Supreme Court cases: 1992-1993 term.
Other Court decisions in this term overruled a troublesome 1990 Supreme Court double jeopardy decision, loosened the standards for the admissibility of scientific evidence, and held that the eighth amendment's Excessive Fines Clause must be considered in forfeiture actions. The Court also ruled on a case involving a large-scale forfeiture of a pornographer's business assets and decided the legality of bias-motivated penalty enhancement provisions.
Minnesota v. Dickerson, 113 S.Ct. 2130 (1993)
In Dickerson, the Court ruled on the constitutionality of a law enforcement officer's seizure of contraband from a detained suspect who was patted down for weapons. The Court determined that probable cause to seize contraband may be developed through an officer's sense of touch during a lawful pat-down search for weapons.
In the case, police saw the defendant leave a building considered to be a notorious "crack house" and take evasive action upon spotting the police. Officers then stopped and frisked the defendant based on reasonable suspicion that he was carrying drugs and was armed and dangerous.
The officer conducting the pat-down search felt a small lump in the defendant's front pocket and examined it with his fingers by squeezing, sliding, and manipulating it. The officer thought it was a lump of crack cocaine in cellophane and reached into the defendant's pocket to retrieve the package, which turned out to be crack.
The Supreme Court ruled that an officer can develop probable cause for seizing contraband based on the officer's tactile sense. The Court compared the sense of touch to sight by noting that the plain view seizure doctrine allows a seizure when an officer, lawfully present in a location, sees an object reasonably believed to be evidence of a crime. The Court reasoned, by analogy, that when an officer conducting a lawful pat-down search feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity as contraband immediately apparent, the officer may seize that object if probable cause that the object is contraband exists. However, the Court found the seizure in this particular case illegal because the officer's pat-down search of the defendant went beyond the scope of a lawful search authorized by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Court stated that a Terry pat-down search is limited to a frisk for weapons, and in this case, the officer's continued exploration of the defendant's pocket by squeezing, sliding, and manipulating the lump after having concluded the pocket contained no weapon was unrelated to the purpose for a Terry frisk, and therefore, was illegal. Dickerson is an important case for law enforcement officers because it clarifies that an officer can establish probable cause by the sense of touch during a Terry frisk. Although the seizure was held invalid in this case, officers conducting lawful pat-down searches may, through training, experience, and other surrounding circumstances, establish probable cause that a detainee is carrying contraband, such as drugs.
United States v. Padilla, 113 S.Ct. 1936 (1993)
In Padilla, the Supreme Court examined the question of a criminal defendant's right to challenge a violation of the fourth amendment when the defendant is involved in a conspiracy. The Court held that a defendant charged as a conspirator in a drug smuggling operation does not have standing to challenge an illegal search of a vehicle used to transport drugs based solely on the defendant's supervisory or oversight role in the drug smuggling operation.
In the case, police stopped a suspicious car because it was going too slow. After checking the driver's license and believing that the driver fit a drug courier profile, officers asked for and received consent to search the car. They subsequently found 560 pounds of cocaine in the trunk. The driver then agreed to cooperate with the police by making a controlled delivery of the cocaine to other defendants in the case.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a motion to suppress the cocaine. The 9th Circuit concluded that the vehicle stop was illegal and that defendants in supervisory roles in the drug conspiracy had the right to challenge the fruits of the illegal vehicle stop based on their supervisory roles. The Supreme Court reversed and held that conspirators do not have standing to challenge illegally seized evidence based solely on their participation in an operation and/or supervision of the place searched.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that defendants can only suppress evidence obtained in violation of the fourth amendment, if they demonstrate that their fourth amendment rights were violated. The Court concluded that expectations of privacy and property interests govern whether a defendant may challenge an illegal search or seizure and that the existence of a conspiracy neither adds to nor detracts from such expectations or interests.
The Padilla decision is helpful to law enforcement because it reaffirms that only defendants with a reasonable expectation of privacy or property interest in the item or area searched have standing to challenge the legality of the search in a criminal prosecution.
Soldal v. Cook County, Illinois, 113 S.Ct. 538 (1992)
In Soldal, the Court examined the liability of a law enforcement officer for a fourth amendment violation when the officer becomes involved in enforcing a property action between private parties. The Court determined that a law enforcement officer who assists in an unlawful eviction may be held liable for an illegal seizure under the fourth amendment.
The plaintiffs in this civil suit were the subject of eviction proceedings filed by the owners of a trailer park. Two weeks before a scheduled court hearing on the eviction, and contrary to Illinois law, the trailer park owners chose to forcibly evict the plaintiffs and contacted the sheriff's department to request the assistance of deputy sheriffs.
When the trailer park owners began to wrench the sewer and water connections off the side of plaintiffs' trailer, one of the plaintiffs told the deputy sheriffs that he wanted to file a complaint for criminal trespass. After consulting with the trailer park owners and a district attorney, a deputy told the plaintiff that he would not accept a complaint because this was a landlord-tenant matter, and they were going to go ahead and continue to move out the trailer. Throughout this period, the deputy sheriffs allegedly knew that the trailer park owners did not have an eviction order and that their actions were unlawful. After a State judge ruled that the eviction had been unauthorized, the plaintiffs filed this civil suit, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the deputies and trailer park owners had violated their fourth amendment and due process rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the plaintiffs had no cause of action against the deputies because there was no seizure as contemplated by the fourth amendment and no deprivation of due process. The Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit and held that the actions of the trailer park owners and the deputies constituted a seizure within the meaning of the fourth amendment.
