Articles Posted in Constitution – Bill of Rights

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Khaled Elbeblawy was convicted and sentenced in Miami federal court for conspiracy to commit health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349. His offense arose from his ownership and management of home health agencies that provided in-home medical nursing and other services to homebound patients which he used to defraud Medicare for millions of dollars. His fraud included billing Medicare for services that were never provided, paying doctors in case for referring patients, hiring patient recruiters and nurses for referrals. He would disguise check by inflating the rates paid for staffing services and described checks to patient recruiters as payments for consulting and other services.

After an investigation focused on Elbeblawy, he decided to cooperate with the government and helped investigators obtain evidence against his former conspirators. He signed a plea agreement and a written factual basis for the agreement. The agreement stated that the government would be free to use against him in any criminal proceedings any of the statement provided by him including the factual basis for the plea. After he signed the agreement, he changed his mind and refused to plead guilty and the government prosecuted him for the charges he was indicted. Prior to trial Elbeblawy filed a motion to suppress the signed factual basis for the plea agreement on the ground that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive the Rule 11 and Rule 410 protections. The district court denied his motion.

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In this case civil rights action Cozzi was arrested for robbing one pharmacy and for the attempted robbery of another. After he was released because the police found no evidence linking him to the crimes, he sued an officer of the City of Birmingham Alabama and several other law enforcement officers alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unlawful arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied the officer’s summary judgment motion and the officer took this appeal arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity on that claim because he had arguable probable cause to arrest Cozzi.

The only issue the court had to resolve was whether the officer is entitled to qualified immunity from Cozzi’s claim that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. To invoke the qualified immunity doctrine the officer has the initial burden of showing he was within his discretionary authority. The officer met this burden without dispute. The burden then shifted to Cozzi to show that the officer violated his constitutional right and this right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

For the arrest to be in compliance with the Fourth Amendment, the officer needed arguable probable cause to make the arrest. Whether a reasonable officer could have believed he had probable cause to arrest depends on the totality of the circumstances.

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The lawsuit by Livingston Manners  claiming federal civil rights violations by several police officers from the City of Hollywood for excessive force, malicious prosecution and a common law false arrest was ultimately rejected.  This is how the facts unfolded.

At 3:00 in the morning Manners was sitting in his car on the side of a residential street in Hollywood Florida getting ready to drive to work when Officer Cannella drove by. The officer was patrolling the area in response to recent theft crimes in the area. As Cannella passed, Manners drove off. Believing that he saw Manners run a stop sign, Cannella made a u-turn and began following Manners about four or five blocks before activating his lights and siren. It was undisputed that Manners did not stop when he saw Cannella’s behind him with lights and siren. Manners explained that he was afraid, so he continued driving and until he reached a well-lit gas station where there was surveillance and there he pulled over.

Canella approached and informed Manners he was under arrest and ordered him to stay seated in the car. According to video taken from the surveillance cameras, a physical struggle took place when Cannella attempted to arrest Manners and place him into custody. Eventually other officers arrived while the struggle was underway, and Manners was tazed and eventually subdued.

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The issue disputed in Koeppel v. Valencia College was whether Valencia College violated Jeffrey Koeppel’s statutory or constitutional rights when it suspended him for his harassing conduct against another student. Koeppel’s suspension followed an investigation by the Valencia Dean of Students after a “Jane Roe” lodged a complaint about messages Koeppel had been sending her. The investigation showed that he sent Jane Roe dozens of messages making lewd reference to her body and send these unwanted massages over a period of days. He continued to contact her despite her repeated pleas that he stop contacting her and after the Dean issued an order that he not contact her.

After the Dean determined that Koeppel likely violated the school’s Code of Conduct for four types of conduct prohibited by the Code, a disciplinary hearing was held by the Student Conduct Committee. At a hearing held by the Committee they reviewed the evidence of the text messages and questioned Koeppel about his messages. It concluded he was responsible for the charged conduct and suspended him for attending the college for one year.

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Stephon Williams was convicted of federal charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846 following a jury trial in a Georgia federal court. Williams was charged with conspiring with his codefendant Donterius Toombs who also went trial with Williams. The government called a witness named Bennet to testify at their trial.

At the time of this trial Bennet was appealing his drug conviction by challenging his sentence enhancement for an obstruction of justice for sending a letter to Toombs, Williams’ coconspirator, asking him to cooperate on Bennett’s in exchange for a substantial payment and to market a cooperation-for-hire scheme to inmates seeking sentence reductions. The attorney representing Williams at his trial was also representing Bennet on his sentence enhancement challenge in the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals.

In his testimony Bennet did not mention Williams by name but he supported the government’s case against both Williams and Toombs by directly describing and by corroborating other witnesses’ testimony concerning the drug distribution conspiracy alleged in the indictment. In his direct examination, Bennet made no mention of his letter to Mr. Toombs or how he had received and obstruction of justice enhancement at sentencing. Toombs’ counsel cross-examined Bennet but did not bring up the topic. Williams’ counsel asked no questions when it came to his turn on cross examination.

