Category Archives: Criminal Law

1st Circuit Rules on GPS and Warrants

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in United States v. Sparks, et al., contemplated the recent SCOTUS ruling in US v. Jones before ruling that evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless placement of a global positioning system device on a car could be admitted at trial.

Via RI Lawyers Weekly:

The defendants argued that, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in United States v. Jones, the federal agents’ use of the GPS tracker was a Fourth Amendment “search” that required a warrant.

The 1st Circuit, however, found the evidence admissible pursuant to the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule articulated by the Supreme Court in the 2011 case of Davis v. United States.

Davis’s good-faith exception is not a license for law enforcement to forge ahead with new investigative methods in the face of uncertainty as to their constitutionality,” Judge Norman H. Stahl wrote for the unanimous court. “The good-faith exception is, however, properly applied in cases like this one (or Davis itself), where new developments in the law have upended the settled rules on which the police relied.”

Courts, States remain Divided over Cell Phone Searches

The New York Times today reviewed the state of the law regarding the legality of law enforcement searches of cell phones without warrants today.

Judges and lawmakers across the country are wrangling over whether and when law enforcement authorities can peer into suspects’ cellphones, and the cornucopia of evidence they provide.

(…)“The courts are all over the place,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a criminal lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. “They can’t even agree if there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages that would trigger Fourth Amendment protection.”

The issue will attract attention on Thursday when a Senate committee considers limited changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that regulates how the government can monitor digital communications. Courts have used it to permit warrantless surveillance of certain kinds of cellphone data.  A proposed amendment would require the police to obtain a warrant to search e-mail, no matter how old it was, updating a provision that currently allows warrantless searches of e-mails more than 180 days old.

Recently, in Rhode Island, in the case of State v. Patino, C.A. No. 10-1155, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Judith C. Savage ruled that Michael Patino, a man accused of the 2009 killing of his girlfriend’s 6-year-old son, (1) had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his text messages and (2) that evidence from his cell phone was collected illegally, before police obtained search warrants.

The Court also ruled that because of the illegal search, almost all the evidence obtained by police – including the text messages, all cell phones and their contents, all cell phone records, and critical portions of the Defendant‘s videotaped statement and his written statement given to the police – was tainted and could not be used at trial.

“Cell phones have replaced telephones. People send and receive billions of text messages to and from their cell phones daily. Text messaging, especially among young adults, has become an oft-employed substitute for face-to-face conversations, cell phone conversations, or email. Accordingly, this court finds that it is objectively reasonable for people to expect the contents of their electronic text messages to remain private.

Read the full opinion here.

SCOTUS to determine whether Insanity Defense is a Constitutional Right

The Washington Post has an interesting article about an Idaho shooter who wants to claim an insanity defense in a state – Idaho – that is 1 of 4 states that does not recognize the defense.  Now, he is appealing to the SCOTUS and asking for his right to make an insanity defense be deemed a constitutional right:

Delling’s lawyers are now at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to rule that the Constitution mandates that such a defense be available for those who, because of mental illness, are not responsible for the mayhem they create.

“For centuries, the moral integrity of the criminal law has depended, in part, on the insanity defense,” Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher wrote in a petition on Delling’s behalf.

Punishment is traditionally justified on the basis of an individual consciously choosing evil over good, Fisher wrote. “Laws such as Idaho’s abandon that basic tenet,” he said.

Fisher contends that Idaho’s law violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

All states and the federal government once allowed the insanity defense. But that changed with the public outrage over John W. Hinckley Jr.’s acquittal for reasons of insanity in his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.


Rhode Island Supreme Court Vacates Conviction of Juan Diaz

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island has vacated the second degree murder conviction of Juan Diaz in the death of his wife Mayra Cruz in the case of State of Rhode Island v. Juan Diaz.

The defendant, Juan Diaz, appeals from a judgment of conviction on one count of second-degree murder and one count of using a firearm while committing a crime of violence. On appeal, the defendant first contends that the trial justice erred in failing to grant his motion for a judgment of acquittal on the second-degree murder charge; the basis for that contention is the defendant‟s subordinate assertion that the state failed to provide legally sufficient evidence for a jury to find that he acted with malice in connection with the death of the victim. The defendant additionally contends on appeal that the trial justice erred in omitting the phrase “criminal negligence” from his instruction to the jury concerning involuntary manslaughter and instead used “confusing language,” which made it difficult for the jury to distinguish the crime of involuntary manslaughter from the crime of murder in the second degree.

For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm in part and reverse in part and vacate the judgment of conviction.


We hold that, in light of the facts of the instant case, the trial justice, in instructing the jury concerning involuntary manslaughter, committed reversible error in failing to include an adequate reference to the concept of criminal negligence….

Read the full opinion here.

Jay-Z, 99 Problems, the 4th Amendment and your Locked Trunk

Professor Caleb Mason of Southwestern Law School, in a Saint Louis University Law Journal article, “JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS,” analyzes the legal issues in Jay-Z’s hip-hop hit, 99 Problems.

99 Problems is a song by Jay-Z. It’s a good song. It was a big hit in 2004. I’m writing about it now because it’s time we added it to the canon of criminal procedure pedagogy. In one compact, teachable verse (Verse 2), the song forces us to think about traffic stops, vehicle searches, drug smuggling, probable cause, and racial profiling, and it beautifully tees up my favorite pedagogical heuristic: life lessons for cops and robbers. And as it turns out, I’m not late to the game after all: Jay-Z recently published a well-received volume of criticism and commentary that includes his own marginal notes on Verse 2 of 99 Problems.

When I teach the Fourth Amendment, I ask my students what the doctrines tell us about, on the one hand, how to catch bad guys and not risk suppression, and on the other, how to avoid capture or at least beat the rap if not the ride. I’m always happy to tell my own stories, but the song struck me as the perfect teaching tool. All the students know it, and importantly for pedagogical purposes, it gets some things right—and some things very wrong.

It turns out that, while some other law professors have noticed 99 Problems, no one has yet provided a detailed, accurate analysis of the Fourth Amendment issues Verse 2 raises. In this Essay, I remedy that deficiency in the literature. This is, after all, one of the most popular songs of the last decade, and we should seize the opportunity to use it in our teaching. My audience, accordingly, is primarily teachers and students of criminal procedure, but I hope that my comments may be of some interest to cops and perps as well.

Read the full article here.