The Court stated that a seizure of property under the fourth amendment occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interest in that property. The Court disagreed with the Seventh Circuit that a seizure only occurs when a citizen's liberty or privacy interests are affected and ruled that even though the deputies did not intrude into any privacy interests or deprive plaintiffs of their liberty, the action of carrying away the mobile home was a seizure of plaintiffs' property under the fourth amendment.
The Court suggested that the deputies should have awaited a proper State judgment before assisting in the eviction. In that regard, Soldal is a significant case for law enforcement officers who assist or participate in eviction proceedings, repossessions, or other civil property disputes. Officers involved in such activity should be aware that because their actions may be judged under the reasonableness standard of the fourth amendment, they should ensure that any civil proceedings supporting their actions are proper and lawful.
Withrow v. Williams, 113 S.Ct. 1745 (1993)
In Withrow, the Supreme Court distinguished Miranda violations from fourth amendment violations, with respect to habeas corpus proceedings. The Court held that criminal defendants can continue to raise Miranda violations in habeas corpus proceedings, even though the Court previously restricted habeas corpus petitions that raised fourth amendment issues.
In this case, police contacted the defendant at his home, seeking information about a double murder. After agreeing to go to the police station for questioning, the defendant was searched and then driven to the station in a police car. The officers did not give the defendant Miranda warnings before they obtained a confession, even though a police report indicated that the defendant was arrested at his home.
The defendant's motion to suppress his confession was denied by the State trial court, and he was convicted of murder. After State appellate courts upheld the trial court's ruling, the defendant petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court, which ruled that the defendant's confession was taken in violation of Miranda because he was in custody when interrogated. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case to examine whether a Miranda violation may be raised in a habeas corpus proceeding. The Court concluded that even though Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976), disallowed habeas review of fourth amendment violations, Stone did not preclude such review for Miranda violations. The Court noted that the fourth amendment exclusionary rule is not a personal constitutional right and does not enhance the reliability of the criminal trial. On the contrary, Miranda safeguards a fundamental trial right and serves to guard against the use of unreliable statements at trial. The Court suggested the Withrow decision should not be burdensome to law enforcement because the number of habeas corpus petitions alleging Miranda violations will be small. The Court noted: "We must remember in this regard that Miranda came down some 27 years ago. In that time, law enforcement has grown in constitutional as well as technological sophistication, and there is little reason to believe that police today are unable, or even generally unwilling, to satisfy Miranda's requirements."
United States v. Dixon, 113 S.Ct. 2849 (1993)
In Dixon, the Supreme Court reviewed the effect of the fifth amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause on two criminal prosecutions for conduct, which had already been the subject of contempt proceedings. The Court barred criminal prosecution in one case and allowed it in the other. More significantly, however, the Court overruled its decision in Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 (1990), which had caused significant confusion in the courts.
In the first case, the defendant was released on bond after being arrested on second-degree murder charges and was then subsequently arrested for possession of cocaine. After being held in criminal contempt for violating the terms of his pretrial release, the defendant was sentenced to 180 days in jail. The lower courts held that double jeopardy barred the drug prosecution, because the defendant had already been held in criminal contempt based on the same conduct. In the second case, the defendant was the subject of a civil protection order requiring that he not molest, assault, or threaten his estranged wife. He was eventually held in criminal contempt and sentenced to 600 days' imprisonment for violating the protection order. After he was indicted for the threats and assaults that led to his contempt order, an appellate court held that double jeopardy barred prosecution.
In reviewing these two double jeopardy cases, the Supreme Court noted the existence of two tests for determining whether a second prosecution violates double jeopardy. The first test from Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), focuses on whether the "same elements of the offense are involved in both prosecutions." The second test, established in Grady, requires courts to determine if the "same conduct" is involved in both prosecutions. The Court determined that the Grady case was wrongly decided and overruled it.
Focusing exclusively on the Blockburger test, the Court determined that because the defendant's drug indictment did not include any element not contained in his previous contempt proceeding, the drug prosecution was prohibited by double jeopardy. However, in the assault case, the Court found that while one simple assault count in the defendant's indictment violated double jeopardy, the remaining counts for assault with intent to kill and threats to injure or kidnap were not barred by double jeopardy because the criminal contempt prosecution was based solely on simple assault.
Dixon represents an important case for law enforcement for two reasons. First, it overrules the Grady decision, in which the government was prohibited from prosecuting a drunk driver for manslaughter because he had pled guilty to two related traffic offenses before the manslaughter prosecution. Second, Dixon reminds law enforcement of the potentially adverse consequences of criminal contempt proceedings for conduct that the Government may later want to prosecute criminally.
Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceutical, Inc., 113 S.Ct. 2786 (1993)
In Daubert, the Supreme Court reviewed the standard for the admission of scientific evidence and held that the "general acceptance in the relevant scientific community" standard has been superseded by the Federal Rules of Evidence. This ruling will arguably make it easier for scientific evidence, such as DNA, to be used at criminal trials.
This case arose out of a civil suit by two children who alleged their birth defects were caused by a drug produced by the defendant. Each side in the suit submitted affidavits from experts on the potential effects of the drug. Using a standard established in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), the lower courts ruled that the opinions of the plaintiffs' experts were not based on scientific evidence generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. The Supreme Court reversed and held that only the Federal Rules of Evidence should be used to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence. In that regard, Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is admissible if it will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence. The Court cautioned that scientific evidence can still be excluded under other rules in the Federal Rules of Evidence if that evidence is confusing or misleading, even though based on scientific methods.
The Daubert case appears to lower the threshold for admissibility of scientific evidence. As a result, forensic evidence developed by such emerging technologies as DNA will likely face a less rigid standard for admissibility at criminal trials.
Austin v. United States, 113 S.Ct. 2801 (1993)
In Austin, the Supreme Court determined that forfeitures of property must be analyzed in light of the Excessive Fines Clause of the eighth amendment. In the case, the defendant pled guilty to State cocaine charges, and thereafter, the Government brought a civil forfeiture action under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(4) and (a)(7) against the defendant's auto body shop and mobile home, which he had used to sell and store small quantities of cocaine.
The Supreme Court ruled that forfeiture proceedings against property are monetary punishments, and as such, are subject to the limitations of the eighth amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. The Court reasoned that this clause is concerned with punishment and not with whether the punishment arises in a civil or criminal proceeding brought by the Government. Reviewing the historical roots of forfeiture and modern forfeiture practice, the Court determined that forfeiture generally has a punitive purpose, and thus, is governed by the eighth amendment.
The Austin case may have a detrimental impact on law enforcement's efforts to use forfeiture as a means to discourage criminal acts. Now, courts will be required to consider whether a particular forfeiture violates the eighth amendment's prohibition against excessive fines.
Alexander v. United States, 113 S.Ct. 2766 (1993)
In Alexander, the Supreme Court evaluated free speech rights in an obscenity case in light of Federal forfeiture laws under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The Court held there is no first amendment violation in the forfeiture of books, magazines, and videotapes, as well as other assets, that are part of a RICO enterprise.
The defendant was in the "adult entertainment" business and was charged in a 41-count indictment alleging the operation of a racketeering enterprise in violation of RICO. As a basis for the obscenity and RICO convictions, the jury determined that four magazines and three videotapes were obscene. The defendant was sentenced to 6 years' imprisonment and a $100,000 fine. In addition, under 18 U.S.C. 1963(a)(2), which allows the forfeiture of real estate, assets, and proceeds of a racketeering enterprise, the court ordered the forfeiture of defendant's businesses and almost $9 million acquired through racketeering activity.
The Supreme Court held this large-scale forfeiture was not in violation of the first amendment because the defendant's assets, including his books, magazines, and videotapes, were forfeited as a result of their connection to the racketeering enterprise, not because of their expressive content. The Court noted also that the forfeiture occurred after a criminal trial in which the assets' connection to the racketeering enterprise were established beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Alexander case constitutes a victory for prosecution efforts to shut down illegal adult entertainment businesses because the scope of possible forfeiture after a RICO obscenity conviction is significant.
Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 113 S.Ct. 2194 (1993)
In Mitchell, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of State statutes that enhance the punishment for crimes motivated by hatred or bias based on race, religion, gender, etc. The Court upheld a Wisconsin statute that enhanced criminal penalties for certain crimes in which the victim was selected because of race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin. In the case, a group of black men, including the defendant, were discussing a scene from the movie "Mississippi Burning," and the defendant asked the group if they felt "hyped up" to "move on" some white people. Shortly thereafter, a young white boy walked by and was attacked by the group. The victim was rendered unconscious and remained in a coma for 4 days. The defendant was convicted of aggravated battery for his role in the assault.
Because of the Wisconsin penalty enhancement statute, the defendant's maximum sentence was increased from 2 to 7 years, and he received 4 years' imprisonment. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the defendant's conviction, holding that the penalty-enhancement provision violated the first amendment. The Supreme Court reversed and upheld the Wisconsin penalty-enhancement scheme because it addressed conduct unprotected by the first amendment. The Court stated that courts have always been allowed to consider a wide variety of factors in determining a sentence and that racial or other bias may also be considered when relevant to the crime. The Court distinguished its earlier decision in R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 112 S.Ct. 2538 (1992), which struck down an ordinance explicitly directed at such expressions as bias-motivated speech or messages, and noted the statute in this case was aimed at conduct unprotected by the first amendment.
Mitchell is an important decision for legislators who want to enact legislation that more severely punishes bias-motivated conduct. So long as a bias-motivated sentence enhancement is tied to criminal conduct unprotected by the first amendment, State legislators can enact statutes increasing the punishments for bias-motivated crimes.