuana. Here's How They Do It.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/newyorkmarijuanaarrests.png

Since 1977, it's been technically legal in the State of New York to carry around a concealed bag of marijuana weighing less than 7/8 of an ounce. But you could be forgiven for not knowing this, since getting popped for petty pot possession is easier in New York City than anywhere else on the planet.

It's a monumental injustice that owes its costly continuation to one simple tactic: tricking people into committing the crime of displaying their marijuana in plain sight:

What's happening is that disproportionate numbers of black and brown young men, ages 16 to 29, are being duped into publicly revealing their allowable marijuana and then being arrested, thereby gaining a criminal record, advocates say. Police officers will say, "Empty your pockets!" turning a routine stop into an arrest and a police record.

"In 2010 in New York State, there were 54,000 marijuana arrests ... 50,000 of them came from New York City, and -- surprise, surprise -- from neighborhoods that primarily are black, Latino and low income," says Kyung Ji Kate Rhee, executive director of the IJJRA. "It's not like these individuals had a felony charge and marijuana happened to be an additional charge ... You're telling me that 50,000 had marijuana in plain view? Does that sound right to you? After that initial point of police contact, they trick you into turning out your pockets."

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment. (The Root)

Now this is where I get confused, because if arresting young black and Latino men for tiny little bags of marijuana were as important to me as it is to the New York Police Dept., I would be extremely pleased with these results and eager to take credit for them. It makes little sense to provide your officers with special training in how to make trivial arrests for petty crimes under legally-dubious circumstances if you aren't going to be proud of the outcome.

Why not instead spend the $75 million that all of this costs on something that you're at least willing to admit you've been doing? Surely they can think of something to do with those resources that will make sense to the public, something -- anything! -- other than a massive, utterly pointless exercise in transparent racism that plainly violates the spirit of the laws of the State of New York.

Please click here to send a message to Mayor Bloomberg that New York City's senseless war on marijuana must be ended once and for all.

ACLU Sues Florida Governor on State Employee Drug Tests [FEATURE]

The ACLU of Florida Tuesday filed suit in federal court in Miami to block Gov. Rick Scott's (R) executive order mandating random, suspicionless drug testing of state employees. The lawsuit contends the drug testing amounts to an unlawful and unreasonable search and seizure, violating state employees' Fourth Amendment rights, and seeks an immediate halt to the practice.

Florida state workers, be prepared to submit one of these if Gov. Scott has his way. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
"We are taking this action to prevent Gov. Scott from trampling on your rights in Florida," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon during a Wednesday afternoon press call. "We don't have a system of government run only by the executive and the legislative branch. It's time for the courts to step up and defend the rights of Floridians. This is an abuse of government power."

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 79, which represents 50,000 state employees and an additional 200,000 county and municipal employees in Florida. Also joining the lawsuit is Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research scientist Richard Flamm.

"AFSCME has for decades supported drug-free workplace policies while preserving the fundamental right of public servants to be free of extreme governmental intrusions," said Alma Gonzales, general counsel for AFSCME Council 79. "We negotiated objective standards for drug testing for reasonable suspicion or if there is a safety risk, but at no point has the governor's office ever contacted us to negotiate over this. We're talking about taking their bodily fluids without probable cause or consent," she pointed out. "It's surprising and disappointing that the chief executive of Florida is unaware or doesn't care that this is the law of the land."

"I've been a state employee for almost 18 years," said Flamm. "There is absolutely no suspicion based on my behavior at work that I am a drug user. I joined as a plaintiff in this lawsuit because I find this extremely costly and wasteful. There is no threat to society. As a Florida taxpayer, I find it outrageous that given our current economic climate, with the loss of services and public jobs, that we would be wasting millions with unnecessary drug tests. As a citizen of the United States, I find this executive order an egregious attack on the Constitution. I'm surprised more people haven't stepped up," the research scientist said.

Scott signed the executive order on March 22, and it called for state agencies to have devised drug testing regimes by May 21, but it is unclear whether any state employees have been subjected to drug testing at this point.

The US Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The only exceptions allowed by the high court are "special circumstances," such as employees who work in jobs where there is "concrete danger of real harm."

