Posts Tagged ‘constitutional rights’

Court to tackle clarity of Miranda warnings again

June 25, 2009
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer Michael J. Sniffen, Associated Press Writer Mon Jun 22, 5:36 pm ET

WASHINGTON – “You have the right to remain silent.” Most people only hear those words while watching cop shows on TV. They usually zone out for the rest of the now familiar Miranda warning to people under arrest.

But in the real world, the Supreme Court is still listening to the words that follow. It agreed Monday to hear another case over just how explicit that phrasing must be.

In its landmark 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling, the high court set out to protect the constitutional right of people not to incriminate themselves once in custody. They dealt a blow to those officers who bullied or beat false confessions out of suspects. The justices said the police have to tell defendants they can have a lawyer represent them, even if they can’t afford one.

Since 1966, dozens of prosecutors and defendants have asked the court to clarify its ruling. The court has addressed many of those appeals and reaffirmed its basic ruling in 2000.

Along the way, the justices made clear they don’t insist that every police officer use precisely the same words, so long as the important details are clear, even to people with no legal training or little or no schooling.

Monday they agreed to examine what the Tampa, Fla., police told Kevin Dewayne Powell after his arrest on Aug. 10, 2004. Powell was convicted of possessing a firearm. As a convicted felon, he wasn’t allowed to have one. Powell told Tampa officer Salvatore Augeri he bought the weapon “off the street” for $150 for his protection.

But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction on grounds the Tampa police didn’t adequately convey to Powell that he was allowed to have a lawyer with him during questioning.

Florida law enforcement, in the person of chief assistant attorney general Robert J. Krauss, asked the Supreme Court to decide the Tampa police gave Powell a clear enough Miranda warning. On behalf of Powell, Cynthia Dodge, an assistant public defender in Polk County, Fla., argued in a brief that the justices should let the Florida ruling stand because it conformed to previous Miranda rulings and also relied on Florida‘s own constitution.

Before he confessed to Augeri, Powell signed a statement that said he could remain silent and, if he did talk, what he said could be used against him in court. The statement added:

“You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.”

The Supreme Court’s original Miranda ruling said whatever words the police used they had to make clear that a suspect could “have the lawyer with him during interrogation.”

Florida’s highest court found the Tampa warning fell short of this essential element because Powell was “never unequivocally informed that he had the right to have an attorney present at all times” during the police interview and limited the narrower right “to talk to” counsel to the period “before answering any of our questions.” The Florida justices ruled that the last sentence of what Powell signed “did not supply the missing warning of the right to have counsel present during police questioning because a right that has never been expressed cannot be reiterated.”

Dodge said the warning to Powell implied that his right to counsel was limited to a conversation before the police began questioning.

For the state, Krauss argued that only “a strained, literalistic reading, inattentive to context” could conclude Powell could not have a lawyer present during questioning. “While the warning at issue may not be the most elegant formulation of Miranda warnings,” Krauss wrote, “the test is reasonable clarity, not elegance.”

Krauss said the Supreme Court should resolve differences between federal circuit courts of appeals on how explicit police must be that a lawyer can sit in on their interrogations.

The case is 08-1175, Florida v. Powell.


Court rules for defendants on crime lab reports

June 25, 2009

Associated Press via Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court says criminal defendants have a constitutional right to cross-examine the forensic analysts who prepare laboratory reports on illegal drugs and other evidence used at trial.

The court on Thursday ruled 5-4 for a defendant who was convicted of cocaine trafficking, partly because of crime lab analysis.

Luis Melendez-Diaz challenged lab analysis that confirmed cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car he was riding in. Rather than accept the report, Melendez-Diaz said he should be allowed to question the lab analyst about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and other issues.

Massachusetts courts rejected his arguments.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the high court, said Melendez-Diaz has a constitutional right to confront the lab analyst.

Court says strip search of child illegal

June 25, 2009
By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Writer 4 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a school’s strip search of an Arizona teenage girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.

