Police Radars Can “See” into Homes

USA Today reports that new police radars can be used to, in effect, “see” through walls and into a person’s home by using radio waves to reveal human motion within a home. According to the story,

“At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance. . . .

They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.”

The law enforcement agencies have reportedly been using this technology for the past two years, without notice to the public or courts:

“Agents’ use of the radars was largely unknown until December, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole. The judges expressed alarm that agents had used the new technology without a search warrant, warning that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.””

An infographic by USA Today demonstrates how the radar works:

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However, other versions of the radar reportedly have significantly more enhanced capabilities, such as “three-dimensional displays of where people are located inside a building” and “[o]ne is capable of being mounted on a drone.” This type of radar technology was initially designed as battlefield technology for use in Iran and Afghanistan. In fact, the Justice Department has reportedly funded research to continue the development of systems that can “map the interiors of buildings and locate the people within them.”

This technology, which is not now new in light of recent reports, poses significant Constitutional issues. Police are not permitted to scan the inside of a home with a thermal camera without a warrant, and drug dog sniffs of the outside of homes have been limited by the Supreme Court. While it would seem that these radars would(or should) fall under the same Constitutional analysis, it appears that the Denver federal appeals court’s decision published last month (referenced above) was the first court decision referencing the radar technology or its Constitutional implications.

The full USA Today story can be found HERE.

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Family law.

Supreme Court: Cops don’t have to know the law

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion that basically confirms police officers do not have to know the law. Yes, you read that right.

In HEIEN v. NORTH CAROLINA, the driver was pulled over in North Carolina for having a busted tail light. The officer “mistakenly” believed that the law requires two working brake lights. However, in North Carolina, the law does NOT require a driver to have two working brake lights. After the officer pulled the vehicle over (even though there was NO traffic infraction to give the officer the authority to stop the car), he noticed that the driver and passenger seemed “very stiff and nervous” (as if that were bizarre behavior for a person who is being stopped by the police for no reason?). The officer then asked the driver and passenger (Heien) for permission to search the vehicle, which ultimately revealed a sandwich bag filled with cocaine.

The US Supreme Court ruled that because the officer’s mistake of law was reasonable, there was “reasonable suspicion” justifying the stop under the Fourth Amendment.

In justifying the decision, Chief Justice Roberts cited what he claims to be “precedent” finding that a reasonable mistake of fact, such as an officer who stops a motorist for driving in a high-occupancy lane only to discover two children sleeping in the back seat, can justify a search or seizure and not violate the Fourth Amendment. Roberts then goes on to conclude that a “mistake of law” is as justifiable as a “mistake of fact,” and that there was essentially no violation of anyone’s rights in either scenario.

How can that be? And what is next? It seems that this decision is setting terrible precedent that will allow officers to do whatever they want and claim later that they “didn’t know they couldn’t do that.” Arrest first, ask questions later? Forget about the far-reaching effects; let’s talk about the immediate issue: if a traffic cop’s daily job function is to stop drivers for traffic offenses (such as speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, etc.), shouldn’t the traffic cop be required to actually know the laws entailed? Or are we now just handing out patrol cars and badges to everyone and waiting to see what happens?

A local law student, Ana Roditi, hit the nail on the head when interviewed about the case when she stated “It’s crazy to think that ignorance of the law is no excuse, unless you’re a cop – then it’s a reasonable excuse!”

Defendants cannot claim ignorance of the law as a defense to a criminal charge. But apparently, police officers can use it as an excuse to arrest anyone they feel like.

It’s an unfortunate day for civilian rights – instead of holding law enforcement to a higher standard of actually knowing the laws they are trying to enforce, the Supreme Court is now putting the burden on civilians.

The full opinion can be found here.

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Family law.

Invoking Rights During Questioning

An interesting case from the 1st DCA was published this week and it provides a good discussion relative to my recent blog “Miranda Warnings – Infographic,” 

In the case of State of Florida v. Parker, the 1st DCA revisited the important issue of constitutional rights during an interrogation of a suspect. In that case, the suspect was being questioned by police in connection with a burglary with battery charge (in addition to other charges). Burglary-battery, or “burg-batt,” is a first degree felony in the State of Florida, punishable by up to life in prison, and found under Florida Statute 810.02.

During the questioning, the following questions and answers (at issue) allegedly took place:

Suspect: “Can you just tell me if I need to get a lawyer or something?”

Officer: “Listen, that’s your right. But what I’m interested in is the truth.”

At this point, the suspect allegedly made incriminating statements. 

 

Suspect “Is there a lawyer in the building?”

Officer: “No, you would have to call one.”

