Articles Posted in Constitution – Bill of Rights

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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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In Stephens v. DeGiovanni, the Plaintiff Stephens filed a lawsuit against Deputy DeGiovanni of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office arising out of his arrest. Two of his claims raised in this appeal for false seizure (arrest) and excessive force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. In this appeal to the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals, Stephens challenged the trial court grant of summary judgment to the deputy on the false arrest claim there was probable cause for the arrest. The trial judge also granted summary judgement on the excessive force claim because the force used in the arrest was de minimis.

The facts surrounding this arrest took place on February 16, 2009 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in an apartment complex where Stephens and his cousin were guests of the cousin’s girlfriend, Claudia White. White’s apartment was on the second floor of a complex with businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. Stephens and his cousin were checking on a car owned by Stephens girlfriend that she was planning to sell to White. White, who is a car mechanic, was sitting on the metal frame of the care using a diagnostic scanner to determine why a check engine light had come on.

Deputy DeGiovanni was on road patrol at 8:15 pm and aware of recent burglaries in the area. Because it was late and all the businesses were closed he decided to investigate so he approached and asked what they were doing. After they explained what they were doing, the deputy informed them that they were not supposed to be there. They explained they were invited guest of White who lived at the complex. The deputy asked for identification and Stephens produced a State of Florida identification card. He possessed a driver’s license issued in Jamaica where was from. While standing by the deputy Stephen’s phone rang. When he answered it the deputy slapped it away. When Stephens asked the deputy to get a field supervisor on the scene, the deputy told him to shut his mouth. The deputy then slugged Stephens in his chest slamming him into the driver’s seat. The deputy proceeded to hit Stephens two more times causing injury to his hand and arm.

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McCullough was arrested and convicted for marijuana distribution. His conviction was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. McCullough. This is how the facts unfold. He was initially pulled over by an Alabama police officer for driving with a partially obscure license plate. While the numbers on the Alabama issued plate were visible, a license bracket in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings obscured pares of the license plate including the state of issue. Alabama law provides that every motor vehicle operator shall at all times keep the license tag or license plate plainly visible on the rear end of a mother vehicles. The officer stopped McCullough because the officer believe that he had violated this law by having the eagle bracket. When McCullough was stopped, the officer issued him a ticket for failing to have a plainly visible license plate.

The officer then smelled marijuana coming from the inside of the truck and a search of the truck led to the discover of $8,335 and a marijuana. After the officer seized $4,000 and a key to a hotel room, the officer obtained a search warrant for the room and found $1,000, bags of marijuana and a gun.

He was charged with possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress on the grounds the officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop him for partly obscuring the license plate because Alabama law only requires that the alphanumeric symbols be visible not the full license plate. The district court denied the motion. He pleaded guilty to each count before a magistrate judge. Prior to sentencing the probation officer calculated the guideline range to be 262-327 base on his status as a career offender with a career history e category of VI and a consecutive mandatory minimum of five years for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

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In U.S. v Vargas the defendant was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine after Alabama law enforcement officers discovered cocaine and methamphetamine in Vargas’ vehicle. Vargas filed a motion to suppress on the grounds that Vargas’ traffic stop that led to the discovery of the drugs violated Fourth amendment.

Here, Alabama law enforcement officer pulled over the defendant for following too close and failing to maintain its lane. The driver immediately admitted that he did not have a driver’s license. The officer asked him to come back to the officer’s car where the officer asked him routine questions about where he was going. After about three minutes the officer informed him that he was issuing him a warning for following too close. He continued to ask defendant some questions to complete the warning. He then approached the passenger to determine whether he could operate the vehicle. When the passenger said he did not have a license, the officer spent another 12 minutes working with the two in an attempt to determine how to safely and legally get the car moved. About 18 minutes into the traffic stop and 15 minutes after the enforcement officer informed he was issuing a warning, the officer asked the defendant for consent to search the vehicle and the defendant consented. The search turned up the drugs hidden in the vehicle.

The defendant contended on appeal that the length of the traffic stop violated the fourth amendment. The court cited the Supreme court’s opinion in Rodriguez v United States which states as a general matter a traffic stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made is a violation of the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

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In U.S. v. Votrobek the appellants were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute drugs, conspiracy to launder money and substantive charges of money laundering and maintaining a place for unlawful drug distribution.   The charges arose from their operation of a pill mill, a term used to describe a medical clinic that prescribes narcotics for illegitimate purposes. The appellants first learned how to run a pill mill clinic from a Zachary Rose who operated three clinics in Jacksonville Florida. Once law enforcement began investigating Rose’s clinics, the appellants left and established their own clinic, AMG, in the fashion of a typical pill mill.

Later, Votrobek was indicted for conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone and Alprazolam in Rose’s Florida clinics but a jury acquitted him.

Less than two months after his acquittal in Rose’s Florida pill mill, a Federal Grand jury in Georgia indicted Votrobek and others regarding their involvement in AMG, charging them with conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone, Xanax, and other drugs for other than a legitimate medical purpose. He was convicted on all counts. In his appeal, he claims the district court committed plain error by not dismissing the Georgia conspiracy charges on Double Jeopardy grounds. He argued the conspiracy counts were barred by Double Jeopardy and the trial court committed plain error by not dismissing the substantive convictions based on prejudicial spillover.

