In April 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court was asked whether police should be permitted to use a drug-sniffing dog to roam the hallways of an apartment or condominium complex to search for contraband without getting a warrant from a judge.  Recently, they emphatically answered no.

With the opinion in State v. Dennis Kono, Connecticut now joins a small but growing group of jurisdictions that have extended the robust protections of privacy in the home to apartments. In so holding, the Court answered two important questions: should the police’s power to search a person’s residence be any different depending on whether the residence is an apartment, condominium or free-standing house; and should the search for contraband outweigh any Fourth Amendment rights we have as citizens? [Read more here.] 

 

To be sure, not all courts agree with the Connecticut Supreme Court, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in an almost identical case, United States v. Whitaker. In that case, the issue was the same:  should warrantless use of a drug-sniffing dog in an apartment hallway be permitted under the Fourth Amendment. The court said no:

The use of a drug-sniffing dog here clearly invaded reasonable privacy expectations, as explained in Justice Kagan’s concurring opinion in Jardines. The police in Jardines could reasonably and lawfully walk up to the front door of the house in that case to knock on the door and ask to speak to the residents. The police were not entitled, however, to bring a “super-sensitive instrument” to detect objects and activities that they could not perceive without its help . . . The police could not stand on the front porch and look inside with binoculars or put a stethoscope to the door to listen. Similarly, they could not bring the super-sensitive dog to detect objects or activities inside the home.

 

 

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Do You Need Magic Language?

posted by Judge_Burke @ 16:00 PM
January 6, 2017

There still exists a belief among certain lawyers that an expert’s opinion must be struck unless the expert recites magic language stating the opinion is to a reasonable degree of (insert field) probability. 

The topic arose again in Singletary v. Lee, a dental malpractice case. In that case, the jury found for the patient, but the district court granted judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, a panel of the Supreme Court reversed. “The district court determined that the dental expert’s testimony should have been stricken as inadmissible because the expert did not use the phrase ‘to a reasonable degree of medical probability’ in rendering his opinion on the standard of care following a tooth extraction.” In other words, the expert’s opinions were unreliable because the expert did not recite ritualistic language. This was incorrect. “While medical expert testimony regarding standard of care must be made to a reasonable degree of medical probability, there is no requirement that the specific phrase ‘reasonable degree of medical probability’ must be used by the expert in their testimony.” Proper evaluation of the expert’s testimony should have focused on “the nature, purpose, and certainty of the dental expert’s testimony rather than whether he uttered a specific phrase.”

The Nevada Supreme Court then reviewed the expert’s testimony. He “did not use speculative, hypothetical, or equivocal language.  Appellant’s expert provided a definitive opinion as to the standard of care….”  This was sufficiently certain to make the testimony reliable.

For the full opinion, go here (log-in required.)

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The State of Indigent Defense…in New York

posted by Judge_Burke @ 16:06 PM
January 5, 2017

A case can be made that indigent defense is not in acceptable shape in many states. Surely New York would be one of those states where the delivery system has weaknesses. There has been litigation and, more recently, there was, in response to the litigation, a legislative attempt to respond to the litigation. But, The New York Law Journal reports:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill  that would have provided for an eventual state takeover of indigent criminal legal defense costs now paid by New York City and counties outside the city.

The localities have come to shoulder most of the burden for the indigent representation in New York state since the Supreme Court’s decree in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, that having access to an adequate defense against criminal charges is a constitutional guarantee.

The state currently pays about $80 million toward indigent legal defense and New York City and the 57 counties outside the city about $360 million.

The bill before Cuomo (A10706/S8114) provided for a phased-in, seven-year state takeover of the localities’ costs by 2023.

Cuomo said in his veto message that the measure was too expensive. He contended it could obligate the state to pick more than $800 million each year when fully implemented. He contended that the bulk of those costs would come in Family and Surrogate court representation and in other areas unrelated to the defense of indigent criminal defendants.

Cuomo said the potential enormity of the state’s obligation would undermine the financial stability he has tried to bring to the state since becoming governor in 2011.

“We cannot use Gideon as a ploy for financial redistribution of existing local expenses that have nothing to do with Gideon,” he said in his veto message. “Rather, the bill functions as a simple cost shift to [state] taxpayers, proven by the fact that there is absolutely no funding system to pay for it.”

He noted that his administration’s settlement of a case in the fall of 2014, Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York, 8866-07, established a more limited template of state oversight of the criminal defense systems in the five defendant counties of Suffolk, Washington, Onondaga, Ontario and Schuyler (NYLJ, Oct. 22, 2014).

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You Might Be Presumed Innocent, But it Will Cost You

posted by Judge_Burke @ 16:23 PM
January 3, 2017

Among the most thoughtful commentators is Adam Liptak. He recently had an insightful piece in The New York Times that begins:

Corey Statham had $46 in his pockets when he was arrested in Ramsey County, Minn., and charged with disorderly conduct. He was released two days later, and the charges were dismissed.