The suspect was ultimately placed under arrest. During his case, the suspect (now defendant) filed a motion to suppress his incriminating statements, arguing that the police officer had violated his constitutional rights by not giving him a straightforward answer. The law regarding this issue requires police officers to stop the interview when a suspect asks a question concerning his or her rights, and make a good-faith effort to give a simple and straightforward answer. Once the officer answers the question, appropriately, the officer can continue the interview unless the suspect invokes his her her rights (such as his or her right to remain silent and right to counsel). However, Florida courts have held that when an officer gives an evasive answer, skips the question, or talks over the suspect, the officer has violated Florida’s Constitution and the US Constitution, and any incriminating statements obtained as a result of the constitutional violations may be suppressed as coerced.

 

In this case, the Court found that the officer had in fact made a good-faith effort to appropriately answer the suspects questions regarding his rights. As a result, the incriminating statements the suspect made about himself were admissible in trial.

Interestingly, the Court also mentioned in its ruling that the suspect’s question about “whether there was a lawyer in the building” was not an unequivocal invocation of his right to an attorney. That is an example of why it is extremely important for anyone being questioned by police to know his or her rights so that he or she can properly invoke them if he/she chooses to do so. Many people do not know their rights or the steps they have to take to invoke them. An unclear question regarding a suspect’s rights will not be sufficient to invoke them. A person who wants to stop the interrogation to speak with a lawyer has to clearly make the request. Anyone who has questions regarding their rights during a police interrogation should contact a criminal defense attorney.

 

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.

 

Consensual Encounter – Consent to Search

An interesting case recently came out in the 2nd DCA regarding consensual encounters with police officers.

In the case, a police officer initiated a consensual encounter (or, an encounter with a person who is free to leave at any point) with an 18 year old high-schooler. The officer asked the student for his identification, which the student handed to the officer. The officer placed the student’s ID card and wallet on the hood of his patrol car. The officer then asked if the student would consent to a search as an “officer safety” method to ensure the student had no weapons, which the student permitted. The officer ultimately found four hydrocodone pills in the student’s pocket, for which the student had no prescription. the student was placed under arrest for possession of hydrocodone, a felony in the State of Florida.

The student filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence (the hydrocodone pills) found by the officer, arguing that the pills were found during an unlawful search. The student argued that the encounter with the police officer transformed from a “consensual encounter,” where he was free to leave, into an illegal detention, where he was no longer free to leave, when the officer placed the student’s ID and wallet on the hood of his patrol car. The motion to suppress was denied.

In denying the motion to suppress the evidence, the court reiterated the rule of law that police officers are not required to tell people that they are free to leave during a consensual encounter. However, the 2nd DCA reversed the ruling, and held that the evidence should have been suppressed because the student was clearly being detained and not free to leave when the officer held onto his ID and wallet. Therefore, when the student allegedly consented to the search, the student’s consent was not voluntary – he felt compelled to comply with the officer’s requests as a result of the improper detention. As a result, the evidence obtained as a result of the subsequent search was found to be unlawful. The 2nd DCA ruled that the student’s case should be dismissed.

Cases where law enforcement officers conduct searches are often wrought with Constitutional issues. This case (Lane v. State of Florida) is a perfect example. However, it is important to remember that just because evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful search may be suppressed, the case will not always necessarily be thrown out all together as a result. The outcome of each case will depend on the specific facts of that case.

Anyone who has been arrested as a result of a search by a police officer should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss the particular facts of the case and review any potential constitutional violations.

 

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.

Constitutionality of Solicitation Fines in Florida

A county court in Florida recently certified an important issue to the Second District Court of Appeal regarding excessive fines as a punishment for solicitation of prostitution.

In the case, the defendant was charged by Information with Solicitation of Prostitution, under Florida Statute 796.07(2). Solicitation for Prostitution is a second degree misdemeanor in the State of Florida, and second degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to 60 days in county jail, and a fine of up to $500, except where a specific statute allows for a higher fine. In the case of solicitation for prostitution, as of January 1, 2013, the fine is mandated by statute to be $5,000 instead of $500 for a first offense. The Defendant filed a “Motion to Find Statute Unconstitutional,” arguing that the fine was grossly disproportion to the offense, and therefore excessive under (1) the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” and (2) under Article I, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution, which provides that: “Excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, attainder, forfeiture of estate, indefinite imprisonment, and unreasonable detention of witnesses are forbidden.”

The court initially reserved jurisdiction on deciding the defendant’s motion. The defendant then entered a plea of nolo contendere (or “no contest”) and was sentenced to, among other things, six months of probation, twenty-five hours of community service, and a $5,000 fine. After sentencing the defendant, the court ruled on the defendant’s “Motion to Find Statute Unconstitutional.”

The court ultimately agreed with the defendant, granted the defendant’s motion, and struck the $5,000 fine, finding that a fine may be considered unconstitutional if it is so unreasonably excessive that it shocks the conscience of a reasonable person. The court then certified the question to the Second District Court of Appeal as a matter of great public importance, asking the Appellate Court to decide if a $5,000 fine for a first violation of solicitation of prostitution is unconstitutionally excessive. It will be interesting to see if and how the 2nd DCA rules on this question.

 

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.