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Tag: supreme court

Philadelphia Inquirer: FBI, Local Police Invade Citizens’ Privacy

cellphone-tower-photo2By Adam Bates
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Our cellular phones, the U.S. Supreme Court recently opined, contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of [our] lives – from the mundane to the intimate.” Indeed, many of us use our cellphones to privately convey our love, our insecurities, our fears, our locations, and our most sensitive relationships.

Yet right now, across the United States, law enforcement agents have secret, unfettered access to all of it, and the government is trying to keep it that way.

It was recently revealed that the FBI has been colluding with the Oklahoma City Police Department to conceal the use of equipment capable of powerful, surreptitious, and constitutionally dubious cellphone surveillance. The device, known as a StingRay, operates by mimicking the signal of a cell tower. The StingRay puts out a boosted signal that muscles out the signals of legitimate cell towers and forces nearby phones to connect to the device.

Once your phone is connected, the operator of the device can triangulate your position, see the incoming and outgoing numbers, and by all indications intercept the actual content of your communications. Police often deploy StingRays without probable-cause warrants or, in some cases, court orders. Even when police seek warrants and orders, the federal government has coached them to mislead judges about precisely what they are being asked to authorize.

StingRay deployments have been confirmed in at least 24 states and the District of Columbia, and there is every reason to believe many of the remaining states possess them and simply haven’t been forced to disclose it. Different departments have different deployment policies, but cities such as Baltimore have admitted to deploying the devices in thousands of investigations.

To read more click here. 

Texas Businessman Takes Case Against FBI to Supreme Court

courtroomBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The owner of a trucking company in Texas, where FBI agents used an 18-wheeler without permission and the driver was killed, wants to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Houston Chronicle reports that owner Craig Patty filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages following the November 2011 incident, which involved a botched Zetas Cartel sting.

In March, an appeals court dismissed the suit. Now Patty is appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

“The facts of this case are straight out of a Hollywood movie, and yet are completely true and undisputed,” Houston lawyer Andy Vickery states in recent petition to the court.

Other Stories of Interest

Parker’s Supreme Court Watch: Losing Scalia Vote Has Not Changed Result in Criminal Cases

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court will follow the usual pattern of not hearing oral argument in May and June. But that doesn’t mean that the Justices are loafing in their chambers. Far from it. There are per curiam opinions to write, individual opinions to author and certiorari petitions to consider.

So far this term the Court has issued a half dozen per curiam (by the Court) opinions. These are decisions without a designated author, usually without a dissent or concurrence and concerning well settled areas of the law. The cases are often non-controversial, do not involve an oral argument, and serve to quickly dispose of a routine issue. They are sometimes criticized as a method of avoiding individual Justice accountability and controversies. An example is the case of Bush v. Gore, regarding the election of 2000. The cases of this term, although having some value in terms of the development of the law, do not appear to be subject to this criticism.

The most significant and time-consuming of the work to be done in the two months left of the term are the draft opinions to circulate, discuss and argue about and the cases to decide before the June adjournment. Among criminal cases, which only make up a fraction of the docket of 150-200 cases annually, the Justices still have 12 cases to decide among the 22 oral arguments they heard from October to April.

Predicted 9 of 10 Decisions

So far the Court has decided 10 of the 22 heard during this term. This column has, thus far, correctly predicted the result in 9 of the 10. Not too shabby.

The case I missed was Luis v. United States, in which 4 Justices held that the pretrial freezing of untainted assets subject to forfeiture violated the 6th Amendment. The precedential value of the case is discussed further below.

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia’s absence has, no doubt, been felt in the process of deciding cases, but losing his vote has not changed the result in the criminal cases, at least not that is visible to the public. His votes on cases that had not been announced as of the time of his death are void, but there have been no 4-4 criminal cases handed down. In that situation the ruling of the lower court stands.