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear Mr. Statham’s challenge to Ramsey County’s fund-raising efforts, which are part of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.

Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

An unusual coalition of civil rights organizations, criminal defense lawyers and conservative and libertarian groups have challenged these sorts of policies, saying they confiscate private property without constitutional protections and lock poor people into a cycle of fines, debts and jail.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a separate challenge to a Colorado law that makes it hard for criminal defendants whose convictions were overturned to obtain refunds of fines and restitution, often amounting to thousands of dollars. That case, Nelson v. Colorado, will be argued on Jan. 9.

The Colorado law requires people who want their money back to file a separate lawsuit and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

The sums at issue are smaller in Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul. But they are taken from people who have merely been arrested. Some of them will never be charged with a crime. Others, like Mr. Statham, will have the charges against them dismissed. Still others will be tried but acquitted.

It is all the same to the county, which does not return the $25 booking fee even if the arrest does not lead to a conviction. Instead, it requires people like Mr. Statham to submit evidence to prove they are entitled to get their money back.

When the case was argued last year before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Paul, a lawyer for the county acknowledged that its process was in tension with the presumption of innocence.

 

The complete article is here.

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The Emerging Law of Body Cameras

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:31 PM
December 30, 2016

Courts throughout the nation are now dealing with the emerging law of body cameras. What about the inevitable issue of discovery? How do we deal with incompatible devices? What if the body camera does not work, malfunctions, or intentionally is turned off (or not turned on)?

In a recent case, the officer testified that his body armor accidentally muted the microphone on the body recorder on his belt when he bent over. Should the court respond by suppressing the evidence, dismissing the charge, or doing something in between? At least one court has held that this was not a due process violation, as there was an exigency for a community caretaking function entry based on a loud argument inside and the officer being invited in. United States v. Givens, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167433 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 18, 2016), adopted, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167140 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 5, 2016):

Defendant argues that it was a violation of Department of Justice and Kansas City Police Department protocol not to use the body recorder during the entire incident (referring to the 10 to 12 minutes that are missing on the recording) and this violates his Fifth Amendment rights.

Violation of Department of Justice or Kansas City Police Department protocol does not create any rights on behalf of a criminal defendant. See United States v. Kubini, 19 F. Supp. 3d 579, 619 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (provisions in U.S. Attorney’s Manual do not create enforceable rights); United States v. Gomez, 237 F.3d 238, n.1 (3rd Cir. 2000) (provisions of U.S. Attorney’s Manual do not create any judicially enforceable rights); United States v. Jarrett, 447 F.3d 520, 529 (7th Cir. 2006) (case law, not internal handbooks, provides the guidance for whether rights have been violated); United States v. Gross, 41 F.Supp.2d 1096, 1098 (C.D. Cal. 1999) aff’d 40 Fed. Appx. 397 (9th Cir. 2002) (US Attorney’s Manual did not create enforceable rights).

Officer Lightner testified that his body microphone was accidentally muted when his vest pushed the mute button as he was getting out of his patrol car. This did not violate any of defendant’s rights.

. . .

Here, the uncontroverted evidence is that the officers were called to the residence on a disturbance; when they arrived they heard loud arguing coming from within the residence; when Sonya Wiggins saw them approaching the residence, she began waving for them to come in; Ms. Wiggins yelled that someone had a gun; when the officers entered the residence, they heard a metal clinking sound which they believed to be the sound of a gun being dropped into a metal sink; Ms. Wiggins was yelling that he had a gun and was trying to hide it in the sink; there were other people present besides defendant and Ms. Wiggins; and the officers did not yet know the circumstances of the disturbance which prompted the call for help to the police other than hearing loud arguing and a female screaming that a male had a gun. I find that a reasonable officer would have believed that an emergency was at hand. Therefore, the entry into the residence was lawful, and the search of the sink for the gun was lawful pursuant to the community caretaking function of the police.

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What Should Be the Authority of Non-Lawyer Judges

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:35 PM
December 29, 2016

There was a time when many states had non-lawyer judges. Our nation had a need for someone to hear minor cases and there simply were not enough lawyers or lawyers willing to do that kind of work. Non-lawyer judges often hear small claims matters. They perform marriages. They hear traffic cases and often hear minor criminal cases.

There are over 6,000 Justices of the Peace and Magistrate Judges in the country. States with Justices of the Peace include Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. States with Magistrate judges are Alaska, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In 1974,  a unanimous California Supreme Court held that it was a violation of the federal right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to allow a non-lawyer justice to preside over a case that could result in jail time. Gordon v. Justice Court, 525 P2nd 72 (1974). 

