Fourth Amendment

In United States v. Carpenter the Supreme Court will decide whether police must obtain warrants per the Fourth Amendment to require wireless carriers to provide cell-site data. State and local governments have an interest in obtaining cell-site data as quickly and easily as possible as it can provide solid evidence a particular person was near the scene of a crime.  

Cellphones work by establishing a radio connection with the nearest cell tower. Towers project signals in different directions or “sectors.” In urban areas, cell sites typically cover from between a half-mile to two miles. Wireless companies maintain cell-site information for phone calls.

In a unanimous opinion in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez the Supreme Court rejected the “provocation rule,” where police officers using reasonable force may be liable for violating the Fourth Amendment because they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule.

Police officer entered the shack Mendez was living in without a warrant and unannounced. Mendez thought the officers were the property owner and picked up the BB gun he used to shoot rats so he could stand up. When the officers saw the gun, they shot him resulting in his leg being amputated below the knee.  

Imagine how often when police officers are deciding whether to arrest someone they are told a version of a story they don’t find believable. In a Supreme Court amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Wesby the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues that the D.C. Circuit erred by applying an inflexible rule that when officers are making arrest decisions they must believe a suspect’s version of the story, even when circumstantial evidence indicates otherwise.

In this case police officers arrested a group of late-night partygoers for trespass. The party-goers gave police conflicting reasons for why they were at the house (birthday party v. bachelor party). Some said “Peaches” invited them to the house; others said they were invited by another guest. Police officers called Peaches who told them she gave the partygoers permission to use the house. But she admitted that she had no permission to use the house herself; she was in the process of renting it. The landlord confirmed by phone that Peaches hadn’t signed a lease. The partygoers were never charged with trespass.

On May 7, 2017, Governor Abbott signed SB 4 into law in Texas. Among numerous other things, it requires local governments to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, punishable by a Class A misdemeanor.

Many cities and counties don’t respond to warrantless ICE detainers because numerous courts have held that doing so violates the Fourth Amendment. Last month a federal district court concluded that to the extent President Trump’s sanctuary jurisdictions executive order requires honoring warrantless ICE detainers “it is likely unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment because it seeks to compel the states and local jurisdictions to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion.”

In Manuel v. City of Joliet the Supreme Court held 6-2 that even after “legal process” (appearing before a judge) has occurred a person may bring a Fourth Amendment claim challenging pretrial detention. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that malicious prosecution claims cannot be brought under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court didn’t address this issue in its decision.

Elijah Manuel was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance even though a field test and a lab test indicated his pills weren’t illegal drugs. A county court judge further detained Manuel based on a complaint inaccurately reporting the results of the field and lab tests. Forty-eight days later Manuel was released when another laboratory test cleared him.  

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