In one case decided, Luis v. United States, however his absence may have affected the precedential value of the decision. The plurality opinion was signed by only 4 Justices, but with Justice Thomas’s concurrence in the result (but not the reasoning), there was a five-vote majority with 3 dissents. The stare decisis (precedential authority of the principle of law) effect on future, similar cases of the primary opinion will have to wait for those future cases. This has been a matter of some debate. Compare The Legal Tender Cases (1870) with Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co. (1974).

In any event the likelihood of a 4-4 stalemate is more likely in some of the hot-button civil cases currently pending, like the lawsuit to block President Obama’s order to defer deportation of 5.5 million aliens and the case involving Texas’s restriction on abortion law. Few of the pending criminal cases are likely to end up in this predicament. It has been speculated that the Court sometimes looks for a more narrow reasoning to achieve the result of a decision if the preliminary vote is 4-4. The precedential value of the case is limited but at least the opinion serves the purpose of the “right” result rather than just letting the lower court’s opinion stand.

Next month’s column on the Court will report on the case decisions during the month of May, and the following one will wrap up the significant developments of the Court’s term.

Supreme Court Watch: Loss of Scalia Vote Hasn’t Changed Outcome of Criminal Cases

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court will follow the usual pattern of not hearing oral argument in May and June. But that doesn’t mean that the Justices are loafing in their chambers. Far from it. There are per curiam opinions to write, individual opinions to author and certiorari petitions to consider.

So far this term the Court has issued a half dozen per curiam (by the Court) opinions. These are decisions without a designated author, usually without a dissent or concurrence and concerning well settled areas of the law. The cases are often non-controversial, do not involve an oral argument, and serve to quickly dispose of a routine issue. They are sometimes criticized as a method of avoiding individual Justice accountability and controversies. An example is the case of Bush v. Gore, regarding the election of 2000. The cases of this term, although having some value in terms of the development of the law, do not appear to be subject to this criticism.

The most significant and time-consuming of the work to be done in the two months left of the term are the draft opinions to circulate, discuss and argue about and the cases to decide before the June adjournment. Among criminal cases, which only make up a fraction of the docket of 150-200 cases annually, the Justices still have 12 cases to decide among the 22 oral arguments they heard from October to April.

Predicted 9 of 10 Decisions

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

So far the Court has decided 10 of the 22 heard during this term. This column has, thus far, correctly predicted the result in 9 of the 10. Not too shabby.

The case I missed was Luis v. United States, in which 4 Justices held that the pretrial freezing of untainted assets subject to forfeiture violated the 6th Amendment. The precedential value of the case is discussed further below.

Justice Scalia’s absence has, no doubt, been felt in the process of deciding cases, but losing his vote has not changed the result in the criminal cases, at least not that is visible to the public. His votes on cases that had not been announced as of the time of his death are void, but there have been no 4-4 criminal cases handed down. In that situation the ruling of the lower court stands.

In one case decided, Luis v. United States, however his absence may have affected the precedential value of the decision. The plurality opinion was signed by only 4 Justices, but with Justice Thomas’s concurrence in the result (but not the reasoning), there was a five-vote majority with 3 dissents. The stare decisis (precedential authority of the principle of law) effect on future, similar cases of the primary opinion will have to wait for those future cases. This has been a matter of some debate. Compare The Legal Tender Cases (1870) with Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co. (1974).

In any event the likelihood of a 4-4 stalemate is more likely in some of the hot-button civil cases currently pending, like the lawsuit to block President Obama’s order to defer deportation of 5.5 million aliens and the case involving Texas’s restriction on abortion law. Few of the pending criminal cases are likely to end up in this predicament. It has been speculated that the Court sometimes looks for a more narrow reasoning to achieve the result of a decision if the preliminary vote is 4-4. The precedential value of the case is limited but at least the opinion serves the purpose of the “right” result rather than just letting the lower court’s opinion stand.

Next month’s column on the Court will report on the case decisions during the month of May, and the following one will wrap up the significant developments of the Court’s term.

U.S. Supreme Court Gives FBI Authority to Hack More Computers

hacking By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the FBI more authority to hack into computers beginning in December.

Until then, Congress can adopt legislation to undermine the court’s decision, the Intercept reports. 

