Friday, January 23, 2015
US Supreme Court Considers Random Use Of Drug Dogs During Traffic Stops
Should police have the power to order a driver out of his car while a search is conducted with a drug dog -- even when there is no reason to believe the motorist has done anything wrong? That was the question posed to the US Supreme Court during oral arguments on Wednesday in the case of Dennys Rodriguez. Rodriguez was stopped on March 27, 2012 after a Nebraska police officer saw him briefly swerve. On a hunch, the officer decided to call for a drug dog. After about half an hour, the dog alerted, and Rodriguez was arrested and found guilty of possession. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld his conviction last year (view appellate decision). Shannon P. O'Connor, public defender for Rodriguez, argued that the sniff should be suppressed because it was conducted after the officer completed writing the traffic ticket. Once the underlying reason for the stop is complete, O'Connor insisted, there is no justification to detain a motorist further. Some justices were not convinced that the act of writing a ticket ends the stop. "In Justice [Antonin] Scalia's hypothetical, the officer said, 'I'm not going to give you a ticket, but I just want to ask you a few questions,'" Justice Anthony Kennedy said. "It seems to me that under your argument, those questions are impermissible because he's made his decision: He's not going to give a ticket." Justice Sonia Sotomayor jumped in to clarify O'Connor's argument. What he meant, she said, was that once all the steps involved in writing a ticket are complete -- which would include checking the vehicle registration -- the stop must end. "You've tied it to just writing it handing over the ticket," Justice Sotomayor said. "But you're not even doing that. You're saying, 'Just writing the ticket,' which is crazy." Justice Scalia wondered under this theory whether dog sniffs could just become a routine part of the ticket writing process. "Part of the mission where you stop somebody is not just the broken taillight, but, you know, whether the car is stolen, whether you have drugs on the car, so let's bring in a dog and do the car sniff," Justice Scalia said. "I mean, you're willing to expand the mission to everything up to but not beyond the dog sniff. Why do you do that?" O'Connor insisted that once the original purpose of the stop was accomplished, the driver must be free to go. Justices Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg objected. "If we hold that it's okay to have a dog sniff so long as it's before the ticket is issued, then every police officer -- other than those who are uninformed or incompetent -- will delay the handing over of the ticket until the dog sniff is completed," Justice Alito observed. "So what does that accomplish? I mean, it's great for your client, but what does it do for the law?" Justice Department lawyer Ginger D. Anders insisted that motorists can be delayed for any "reasonable" amount of time -- 35 to 40 minutes or so -- to conduct a drug dog sniff. Justice Sotomayor opposed this notion. "I have a real fundamental question, because this line drawing is only here because we've now created a Fourth Amendment entitlement to search for drugs by using dogs, whenever anybody's stopped," Justice Sotomayor said. "Because that's what you're proposing. And is that really what the Fourth Amendment should permit? ...[The Fourth Amendment] says you can't search unless you have probable cause to search."
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Willis, Texas Ignores Anti-Camera Petition
Officials in Willis, Texas are doing everything they can to prevent residents from having a say in whether red light cameras are used in their community. The city council voted Tuesday to block a proposed charter amendment submitted by residents who had collected more than six times the number of signatures legally required to force the matter onto the ballot. The city's attorney offered a rationale to keep the cameras running. "I've looked at the petition," Larry L. Foerster told the council. "I've also looked at federal and state court decisions here in our area relating to this charter amendment. In my opinion, having reviewed all those things -- in particular a federal court decision that is the southern district of Texas, which our city is in. I believe that the petition as it's written and presented is not valid." Foerster is referring to the decision by US District Court Judge Lynn N. Hughes, a magistrate who has close ties to the top lawyer for camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Judge Hughes did his best to overturn the results 2010 election in Houston where voters soundly rejected camera use. Although it considered only a narrow legal issue, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rebuked Judge Hughes for the "haste of litigation" that he placed "on a fast track" in a way that suited "the city's pecuniary motives" (view ruling). "The petition in Houston, which we copied, is still on the books." Kelli Cook, a Campaign for Liberty activist, told TheNewspaper. "This desperate attempt by the city attorney and the camera company to save their revenue program is very transparent." Despite Foerster's protestations, he has been working behind the scenes with ATS to ensure the city would not wind up paying a hefty financial penalty, as Houston did, in the event voters oust the cameras before the contract is up. "We... would appreciate your considering an 'opt-out' clause in the next services agreement to protect the city of Willis in the unlikely event that our citizens vote to reject the current ATS traffic enforcement photographic system," Foerster wrote in an October 31, 2014 email to ATS. "We will certainly keep you informed on whether the petition gets the necessary number of qualified signatures." Cook and her fellow activists say they will not let the city council get away with this, noting that the mayor and councilmen are all up for re-election in May. "Giving up is not an option," Cook said. "We have an opportunity to reclaim this city and find representation that respects the will of the voters. We will continue to walk neighborhoods and inform the residents about the arrogant behavior of their elected officials. We will demand a resolution be put forth to have the red light camera put on the ballot by the council themselves."