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The issues in Dukes v Deaton were whether a police officer who threw a diversionary device known as a “flashbang” into a dark room occupied by two sleeping individuals without first visually inspecting the room is entitled to qualified immunity against a section 1983 lawsuit claiming excessive force and whether the officer was entitled to qualified immunity against a complaint of assault and battery. Narcotics officers of the Clayton County Sheriff applied for a search warrant of Jason Ward’s apartment based on confidential informant’s information that he sold narcotics out of his apartment. The search warrant application noted that Ward was known to carry a handgun. The application sought a “no-knock” provision because “drug dealers commonly use weapons, dogs, and barricades to hinder law enforcement in the execution of their duties. Prior to execution of the warrant the SWAT team held an operational meeting to discuss the plan of entry. The Defendant and other SWAT members were given flashbang devices to uses. These are classified as explosives that can generate heat in excess of 2,000 degrees centigrade and over 150 decibels of noise for less than one-half second. Because they have the potential to cause serious bodily injury, the officers received official instruction to visually inspect an area first before deploying a flashbang.

The search warrant execution plan did not call for Deaton to deploy his flashbang, however the plan gave all SWAT team member the authority to use more flashbangs if needed. As the SWAT team executed the search warrant at 5:30 a.m., Deaton deployed his flashbang threw the bedroom window where Dukes was sleeping. The explosion caused Dukes to suffer severe burns and she spent three days in the hospital.

Dukes filed a complaint against Deaton and the Commander Branham alleging a violation of Duke’s right to be free from excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and a state law claim for assault and battery against Deaton.

The district court granted motions to dismiss finding the officers were entitle to qualified immunity against the excessive force and against the assault and battery claim and filed this appeal.

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The appellants in U.S. v. Rushin were correctional officers at the Macon state Prison in Georgia who were charged and convicted of conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of justice stemming from alleged abuses of prisoners and the subsequent cover ups while they were working as members of the Correctional Emergency Response Team, (CERT) which is a specially trained group responsible for responding to and controlling disturbances as the Macon State Prison. Of the three issues raised only one was addressed in depth by this opinion and that was whether the district court improperly limited the cross examination of cooperating witness in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. The case arose from the beatings of several inmates at the Macon State Prison by CERT members against certain inmates in retaliation for assaulting officers. The CERT members would then take the inmate to the medical unit and lie about how the inmates’ injuries were sustained.

Multiple members of the CERT entered plea agreements and cooperated with the government by testifying at trial. The defense counsel wanted to cross-examine the cooperating witnesses about their potential sentences had they not cooperated. The government requested a limitation on the defendants cross examining witnesses about to the specific numerical sentence that could have been imposed had they not cooperated as this would speak to the potential sentences that could be received by the defendants and encourage jury nullification.

The district court granted this motion explaining that the defendants were permitted to inquire into whether the cooperating witnesses about a plea agreement, that they face a more severe penalty prior to cooperating, and that the witness received or expected to receive benefits in exchange for their testimony (charges dropped or consideration of a sentence reductions). However, the defendants’ attorneys were not permitted to inquire as to the statutory sentencing range for charges against cooperating witnesses.

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Ammar was convicted and sentenced to life following trial for robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. In United States v. Ammar he challenged his conviction contending that the district court should have dismissed his indictment pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. To enforce this provision Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act which provides that the trial must begin within 70 days of either the filing of the indictment or the date the defendant first appears before a judicial officer to answer the charges, whichever occurs later. If a defendant is not tried within that window of time then the district court must grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment.

A district court may grant a continuance of the trial date when the ends of justice support the continuance and the district court is required to say its reasons for finding that the ends of justice served by the granting of a continuance outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. Furthermore a defendant’s agreement to waive the protections of the Act cannot by itself justify an ends of justice continuance because the public interest in a speedy trial is also protected by the Act.

Ammar was detained following his arrest without a bond.   Soon after the district court held a scheduling conference with the defendants and scheduled trial to begin about one year later. Ammar appealed the magistrate’s detention order contending that the district court set an extended trial date over his objection and that the extended detention pending a trial more than a year from the date of the indictment violated his due process and speedy trial rights. Prior to trial Amar filed his motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds.

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Phyllis May was involuntarily taken to a hospital police officer Tommy Allen of the City of Nahunta, Georgia Police Department for a mental health evaluation. She subsequently sued pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 for an unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. May took this appeal from the district court’s order granting Officer Allen’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The issue in May v. City of Nahunta, Georgia is whether an otherwise authorized mental-health seizure was converted into an unconstitutional one by virtue of the seizing law enforcement officer’s conduct.
May was the sole care taker for her Alzheimer-stricken mother fell into a deep sleep after a taxing few days of caring for her mother. When May’s brother was unable to rouses May from her sleep he called 911 and four emergency medical technicians arrived in response. Officer Allen also arrived at the residence in response to the 911 call requesting his assistance and was told information by the EMT and his observations, he decided to seize May in her bedroom and transport her to the hospital for a psychological evaluation.
In conducting the mental health seizure Officer Allen asked the EMTs to leave the room and locked the door behind and informed May that she was going to the hospitals and instructed her to change from her nightgown to more suitable clothes. Despite her urging he refused to leave while he changed, handed her clothing, touched her shoulder roughly in an effort to pull off her nightgown, instructed her to remove her shorts and first put on her undergarments, and when she refused he insisted that she will while patting his gun. Officer Allen remained in the locked room alone with May for 15-20 minutes while ignoring May’s sister’s request from the other side that he open the door.
After she was taken to the hospital where she spent two hours she was released when it was determined there was nothing wrong with her.

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