"This executive order is profoundly un-American," said Simon. "This is a governor who masquerades as a conservative, but who is a radical. We had a revolution in this country that led to the enactment of the Fourth Amendment and the bill of rights, and that was a reaction to warrantless searches by the troops of King George."

"When we were asked to look at this and represent AFSCME, we did a painstaking analysis of constitutional law precedents dealing with employee drug testing," said Peter Walsh, an ACLU of Florida attorney working on the case. "This isn't a case of a governor arguably acting within the bounds of the US Constitution or even pushing the envelope to test the limits; the governor has ripped the envelope apart and jumped way over the line of what is permissible. He has violated the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure clause and done so in a big way."

There is also precedent from the Sunshine State itself. The city of Hollywood, Florida, enacted a municipal employee drug testing law little more than a decade ago, only to have it thrown out by the Florida courts in 2000. Four years later, the state Department of Juvenile Justice's effort to conduct suspicionless drug tests on employees was also thrown out. The department is a state agency covered by the governor's executive order.

"I'm not surprised but a little bit shocked that the governor would go ahead with issuing an executive order when this is about as close to settled law as possible," said Simon. "Federal judges have struck such programs down as searches without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion."

"Employee drug testing by urinalysis is particularly destructive of privacy, offensive to personal dignity, demeaning and an affront to dignity," said Walsh. "Those are the words of Justice Antonin Scalia from his dissenting opinion in a seminal case on employee drug testing."

In that case, the high court upheld suspicionless drug testing by private employers. US law provides few worker protections from employer drug testing. But drug testing by the government is a different matter, and constitutional protections unavailable to private sector workers come into play.

"People say this is so widespread in the private sector that what's the big deal," said Simon. "But just because it's widespread doesn't make it right. Public sector employees are protected by the Fourth Amendment; they have more protection of their rights to privacy. We are proud to be filing this lawsuit on their behalf."

Simon also hinted strongly that the ACLU of Florida would soon be filing another lawsuit, this one aimed at the welfare drug testing bill Gov. Scott signed this week. Like state worker drug testing, the courts have frowned on the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. The last state to try to implement such a plan, Michigan, had its law thrown out as unconstitutional by a US district court in 2003.

Gov. Scott ran on a platform of reducing needless spending in the public sector. But he's about to spend big bucks on defending an executive order that is constitutionally indefensible and likely to spend even more defending the welfare drug testing law that is just as constitutionally indefensible.

Miami, FL
United States

Chicago Housing Authority Wants to Drug Test Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority wants to require all current and future adult residents -- including senior citizens -- to pass a drug test. A positive drug test would result in an eviction notice for the resident.

The CHA wants you to pass a drug test if you live in the Kenmore or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The proposal is one of several changes to the CHA's Admission and Continued Occupancy Policy submitted by CEO Lewis Jordan. Jordan and other agency officials argue they need more tools to fight crime and drugs in the housing projects.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the CHA of subjecting the poor to a double standard, while resident leaders said the proposal was humiliating.

"The ACLU opposes drug testing in the absence of suspicion as a condition of residency in public housing," senior lawyer Adam Schwartz told the Chicago Sun-Times. "From our perspective, drug testing without suspicion is humiliating. It's stigmatizing. There's a double standard here," he said. "All across our city and our country, when most of us who are in whatever income bracket rent housing, we don't have to take a drug test. This is an emerging one standard for poor people and another standard for everyone else."

"Singling us out for this type of humiliation is a slap in the face of what this whole 'Plan for Transformation' supposedly is about," Myra King, chair of the central advisory council of tenant leaders for all CHA housing in the city, told the Sun-Times. "CHA says they're doing this plan to make us privy to the same standards as any other citizen in any other community. If that's true, why are we the only citizens to be drug tested?"

Lewis's "Plan for Transformation" also includes eliminating the "innocent tenant defense," which allows residents whose relatives or guests committed a drug offense or crime of violence to avoid eviction if they can show they were unaware of the activity. In a 2002 case, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing authorities could evict innocent tenants, but they are not required to. Former CHA head Terry Peterson had reached an agreement with tenants that allowed the continued use of the defense if it could be proved in court.

Spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller defended the proposals, pointing out that several CHA mixed-income properties currently require drug testing. "These are policies to help strengthen and improve the safety of our public housing communities," O'Connell-Miller said. "We're constantly hearing from law-abiding residents that they want us to hold the non-law abiding residents more accountable. We're trying to tighten up our lease with some of these issues. Drug dealers won't come where there are no buyers. If you remove the folks who are interested in drugs, hopefully it will remove some of the problems," she said.

Making the policy system wide would apply it to some 16,000 families living in family and senior public housing. The CHA has not estimated the cost of the proposal, O'Connell-Miller said.

The proposals are open to public comment through June 16, with a public hearing set for Thursday. If the proposal is adopted, it must then be approved by the CHA Board and then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And then the CHA can spend good money fighting (and most likely losing), the inevitable legal challenges. The precedent here is the state of Michigan's 1990s law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. It was rejected by the federal courts in 2003 for violating Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable search and seizure.

Chicago, IL
United States

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Signed Into Law

Florida welfare applicants and recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to undergo drug tests at their own expense to receive cash benefits after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a drug testing bill, HB 353, that passed the state legislature earlier this month. Scott also signed HB 1039, a law banning "bath salts," or new synthetic stimulant drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) scores political points on the backs of the poor. (Image courtesy state of Florida)
More than 21,000 Floridians receiving benefits as heads of households will have to pay for and take the drug tests, as well as any new applicants. If they pass the drug test, they will be reimbursed for the cost. If they fail the drug test, they become ineligible to receive benefits for one year or until successfully completing drug treatment. Children of heads of household who test positive would still be eligible to receive benefits through a designated third party.

Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature argued that the law is necessary to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. But opponents cited studies demonstrating that drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than among the general public.

"While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," Scott said in a press release. "This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars."

The ACLU of Florida was quick to attack the new law. It noted that the only other state law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients -- one in Michigan -- was overturned by the federal courts in 2003 for violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

"Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon in a statement Tuesday. "The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse."

Citing the Michigan decision, Simon continued: "Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the state's own earlier experimental drug-testing program," he said. "Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida's poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution. Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law."

Wednesday the ACLU of Florida announced it was filing suit against the governor over an executive order he issued earlier this year requiring suspicionless drug testing of state employees. At the same time, it promises an announcement soon about how it plans to respond to the welfare drug testing law. 

Tallahassee, FL
United States

The Supreme Court's Stinky Ruling on Marijuana Odor: What Does it Really Mean?

I have a new piece at Huffington Post attempting to make sense of the Supreme Court's ruling in Kentucky v. King. This thing is a mess, for sure, but it's not exactly the deathblow to our 4th Amendment rights that some have made it out to be.

Supreme Court Okays Police Search Based on Marijuana Odor, Noises

The US Supreme Court Monday upheld the search of a Kentucky man's apartment after police broke in without a search warrant because they said they smelled burning marijuana and heard sounds suggesting he was trying to destroy the evidence. The decision in Kentucky v. King overturned a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in favor of the apartment resident, Hollis King, who was arrested after police entered his apartment and found drugs.

The US Supreme Court -- dismantling the 4th amendment brick by brick
Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that police must obtain a search warrant to search a residence unless there are "exigent circumstances." In the current case, the exigent circumstance was that, after police knocked on the apartment door, they heard noises they said suggested evidence was being destroyed.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had held that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception because they themselves had created the exigent circumstance by knocking on the door. The US Supreme Court begged to differ.

In his opinion for the 8-1 majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that people have no obligation to answer the door when police knock or to allow them to come in if they have opened the door. In such cases, police would have to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant.

But that's not what King and fellow apartment residents did. They started scuttling around suspiciously upon hearing police announce their presence--or at least, police said they did. "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame," Alito wrote.

Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, arguing that in ruling for the police, the court was giving them a way to get around the search warrant requirement in drug cases. "Police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant," she wrote.

Oddly enough, King was not the target of police. Lexington police had set up a controlled drug buy on the street outside the apartment building, but when they attempted to arrest the suspect, he fled into the building. When police arrived in the hallway, the suspect had vanished, and all police saw was two apartment doors. When they smelled the odor of pot coming from King's apartment, they chose that door. The original suspect was in the other apartment. They arrested him later.