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Jose Luis Morales appealed his conviction and 15 year sentence for one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). He was arrested after Miami Dade Police Officers conducted a search of the home where Morales lived and found a Rossi .38 caliber revolver and a .22 caliber pistol in the closet of Morales’ bedroom. Morales lived in the house with his girlfriend, their two children, and his girlfriend’s mother. The search took place after the police approached the house while investigating drug activity in the area. Their focus was drawn to Morales and while Morales was outside of his house speaking with officers another officer approached the house and spoke to the Morales’s girlfriend’s mother. She gave consent to a search of the house and a K-9 alerted to the area of the closet in Morales’s bedroom where the firearms were found.

On his appeal Morales argued the Miami federal court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his bedroom, claiming that the mother’s consent was not voluntary. He also argued that even if her consent was voluntary, his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because he was a physically present co-occupant who was intentionally denied an opportunity to refuse entry to the officers and to refuse their request to search.

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Touset appealed his conviction for three counts of receiving child pornography, transporting and shipping child pornography and possessing a computer and computer storage devise contain child pornography.  He was arrested after his arrival on an international flight at the Atlanta Georgia airport, when a Customs and Border Protection agent inspected his luggage and found two iPhones, a camera two laptops, two external hard drives, and two tablets. The agent manually inspected the iPhones and the camera, found no child pornography and returned those devises to Touset.

But the agency detained the remaining electronic devices. A forensic search revealed child pornography on the two laptops and the two external drives. With that information agents obtained and executed a search warrant for Touset’s home in Marietta Georgia which turned up evidence showing Touset purchased thousands of images of child pornography, having sent more than $55,000 to the Philippines for pornographic pictures, videos, and webcam sessions. In some webcam sessions he instructed prepubescent girls to display and manipulate their genitals. He also created an excel spreadsheet that documented the names ages and birthdates of those young girls as well as his notes about them.

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The issue here is whether a police officer seizing a cell phone from someone recording an incident violates the Fourth Amendment. In this civil rights appeal, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Beatty claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity for seizing the plaintiff’s iPhone after from Crocker after he took photos and videos of a car accident crash scene from where he stood on the interstate grass median. The district court denied his motion for summary judgment and he took this appeal.

Crocker stopped while driving on Interstate 95 in Martin County, Florida when he observed an overturned SUV. Soon after he stopped, emergency personnel arrived but he remained in the interstate median about fifty feet from the SUV.  Crocker then took out his cell phone and proceeded to take photos and videos of the scene that included images of empty beer bottles, the overturned vehicle, and firemen. About thirty seconds after Crocker started using his camera, Beatty walked over to him, reached out from behind him without warning or explanation and took the iPhone out of his hand. When asked by Beatty why he was on the scene Crocker explained that he had stopped to assister before first responders had arrived. Beatty told the plaintiff to leave and the plaintiff agreed to but wanted his cell phone back. Beatty replied that the photos and video on the phone were evidence of the state and the plaintiff would need to drive to the nearest weigh station to wait for instruction about the return of his phone after the evidence could be obtained from it.

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In this civil rights action Montanez sued the Volusia County Sheriff’s deputies for the warrantless entries into the plaintiff’s house, the deputies appeal the district court’s denial of their summary judgment motions for a dismissal. In their challenge they claim that the brief searches were justified by exigent circumstances.   The warrantless searches here arose when a deputy driving his unmarked car through a neighborhood that had a rash of daytime robberies saw a man behind a house who appeared to be looking around nervously while talking on the cell phone. He saw a second man approach the first man and begin huddling with the first man. The officer was convinced they were planning a break-in of the house.

Officer called for backup and when backup arrived they approached the men and handcuffed them. One of the deputies, Raible, entered the back door. Without crossing the threshold he leaned into the doorway and announced he was with the sheriff’s office and directed anyone in the house to come out.

After searching the two individuals they found two kitchen knives they believed were used to pry open the doors after having seen what they believed were fresh marks on the door jam.   When additional officers arrived they decided to enter the home a second time to look for additional perpetrators or potential victims. The second entry was the first into the homes interior and which the officers described as a sweep, which lasted 4 minutes. During the second sweep the officers saw in plain view what they believe to be marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

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Defendants Maxi and Bland appealed their convictions for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Their charges followed their arrest at 132 N.E. 64th Street in Miami and the subsequent search incident to arrest at the property. Subsequently a, search warrant was issued and wiretaps were authorized.

Defendant Maxi challenged the search and seizure of drugs from the apartment that took place before the search warrant was issued. The trial court denied the motion and Maxi appealed. As to the standing issue the court found he did have standing to challenge the search because he rented the apartment and had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the duplex.

The next challenge raised concerning the search was that the police illegally entered the curtilage of the duplex when 10 officers surrounded the building at night one with his gun drawn. The government responded that the entry was permissible under the “knock and talk” Rule. The court rejected the knock and talk argument because the rule implies that the police have an owner’s implied permission to approach a home and this was not the case here where. the officers here breached the curtilage of the duplex by many going through a gate in the fence and four or five approaching the door and the rest taking up tactical positions around the exterior. But the constitutional violation did not result in the production of any evidence and there was no evidence to suggest that anything would have turned out differently if a proper knock and talk have been done.   The court also upheld the district court’s finding that Maxi had opened the door voluntarily.

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