Articles Posted in Constitution – Bill of Rights

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The Eleventh Circuit rejected Austin Gates’ federal civil rights claim against three City of Atlanta Police officers for arresting him without probable cause during a protest in downtown Atlanta. Gates claimed the arrest was in violation of the Fourth and First Amendments of the Constitution as well as various Georgia state court laws. Gates participated in a march protesting a grand jury’s decision not to file charges in the Ferguson, Missouri police-shooting. During the protest he was given a “V for Vendetta” mask by another protester. The mask was a stylized image of the Guy Fawkes character from the movie “V for Vendetta” and designed to cover the entire face. He and other protesters wore the same masks to express his disagreement with the grand jury’s decision and to maintain anonymity during the protest. At some point during the protest Defendant police chief Whitmire ordered the protesters to remove their masks multiple times over a loudspeaker and warned that any mask-wearing protesters would be arrested. After the warning, Whitmore issued orders to arrest any protesters wearing masks and the plaintiff was arrested. When asked why he was being arrested, the defendant officer did not immediately respond and after conferring with other officers, he was told the arrest was for wearing a mask. Gates followed with this complaint against the City and the officers pursuant to section 1983.

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This is an appeal by the estate of Shaw who was killed by a Selma Alabama police officer after the district courted granted a summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Shaw’s estate filed a lawsuit against the City of Selma, the police chief and the police officer for excessive force and false arrest under 1983 as well as several state law tort claims. Because the court found that Shaw posed there a threat of physical harm at the time he was shot, the appellate court upheld the dismissal.

Here is how the facts unfolded. The Selma Police received an emergency call from a Church’s Chicken restaurant about an incident involving a 74-year-old mentally disturbed man who attempted to enter the restaurant but was turned away because he had apparently there a few days earlier armed with a knife. When officers arrived, he was spotted at a nearby laundromat and the events were recorded on the officer’s body camera. There Shaw picked up an axe. The officer drew his weapon and ordered him to put down the axe. As Shaw left premises and walked toward the Church’s restaurant the officers followed him. At one point Shaw turned toward the officer shouting at the officer to “Shoot it”. When Shaw was less than five feet away moving toward him with axe in hand and still yelling at the officer to shoot it, the officer fired at Shaw and killed him.

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In this appeal Plaintiff Raymond Berthiaume sued Lieutenant David Smith of the Key West Police Department and the City of Key West. In his lawsuit he claimed he was falsely arrested, and claimed he was the victim of excessive force, false imprisonment, battery, and malicious prosecution at the hands of the officer who arrested him during an incident that took place during the Fantasy Fest Parade events in Key West.

The facts stem from an altercation between two gay men who formerly had been partners. Both men attended the Fantasy Fest parade with friends after which they went to a gay bar. Berthiaume was not ready to leave the bar when Jimenez was, so Jimenez waited by his car for a short time but returned to the bar to find Jimenez still there. Berthiaume led Jimenez out of the bar with his hand on Jimenez’s upper arm. Jimenez took the car keys from Berthiaume and ran down an adjacent alleyway. Berthiaume chased after Jimenez to retrieve his keys. Several police officer patrolling the activities observed the activities between the men and believed that they were witnessing a fight or altercation between the two men. Officer Smith ran toward the alley to intervene and he pushed Berthiaume on the shoulder to stop him from pursuing Jimenez causing him to fall and damage his wrist and jaw. Jimenez explained they were former partners and were trying to get back to together. Despite Jimenez’s unwillingness to press charges against Bethiaume, Smith arrested him and charged him with domestic battery.

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In Knight v. Miami Dade two Miami Dade Police officers discharged their firearms at the SUV Cadillac driven by the plaintiffs killing both plaintiffs.  The estate filed a complain against the officers and the Miami Dade police department for various civil rights violations and claim arising under Florida state law and this is an appeal form lower court rulings against the Plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were driving in the Cadillac after leaving a Miami night club. A police care began to follow them when they allegedly ran a red light. The plaintiffs denied running any red lights. The officers attempted to make a traffic stop using their PA system, but the care kept driving. When the Cadillac came to a stop at a dead end. The plaintiff’s witness who was a passenger said in a deposition that the car was not moving, decedent’s hand was on his side, and shots were fired into the car. However, in a statement made just after the incident the witness said that Plaintiff started backing up toward the officers and they began firing into the moving vehicle. As the care reversed it collided into the police car.

