Articles Tagged with fourth amendment

This September, the notoriously liberal state of California just made it harder for cops to take cash from innocent people. Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law SB 443, which limits the amount of civil forfeiture that is allowed to take place in the state by police and law enforcement agencies.

Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government (ie. police) literally seizes someone’s property, without compensating them, based on the suspicion that the property was used in connection with criminal activity. For example, you can be stopped during a routine traffic stop, and police who suspect you of drug dealing may take cash that was in your car based on that premise. They do not need a warrant or criminal conviction in order to do so.

It is well known that corrupt police agencies throughout California have been using civil asset forfeiture as an excuse to pad their budgets. An investigation by the Washington Post identified almost $10,000 in cash seizures that took place without any warrants or indictments.

The Lay of the Land

Compared to other states, California  was already more protective than others.  The state already required a criminal conviction before real estate, vehicles, boats and cash under  the value of $25,000 could be forfeited over to the government.  The standard of proof in the civil forfeiture proceeding has always been “beyond a reasonable doubt,” meaning the state had to establish clear and convincing evidence that the property was connected to illegal activity.

However, California’s state requirements are different from those under federal law.  Under a federal forfeiture, state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies may collaborate (called “equitable sharing”) and forfeit seized property under federal law, even if that would preempt California’s more stringent protections for property owners. This means that traditionally, federal agency such as ICE or the DEA just has to get involved in order for the forfeiture to become federal. Once state departments transfer the seized assets to a federal agencies, they get back 80% of those proceeds.

SB 443 changed that. Starting in 2017, police will first need to obtain any criminal conviction before they could receive equitable-sharing payments from forfeited real estate, vehicles, boats, and cash worth under $40,000. This is intended to prohibit police departments from sidestepping the state conviction requirements by transferring the money to federal agencies. In addition, the law also increased the threshold for forfeiting  cash with criminal conviction to $40,000. Continue reading

It has been reported that once again the F.B.I. seems to be hiding planted microphones to spy on American citizens. Federal agents have planted hidden microphones and conducted secret video surveillance at Alameda County’s Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in northern California for ten months. They did not have a search warrant as required by the fourth amendment to be able to do so.

The FBI’s surveillance operation was part of an investigation into alleged bid rigging scheme at foreclosed property auctions where thousands of houses and apartment buildings were sold by banks. Defense attorneys for some of those accused of the fraud say these surveillance tactics violate their clients’ constitutional rights, along with anyone else’s whose conversations might have been recorded. They claim that speaking in public does not mean one does not have an expectation of privacy. Private conversations, especially in or near courtrooms, happen routinely amongst citizens and attorneys alike.

The FBI planted microphones in bushes, at a bus stop, on a pole, and inside vehicles near the auction site. A similar thing happened in San Mateo last year. Facing these allegatiosn of constitutional violations, government prosecutors in San Mateo had moved to withdraw the recordings as evidence at trial.

In response to the passing and enactment of SB 178 (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act) for the new year, San Diego Superior Court judges have started using waiver days after the new state law took effect. SB 178 would require police and probation officers to get a warrant signed by a judge before searching through a suspect’s electronic communications, cell phones, emails, etc.

To the surprise of many criminal defense lawyers in the area, their clients were being asked to sign a newly drafted waiver which would allow police to search cell phones, computers, and other types of electronics without first obtaining a warrant. The one-page waiver spells out the types of items that would be subject to search: call logs, emails, text messages, and social media accounts accessed through a variety of devices — everything from an iPhone to an Xbox.  Perhaps more concerning is the fact that some attorneys claim their clients were being required to sign these waivers at their arraignments.

Criminal defendants who have signed the waiver have essentially signed away their rights. By the terms of the agreement, they have agreed to disclose any and all passwords used to access those devices or accounts, including fingerprint that unlocks an electronic device. Do not sign these types of waivers if you are asked. It is recommended you consult with a criminal defense attorney right away.