The court ruled on Thursday that school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding, who lives in Safford, in rural eastern Arizona.

Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.

The high court, however, said the officials cannot be held liable in a lawsuit for the search. The justices also said the lower courts would have to determine whether the school district could be held liable.

A schoolmate had accused Redding, then an eighth-grade student, of giving her pills.

The school’s vice principal, Kerry Wilson, took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse’s office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found.

A federal magistrate dismissed a suit by Redding and her mother, April. An appeals panel agreed that the search didn’t violate her rights. But last July, a full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the search was “an invasion of constitutional rights” and that Wilson could be found personally liable.

The case is Safford Unified School District v. April Redding, 08-479.

Supreme court to decide case on school strip search

January 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether a public school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a strip search of her for ibuprofen.

The school argued in its appeal that the Constitution allowed a strip search of a student suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen in violation of its policy that prohibited medications on campus without permission.

School officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered the search in 2003 of Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade. Following an assistant principal’s orders, a school nurse had Redding remove her clothes, including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if she was hiding ibuprofen, a common painkiller.

School officials did not find ibuprofen, which is found in over-the-counter medications like Advil and Motrin. Higher doses require a prescription.

The strip search had been prompted by an unverified tip from another girl who had Redding‘s school planner and some ibuprofen pills. She claimed Redding had given her the pills.

Redding denied it and an initial search of her backpack and pockets did not turn up any ibuprofen. The assistant principal then ordered the strip search to be done in front of the nurse and his administrative assistant, both women.

Redding said she was embarrassed, scared and about to cry. She said she felt humiliated and violated by the strip search.

A federal appeals court ruled the school and school officials violated the U.S. Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment right that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

It said alleged ibuprofen possession was “an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one.” Instead of forcing Redding to disrobe, school officials could have kept her in the principal’s office until a parent arrived or could have sent her home.

The appeals court also ruled the assistant principal may be held liable for damages for the search.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the school argued that the ruling has alarmed administrators and teachers around the country.

The decision “places student safety and school order at risk by impairing the ability of school officials to effectively carry out their custodial responsibility,” it said.

Redding’s lawyers opposed the appeal.

“A school official simply cannot order a strip search any time a frightened student points an accusatory finger at another student,” they said.

If the school wins, strip searches could become as prevalent as “the common practice of students tattling on each other,” her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The case could he heard by the justices in April, with a decision likely by the end of June, a court spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)


Court sides with police officers in search case

January 28, 2009

The Associated Press, Wednesday January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police officers in Utah who searched a suspect’s home without a warrant cannot be sued for violating his constitutional rights.

In ruling unanimously for five officers attached to the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force, the court also abandoned a rigid, two-step test that it adopted in 2001 to guide judges in assessing alleged violations of constitutional rights.

Trial and appellate judges “should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion” in evaluating such claims, Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court.

Under the 2001 ruling, courts first had to determine whether an action amounts to a violation of a constitutional right and then decide whether the public official, often a police officer, should be immune from the civil lawsuit.

Officials can’t be held liable in situations where it is not clearly established that their actions violated someone’s constitutional rights.

The case grew out of a search of the home of Afton Callahan of Millard County, Utah, in 2002.

An informant contacted police to tell them he had arranged to purchase drugs from Callahan at Callahan’s trailer home.

Wearing a microphone provided by police, the informant entered the trailer and signaled police that a deal had been made. They entered the trailer without a warrant and arrested Callahan on charges of possession of methamphetamines.

Utah courts ruled that the evidence that was seized from Callahan’s home could not be used against him. Other courts have allowed prosecutions to go forward under similar circumstances.

Callahan later sued the officers for violating his constitutional rights. A federal judge ruled the officers could not be sued because there is disagreement in the courts over whether the search was illegal.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the lawsuit could proceed because the officers should have known that people have a right in their home to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The high court said Wednesday that the officers are entitled to immunity from Callahan’s suit.

The case is Pearson v. Callahan, 07-751.