The case ultimately went to trial on the 1983 civil rights claim and the assault and battery claims against the officers

In the appeal the plaintiffs argue that there were six errors that entitle them to a new trial. The issues raised include the admission of evidence from the defendant’s police practice expert, the exclusion of the plaintiff’s ballistics and reconstruction experts, the exclusion of evidence showing violations of the Police Department’s pursuit policy, the refusal to give a specific jury instruction, the admission of some criminal history evidence, and the failure to address the prejudicial nature of the defendant’s opening and closing statements.

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In this civil rights lawsuit involving an officer shooting, the plaintiff, Evett Stephens, claimed a constitutional violation as a result of the excessive force used against him by Palm Beach Sheriff deputy Adams Lins as an individual and against Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in his official capacity as the sheriff of Palm Beach County. This is how the facts unfolded. Deputy Lin was on police duty monitoring traffic during school bus pickups observed Stephens riding his bike on the wrong side of the road. Deputy Lin decided to stop Stephens for some reason. Stephens claimed he was holding a cell phone to his ear while riding his bike prior to the stop. Lin says he never saw the cellphone. Upon hearing the sirens of Lin’s patrol car Stephens dismounted from is bike. Lin instructed Stephens to walk toward him while showing his hands. According to Lin, Stephens turned away from Lin as he began to approach Stephens. As soon as Stephens turned away, Lin shot Stephens four times leaving him a paraplegic.

The district court granted a summary judgment in favor of Sheriff Bradshaw as to the Monell claim against him following a length hearing. At trial, the jury returned a verdict against Lin for the 1983 excessive force claim and against Sheriff Bradshaw for the state court battery claim.

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Defendants Blake and Moore were convicted of child sex trafficking two underaged girls. The case arose when FBI investigations discovered that ads for prostitution services were posted on the classified website Backpage. Moore would take phone calls from potential customers who were responding to the ads and Blake would drive the girls to their appointments and provide muscle. The money was split 50/50 between the prostitute and the Blake and Moore. The FBI learned that Backpage ads had been posted using email address which the FBI learned had belonged to Moore.

In the course of the investigation the FBI executed a seize and search warrant electronics in Blake and Moore’s townhouse however the FBI could not access the Apple Ipad tablet seized due to its security features. The FBI requested and received a district court order issued under the All Writs Act 28 U.S.C 1651(a) (the Bypass Order) requiring Apple Incl to assist the FBI in bypassing the iPad’s passcode lock and other security features.   The FBI also obtained a search warrant directing Microsoft which own \s Hotmails to turn over emails from Blake and Moore’s email accounts, specifying emails linked to the sex trafficking charges. Finally, the FBI applied for and received search warrants for Moore’s Facebook account requiring disclosure of every type of data that could be found on Facebook account including every private instant messaging.

The defendant’s appeal challenged the Bypass Order on the grounds that the order exceeded the authority granted by the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. sec. 1651(a). Though the court of appeals did not rule on whether they had standing to challenge the writ against Apple, the court found that the defendant’s challenge of the Bypass Order failed because it was necessary or appropriate to carry out the search warrant issued, the assistance sought was no specifically addressed by another statute, the bypass order was no inconsistent with Congress’ intent, Apple was not too far removed from the underlying controversy, and the burden the order imposed on Apple was not unreasonable.

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Sami Osmakac was convicted and sentenced to 42 years in prison following a 10-day trial for attempting to carry out a terrorist plot in Tampa, Florida, and for possessing a firearm not registered to him. After the F.B.I. received a tip from a confidential informant a store owner selling trinkets and food items from the Middle East, reported that Osmakac asked about purchasing black flags referring to flags used by a variety of Islamist political movements, the store owner became a confidential source of information after gave Osmakac a job in his store. The F.B.I. began recording numerous conversations in which Osmakac discussed his plans to commit a several violent terrorist attacks in the Tampa area. Osmakac also made attempts to obtain guns from various individuals. Osmakac was charged in a two count indictment with committing one count of knowingly attempting to use weapons of mass destruction, specifically explosives grenades and similar devices in violation of 18 USC 2332 and with possessing a firearm not register to him ,specifically a AK-47 machine gun in violation of 26 USC 5861(d).