[Scott Morgan, editor at our Speakeasy blog and associate director of Flex Your Rights, has a piece on Huffington Post discussing the Supreme Court decision. Click here to read it.]

Washington, DC
United States

FL Supreme Court Justices Throw Out Evidence Found by Drug Dog

Location: 
FL
United States
The Florida Supreme Court has cited a lack of state standards for drug-sniffing dogs in throwing out evidence one of the canines detected in a Panhandle case. The 5-1 ruling says training certificates and records aren't enough to establish a canine's reliability.
Publication/Source: 
Miami Herald (FL)
URL: 
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/21/2179138/fla-justices-throw-out-evidence.html

Why Refusing a Police Search Helps Protect You Even if They Search You Anyway

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/policesearch2.png

San Francisco Examiner reports on the latest in a series of controversies surrounding constitutional violations by SFPD officers.

Private attorney Robert Amparan said at a news conference Wednesday at Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office that a judge had just thrown out his client’s felony marijuana possession for sale case because video evidence contradicted the officers’ testimony in court and statements on the police report.

Amparan said 23-year-old McLaren Wenzell did not consent to letting the officers inside his apartment at 33rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard on March 1. He said the officers did not immediately identify themselves as police and did not have a constitutional basis to search the apartment.

In the course of my work to educate the public about how to properly exercise constitutional rights during police encounters, a reaction I hear frequently is, "What's the point? They're just going to search me anyway." Well, as you can see in the story above, police can get busted for bad behavior, and when they do, the evidence is often declared inadmissible. Think about this: if the suspect had instead given consent for the search, there wouldn't have been any question about the legality of the police entry, and he would have been convicted.  The only reason things worked out for him is because he refused the search and relied on his constitutional rights for protection.

But the critical point here goes beyond what happened to this particular suspect in this particular case. Keep in mind that the legal significance of refusing a police search applies whether or not you've broken the law, and whether or not police break the law. If officers plant evidence, damage your property, or otherwise disrespect your home, it's almost impossible to challenge their actions if you gave them permission to come inside. That's how the law works, and the fact that police sometimes violate it gives you more reason to know and assert your rights, not less.

Florida Governor Orders State Employee Drug Testing

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) Tuesday issued an executive order Tuesday requiring that current state employees submit to random drug tests and that applicants for state jobs undergo pre-hiring drug tests. The order will go into effect in 60 days for current employees and immediately for new hires, but it certain to be challenged in court.

Rick Scott
The executive order came as the state legislature grapples with a bill that would require people who apply for state welfare benefits to submit to a drug test -- and pay for it themselves -- before receiving them. That bill, Senate Bill 556, is supported by Gov. Scott and passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday.

"Floridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace," Scott said. "Just as it is appropriate to screen those seeking taxpayer assistance, it is also appropriate to screen government employees."

The bill applies only to workers in executive agencies that answer to the governor. Legislators and their staffs would be exempt.

State law already allows for, but does not require, pre-employment drug testing of applicants for jobs at state agencies under the Florida Drug-Free Workplace Act. But the random drug testing of both state employees and welfare recipients is likely to run up against the US Constitution.

Federal courts have generally found that random testing of government workers who aren't in jobs that affect public safety amounts to a "search" by the government. Such searches must be "reasonable," generally, and some courts have interpreted such requirements of ordinary government workers as a violation of the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. A Michigan law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by the federal courts in 2003.

The ACLU of Florida attacked Scott's order, saying that a federal court had in 2004 already ruled that the state was violating the Fourth Amendment when the Department of Juvenile Justice instituted a random drug testing program. In that case, a US district judge ordered the agency to halt random drug testing and pay the worker who sued $150,000.

"I'm not sure why Gov. Scott does not know that the policy he recreated by executive order today has already been declared unconstitutional," ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement. "The state of Florida cannot force people to surrender their constitutional rights in order to work for the state. Absent any evidence of illegal drug use, or assigned a safety-sensitive job, people have a right to be left alone."

While Gov. Scott is coming off as a hard-liner when it comes to drug testing poor people and state workers, he has also zeroed out the state drug czar's office and blocked the state from beginning a prescription drug tracking plan. But then, as the saying goes, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School