Before the ruling, magistrate judges were prohibited from approving a warrant request to search a computer unless the computer was inside the judge’s jurisdiction.

Under the ruling, the FBI would be able to gain a warrant to search a computer anywhere in the country, regardless of jurisdiction.

Privacy advocates weren’t happy.

“Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it—whether they call it a ‘remote access search’ or a ‘network investigative technique’—what we’re talking about is government hacking, and this obscure rule change would authorize a whole lot more of it,” Kevin Bankston, director of Open Technology Institute, said in a press release.

Other Stories of Interest

Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Help FBI Hack into More Computers

hacking By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in favor of a Justice Department request that would allow judges to issue search warrants so that law enforcement agencies have the access to computers in any jurisdiction.

Currently, magistrate judges are limited to ordering searches within the jurisdiction of their court, Reuters reports. 

The change would help federal agencies like the FBI hack into more computer networks, a concern of some tech companies and the ACLU

If a judge approves the change, both chambers of Congress would have to approve it.

Parker: April Supreme Court Cases Include Conviction of Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklehthewire.com

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four difficult criminal cases on the April docket. All without the incisive, biting and entertaining interrogation of Justice Scalia. But last month Justice Thomas asked his first question in more than a decade. That must have raised some eyebrows.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

One of the highest profile cases of the term, McDonnell v. United States, will be among those argued. Bob McDonnell was the popular governor of Virginia, and his name had been mentioned as a Vice Presidential running mate. Probably not any more since his prosecution for bribery.

His financial problems led him and his wife to seek various loans and gifts valued at over $175,000 from a businessman who was promoting a dietary supplement under review by the FDA. The gifts included a $20,000 shopping spree by Mrs. McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. Not that I hold anything against former cheerleaders (some of my best friends…), but she does seem to be at the center of both the “quid” and the “quo” of this sordid affair.

The issue before the Court is whether the Hobbs Act felony of agreeing to take “official action” in exchange for something of value by exercising actual government power (i.e. bribery) was proven in the case, as opposed to merely providing routine political courtesies, benefits and access to others.

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

The evidence at trial included the following “official acts” by the governor, all around the time that the McDonnells were receiving their goodies: asking the Secretary of Health to send an aide to a meeting where Mrs. McDonnell and the businessman could pitch the product; attending a luncheon arranged by Mrs. McDonnell where  the businessman gave two state medical schools $200,000 to research the product; sending an ambiguous email (at Mrs McDonnell’s request) to a staffer regarding the medical school’s lack of responsiveness; inviting the businessman to a reception for the “Health Care Leaders”; and finally suggesting a meeting to discuss whether the product could be included in the state employee health plan. Note the First Lady’s involvement. Cherchez la femme

None of these actions by the governor resulted in any specific benefit to the businessman. Nor did the governor make any request or order that a government official do anything other than exercise his/her independent judgment. McDonnell said that he was doing nothing more than helping a state business and extending political courtesies.

The Solicitor General argues that at least some of the actions amounted to personal benefits conferred in exchange for an agreement to influence government matters. But McDonnell’s supporters filed more than a dozen briefs which warn that the expansion of the statute to include this kind of conduct will create an ill-defined situation where aggressive federal prosecutors could criminalize what has been merely political custom.

Read more »

Supreme Court Declines to Consider Case Involving Random Detention of Motorists Near U.S. Borders

US_Supreme_CourtBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court on Monday announced it would not consider a case involving limits on random detention of motorists within 100 miles of a border.

The case involves an Air Force officer, Richard Rynearson, who was detained for 34 minutes at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Uvalde County, Texas, despite authorities having no suspicion that he was an undocumented immigrant or criminal, Reason.com reports. 

In a 1976 decision in the United States v. Martinez Fuerte, the Supreme Court concluded random stops at immigration checkpoints did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The justices reasoned that each stop “involves only a brief detention of travelers” during which “all that is required of the vehicle’s occupants is a response to a brief question or two and possibly the production of a document evidencing a right to be in the United States.”

The court had said “the average length of an investigation in the secondary inspection area is three to five minutes.”

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