Articles Posted in Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court of the United States is now in session. Two cases are to be heard on Wednesday, October 31. They are both from Florida and both involve the use of police dogs in the gathering of evidence in regards to illegal narcotics. The court will decide if such use violates the Fourth Amendment. That amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Currently, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office maintains a Canine Unit consisting of five handler officers and seven dogs. Some of the dogs are patrol dogs, some are bomb detection dogs, and some are narcotics detection dogs. Canines trained for the narcotics division are used to detect the scent of marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. According to the Sherriff’s Office, the dogs can locate drugs in houses, cars, and even buried underground.

In the case of Florida v Jardines, (Oral Argument Transcripts) the defendant maintains that a warrantless “sniff test” by a dog at his home with live plants inside violated his right against unreasonable searches. Was a trained narcotics canine sniffing at a front door to a private residence a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore a violation of privacy? The defense argues that the “sniff test” should have been conducted after there was evidence of a crime.

In the case of Florida v Harris, (Oral Argument Transcripts) a valid traffic stop for driving with an expired registration tag resulted in a warrantless search of the defendant’s truck. The police officer had his dog, Aldo, sniff the outside of the truck. Aldo “alerted” at the door handle and the officer searched the vehicle’s interior. The officer admitted at the trial that the dog can pick up lingering “residual odors”. Does an “alert” from an odor that could have been lingering for an unknown amount of time result in probable cause for a subsequent search?
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supreme court.jpgIn San Antonio and other courts throughout Texas, many Mexican citizens take plea deals every day. Before 2010 the only requirement for non-U.S. citizens taking pleas was that the defendants must be warned that they may face deportation, removal from the country or denial of U.S. citizenship. However, on March 31, 2010, the United States Supreme Court filed its decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010) holding that “counsel must inform her client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation.” Padilla at 1486. “When the law is not succinct and straightforward…a criminal defense attorney need do no more than advise a noncitizen client that pending criminal charges may carry a risk of adverse immigration consequences. But when the deportation consequence is truly clear, as it was in this case, the duty to give correct advice is equally clear.” Padilla at 1483. This means that a defense attorney must adequately advise a non-U.S. citizen of how the plea may affect his or her status in this country.

The U.S. Supreme Court went on to explain: “Our longstanding Sixth Amendment precedents, the seriousness of deportation as a consequence of a criminal plea, and the concomitant impact of deportation on families living lawfully in this country demand no less.” Id.

But a big debate throughout Texas is whether Padilla announced a new rule of law that bars it from being applied retroactively. Or does Padilla just clarify a longstanding rule of law, allowing it to apply to cases that were final prior to the Padilla opinion?

Texas Courts have been applying Padilla retroactively to cases that were final before the opinion was rendered. In Ex parte Tanklevskaya, 2011 WL 2132722 (Tex. App.–Hous. [1Dist.] 2011), the Court of Appeals denied the State’s claim that “Padilla announced a ‘new constitutional rule of criminal procedure’ that should not be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review.” Id. at *4; citing Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 310 (1989). That Court, agreeing with other Courts in Texas and around the country, held that Padilla does not apply new rule of criminal procedure but is an extension of the rule in Strickland v. Washington and therefore applies retroactively. Id. at *7.
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Arguments at the United States Supreme Court continued on December 6, 2011, as the justices heard oral arguments for the case of Sandy Williams, Petitioner v. Illinois Docket (#10-8505).

This is a case that pertains to the Sixth Amendment – specially the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. The Sixth Amendment states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” The Confrontation Clause deals with the phrase “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” In other words, a person who is on trial has the right to see the witnesses who are offering testimonial evidence against them and they have the right to cross-exam the witnesses during the trial. (Furthermore, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the right to confrontation apply to the states and not just the federal government. The right only applies to criminal prosecutions, not civil cases or other proceedings.)

In this particular case, a DNA report was prepared by a third party, private lab. During the trial, the actual report was not admitted and none of the lab analysts who conducted the tests ever testified. Instead, an Illinois State Police forensic analyst was called to testify. This expert was never involved with nor observed the actual tests, and therefore had no knowledge of the methods used to obtain the results.
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Thumbnail image for supreme court.jpgOn October 12, 2011, the United Supreme Court continued its new term and heard oral arguments on a case that is a Fourth Amendment issue. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which applies to the citizens of San Antonio, states that: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” While the oral arguments are over, the opinion from the court is to be determined.

Albert W. Florence, Petitioner v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, et al. raises the question of whether or not a jail or prison has the right to conduct a strip search on every person who is taken into custody, no matter what the charge(s) may be. This is a Fourth Amendment issue dealing with suspicion-less strip searches – should there be a flat rule or should it be determined on a case by case basis? This particular case began in 2005 when Florence was in the car with his pregnant wife and 4-year-old daughter on their way to dinner at his mother-in-law’s house. His wife was driving and was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. Because the car was registered in Mr. Florence’s name, the officer asked to see his identification in addition to his wife’s. When the information was checked, the officer saw that there was a warrant for Florence because of an unpaid fine. Florence carried a copy of the court record to show that he actually paid the fine, but the officer took him into custody anyway. Florence was in custody in both Burlington and Essex Counties for a total of six days before he saw a judge, at which time he was immediately released. While he was in custody, Florence was subjected to two strip searches. Florence filed a lawsuit because he asserted that the searches were unreasonable because he was being held for failure to pay a fine, which is not a criminal offense in New Jersey (and let’s not forget that he had already paid the fine).
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