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Arlington, Texas Residents Rally To Ban Red Light Cameras
Residents of Arlington, Texas took to the steps of city hall Tuesday to demand a vote on outlawing the use of red light cameras. The group Citizens for a Better Arlington came armed with the signatures of 11,402 fellow voters -- more than the 9651 needed to force a proposition onto the ballot. "They keep talking about safety, and yet they've done absolutely nothing to ensure that the cameras have been installed for safety," initiative coordinator Faith Bussey told TheNewspaper. "They're obviously not looking at the data post-installment, which prove that they're not keeping people safer." If the city secretary certifies the signatures as valid, the city council under state law has a mandatory duty to place the item on the ballot for the May 9 election. Voters would then be asked to approve a charter amendment similar to those adopted in Conroe, Dayton, Houston, Baytown, League City and College Station. "The city of Arlington shall not use photographic traffic signal enforcement systems to civilly, criminally, or administratively enforce any state law or city ordinance against the owner or operator of a vehicle operated in violation of a traffic control signal, specified by Section 544.007(d) of the Texas Transportation Code, nor shall it collect any money from any recipient of a notice of violation issued, in whole or in part, in connection with the use of a photographic traffic signal enforcement system," the proposal states. Although the Arlington effort was organized by a Tea Party activists, that has not stopped voters on all sides of the political spectrum from getting invovled. "It didn't matter if the people coming up the aisle were Democrats or Republicans, they would see our table and make a bee-line to it," Bussey explained. "It's definitely a non-partisan issue." Signatures were gathered at polling places during early voting and on Election Day to ensure that the list presented to the city secretary would only contain registered voters. Almost as many signed the proposal to ban cameras as voted in the last municipal election. That, Bussey says, should serve as a warning to city council members who might attempt to use legal tricks, as Houston tried to do, to keep voters from having a say on this issue. "This will be a full-blown campaign," Bussey said. "We will definitely be educating people and getting out the vote, supporting any candidates who may be running for local office and are on our side."
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Federal Court Upholds Unconstitutional Car Search
A federal judge decided earlier this month to accept evidence from an automobile search that a state court magistrate had declared unlawful. US District Judge Jerome B. Simandle insisted that there was nothing wrong in accepting the evidence deemed tainted by the New Jersey Superior Court. The question was raised over the December 22, 2012 traffic stop of Terron Perry, a 26-year-old felon who does not make for a sympathetic defendant. Nevertheless, the precedent will apply to all motorists. Camden Police Officer Evette Truitt had spotted Perry's Chevy Impala driving recklessly. She decided to pull over the vehicle because it had darkly tinted windows and it was speeding. Officer Raul Beltran arrived at the scene to provide backup while Perry and his passenger, Assan Perry, were handcuffed in the back of separate squad cars so that the Impala could be searched. A hidden compartment revealed a Ruger P345 .45 caliber pistol. On March 14, 2014, a state court ruled that this warrantless search violated New Jersey law because there were no "exigent circumstances" that would have prevented the officer from asking a judge for a warrant. The state court suppressed the illegally obtained evidence. Judge Simandle decided that the federal prosecution of Perry did not violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy -- being tried for the same crime twice -- because there was no evidence that federal and state prosecutors were working together for a "second bite at the apple." "Indeed, defendant has not demonstrated any impermissible collusion between the respective sovereigns, or any facts to suggest that the state prosecution occurred at the behest of federal authorities," Judge Simandle ruled. "To the contrary, the record only reflects that the state and federal prosecutions proceeded independently, subject only to some level of incidental cooperation between the separate sovereigns." Likewise, the federal court dismissed the contention that the warrantless search was a violation of the Fourth Amendment -- but not on the grounds provided by the police who said the Impala was searched for "officer safety" while the Perrys were handcuffed in the back of police cars. "Despite Officer Beltran's assertions, the court finds that he could not reasonably have believed that defendant and/or Assan Perry could have accessed the vehicle at the time of the search," Judge Simandle wrote. Instead, the federal judge ruled the search was justified under the federal automobile exception that allows a car to be searched if there is probable cause that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Here, Officer Beltran saw shell casings that served as an indication that the car could have been involved in a recent incident where gunshots had been heard. "The court holds that the United States is not bound by the [New Jersey] Superior Court's suppression decision under the circumstances of this case, as it is a separate sovereign, not in privity with the state prosecutor in the superior court case," Judge Simandle concluded. "On the merits, the court holds that this warrantless search was within the federal automobile exception and that the motion to suppress evidence seized from the vehicle should be denied." A copy of the decision is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: US v. Perry (US District Court, District of New Jersey, 1/9/2015)
Monday, January 19, 2015
France, Italy: Speed Cameras Sprayed, Toppled
In Kervignac, France, vigilantes disabled a speed camera on Tuesday. According to Ouest France, white spraypaint was used on the automated ticketing machine on the D781. A pair of cameras were similarly painted in the area last September. The same paper reported a camera on the RD524 in Mesnil-Clinchamps had its lenses painted gray last week Sunday. In Bologna, Italy, vigilantes knocked over a pair of speed cameras last week Sunday. According to Il Resto del Carlino, the bright orange automated ticketing machines in Baricella and San Gabriel were found lying in the grass on the side of the road. Some passerby even placed a handmade sign next to the fallen San Gabriel camera saying, "You are great" to express approval of the attack.