How about the rest of the nation? Should non-lawyer judges be able to jail? The law now permits lay judges to convict defendants of jailable offenses in misdemeanor courts so long as the defendants have an automatic right to a new trial in front of a judge who is a lawyer. But, the Supreme Court is considering a Montana case that raises the question of what happens when that automatic “do-over” trial isn’t guaranteed.

See SIXTH AMENDMENT CENTER

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Thinking About Tort Reform: Caps on Damages

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:35 PM
December 28, 2016

In recent years, many state legislatures have passed caps on damages. The language used  is “tort reform,” but with the reform comes controversy. Some states have held damages on caps are constitutional. See, for example, the decision of the Alaska Supreme Court in Evans ex rel Kutch v. State, 56 P3rd 1046 (2002). Others states, such as Wisconsin, have held caps violate equal protection. See Ferdon ex rel Petrecelli v. Wisconsin Patients Com. Fund. 701 NW2nd 440 (2005).  The Supreme Court of Ohio has joined those states finding caps are constitutional in a brutal case involving a girl who was raped by her minister. The Columbus Dispatch

 

Related: Here’s the decision:  OHIO SUPREME COURT

 

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Brady v. Maryland is nearly 50 years old. There are very few lawyers who are practicing today who have not spent their entire career practicing under the simple rule that prosecutors need to disclose to the defense exculpatory evidence. Yet violations of the rule are far too common. Perhaps that will stop. The United States Supreme Court accepted two cases that raise Brady violation issues.

Turner v. United States and Overton v. United States, arise out of the brutal 1984 murder of Catherine Fuller, a District of Columbia mother. The petitioners in these cases are a group of D.C. men who were convicted of the crime, based in large part on testimony from alleged eyewitnesses. Decades later, a reporter learned that defense attorneys had not received a statement suggesting that someone else had committed the crime; additional discovery then revealed that prosecutors had failed to turn over other evidence that could have aided the defendants. The men sought to vacate their convictions, but were unsuccessful in the lower courts.

Overton had asked the court to weigh in on the standard that the lower court used to evaluate his claim that prosecutors had not complied with their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, which requires the government to turn over information that could exonerate the defendant. Turner and his co-defendants had asked the court to consider whether, when determining the significance of suppressed evidence, courts can consider information that comes to light after trial. The Supreme  Court announced that it would review a more straightforward question in both cases:  whether the men’s convictions must be set aside under Brady.

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The Fractured Right to Counsel

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:30 PM
December 23, 2016

If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.

Fifty years after a landmark Supreme Court decision established that children have a right to a lawyer in juvenile court, this is a “right” in name only, argue two Justice Department attorneys. Too often children waive their right to a lawyer because none is readily available, because to wait means additional court dates, and “sometimes just because they wanted to go home.”

The Washington Post

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Should a Judge Issue a Parenting Time Order for a Dog

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:30 PM
December 22, 2016

Dogs are not children and most jurisdictions hold dogs are property to be divided up in the case of divorce. “Dogs are wonderful creatures,” read the first line of a ruling from a Canadian judge.

Over the next paragraph, the judge continued singing the praises of man’s best friend:  Dogs are often highly intelligent, he wrote. Sensitive. Active. Constant and faithful companions.“Many dogs are treated as members of the family with whom they live,” the judge noted. But, none of that matters when it comes to the court of law, concluded Justice Richard Danyliuk of the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan. At least not in his court of law.

How much is a pet dog worth? A court will soon decide. “After all is said and done, a dog is a dog,” Judge Danyliuk wrote in an August ruling that was recently reported by CBC News. “At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.” Judge Danyliuk would spend 15 more pages outlining why — in this case of a divorcing couple arguing over what would become of their pets — the court could not treat the dogs in question as “children.

”The case landed in court after the wife argued that she should keep their three dogs — 13-year-old Quill, 9-year-old Kenya and 2-year-old Willow — while allowing for visitation rights of an hour-and-a-half at a time to her soon-to-be ex-husband. Judge Danyliuk noted that the woman’s request was “more akin to an interim custody disposition than it is to a property order” and that he could not comply, because for legal purposes, dogs must be treated as property.

But, is there harm in judges at least attempting to settle dog conflict in a divorce? In a case a few years ago there was bitter conflict about who would get custody of the dog. The Minnesota factors about child custody are totally meaningless when it comes to placing the dog. There is the King Solemn approach, “The dog is property! If  you cannot agree I will order the dog sold and divide the cash.” It might work, but it is a bit brutal. The market for “used” dogs is often pretty thin. There is the, “We Will Have a Dog  Custody Trial” approach. Each party prior to trial is ordered to the local animal humane society to view the homeless animals (who knows…one party may fall in love with a kitten). The dog is ordered to attend the trial and the parties are told, “Your lawyer does not have to attend” (lawyers cost money), but each party will be able to demonstrate in court the dog’s wishes by showing just how well the dog responds to their commands. It sounds ridiculous…and it works. The parties inevitably settle rather than risk never seeing their pet.  

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