Prior to trial, the government informed Osmakac it planned to offer evidence of information obtained from electronic surveillance conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the time that Osmakac was being observed. Osmakac filed a motion asking the trial court to order the government to disclose certain FISA materials including the underlying search warrant applications and orders issued by the FISA Court. The district court reviewed the requested materials, in camera and ex parte, and determined that there was no valid or legal reason for disclosing any of the FIA materials. Osmakac challenged the district court’s decision denying him access to the FISA applications and supporting documents and the FISA Court’s order authorizing the surveillance of Osmakac, who was a U.S. citizen. Osmakac argued that he wanted to review the applications and orders to determine whether the surveillance and searches were in fact legal.

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In U.S. v. Spivey, the defendants Spivey and Austin reported to police their home had been burglarized. When the police caught the burglar, he informed them that this residence was the site of substantial credit-card fraud and much high-end merchandise was kept there.

Two South Florida Organized Fraud Task Force members began investigating credit card fraud by the defendants and they went to the residence on the pretext of acting as detectives investigating the two burglaries. The detectives wore a police jacket and displayed a gun and badge. When Austin saw the agents approaching she went inside to warn Spivey and told him to hide the card reader/writer in the oven.

The agents told Austin they were there to follow up on the burglary and Austin invited them in. They told Austin that one of the detectives was a crime scene technician and maintained the façade by pretending to brush for latent fingerprints. Austin led the agents through the house and pointed out their home surveillance video of the burglary. Inside the home the officers observed evidence of fraud including a card embossing machine, stacks of credit cards and gift cards, large quantities of expensive merchandise such as designer shoes and iPads.   They both told the officers that the embossing machine had been left in the apartment before they moved in.

The officers then ended their ruse and told Spivey that they investigated credit-card fraud. After being advised of his rights, he gave written consent to the officers to conduct a full search of the home and of his computer and cell phone. In that search, the officers recovered high end merchandise, drugs, a handgun, and embossing machine, a card reader/writer and about seventy-five counterfeit cards. The defendants were indicted and both challenged the search with a motion to suppress all the evidence found on the grounds of a Fourth Amendment violation. The district court denied the motion and the defendants appealed.

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In U.S. v. Shalhoub the court addressed the issue of whether the denial of a motion for special appearance of counsel to seek the dismissal of an indictment on the ground that the defendant is a fugitive from justice is an immediately appealable collateral order. If not then the issue becomes whether the court should issue a writ of mandamus to compel a ruling on the motion to dismiss the indictment without requiring the defendant to appear.

This is how the facts unfold. Shalhoub, a citizen and resident of Saudi Arabia married a woman in Miami in 1985 and divorced four years later. A Florida judge gave Shalhoub and his ex-wife full shared parental responsibility over their only child. Shalhoub was indicted in 1997 for one count of parental kidnapping in violation of the International Parental Kidnapping Crime act, which made it a crime to remove a child from the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.   He was never arrested and status was fugitive.

In 2015, Shalhoub filed a motion in Miami federal criminal court to allow his counsel to appear specially and seed a dismissal of the indictment arguing that the incitement lack factual specificity, challenge the Venue of the federal kidnapping law as contravening the laws of Saudia Arabia, along with other challenges.

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A three-judge panel was reversed in U.S. v Roy by the En Banc court and the defendant’s conviction in federal court in Miami was reinstated for reasons explained below.   Here is what happened at the trial.

Roy was charged in a five-count indictment with sext crimes related to minor girls. Count one charged him with attempting to enticed a child base on his efforts to arrange a sexual encounter with someone he believed to be a 13-year-old girls in response to an interne ad posted by law enforcement. The other counts involved child pornography and charged him with knowingly possessing visual depictions of child pornography in violation of the federal statute. Each of those counts involved images that were stored in different electronic devices he kept. The charge required that the government prove that under each of the counts he knowingly possessed one or more images of child pornography on the electronic devices.

The issue here, which was the reason for the panel’s decision to overturn the conviction, involved Roy’s federal trial lawyer’s absence during a small a portion of the testimony of the trial.

The En Banc Court concluded that it was a Sixth Amendment constitutional violation for the trial judge to start the trial without the attorney present, but that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because of the overwhelming evidence offered while counsel was present that went to and proved the charges in counts 2 through 5, which were the only counts relevant to the testimony given during counsel’s absence. The error in the trial took place when his counsel returned a few minutes late from a lunch break on the third day of the six-day trial.

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