Fourth Amendment

The Federal Docket

Torres v. Madrid (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2021)

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that officers who shot at a woman who was driving away had committed a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that an officer’s conduct can constitute a seizure even if their use of force is from a distance, as long as the conduct involves a use of force and “objectively manifests an intent to restrain.”

United States v. Tremayne Drakeford (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The officers had conducted a stop and frisk of the defendant at a store, and found drugs, after receiving information from an informant, witnessing the defendant during two suspected drug interactions, and seeing the defendant meet another person outside the store and engage in two handshakes, which the officers believed was a hand-to-hand drug deal despite not seeing drugs or money change hands. The Court held this was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion because the information from the informant was generalized, there was little testimony regarding the informant’s reliability, the officers had not seen any drugs or found any drugs relating to the two interactions they previously witnessed the defendant in, and the two handshakes were not suspicious where the defendant was outside a store in broad daylight and otherwise not acting suspiciously. The Court warned that “the Fourth Amendment does not allow the Government to label a person as a drug dealer and then view all of their actions through that lens.”

United States v. William Goldstein & Marc Bercoon (11th Cir. February 2021)

In a fraud case involving wiretap evidence, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions. The Court rejected the defendant’s arguments and held that 1) the evidence supporting probable cause in the wiretap affidavit was not stale because there was evidence the phone in question was still in use and the conspiracy was ongoing, and 2) the wiretap affidavit established necessity because, even though the Government already had enough evidence to convict the defendants, the stated goal of the wiretap was to discover the full scope of the conspiracy and identity of all co-conspirators.

United States v. Jose Antonio Morales (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged a search warrant that led to his arrest and conviction for marijuana distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court held that, even if the search warrant was not supported by probable cause based on officers finding small quantities of marijuana in the defendant’s trash, the good faith exception applied. The Court also reiterated that a failure to allege the knowledge element for a 922(g) charge under Rehaif does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.

United States v. Keneon Fitzroy Isaac (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction and sentence, holding that the district court did not clearly err in finding that alternatives to impounding the defendant’s car were impractical based on the officer’s need to interview the arrestee and the time he would have to wait for someone else to get the vehicle. The sentencing court properly applied the enhancement for defendants who have custody, supervisory control, or who care for the minor victims where the defendant acted like a temporary guardian for the victim when the mother was at the work, and the defendant helped the family financially.

United States v. Latecia Watkins (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s suppression order, holding that even though the officers had violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights by monitoring a tracking device that was in her home, there was a “reasonable probability” that the agents would have eventually conducted a knock and talk at her residence and been able to discover the tracker anyway.

SCOTUS Declines to Determine Fourth Amendment Standard For Border Searches, Leaving Circuit Split Intact

The U.S. Supreme Court denied ceriorari to a petitioner seeking the Court’s determination as to what standard applies to Fourth Amendment searches at the U.S. border. The Court’s decision not to step in leaves in place a circuit split between courts that hold no probable cause or reasonable suspicion is required for law enforcement to conduct searches and those that hold there must at least be some degree of reasonable suspicion.

United States v. Matthew Beaudion (5th Cir. November 2020)

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s holding that defendant lacked Fourth Amendment standing to challenge law enforcement’s search for the GPS location of girlfriend’s cell phone while he was with her. While the boyfriend had purchased the phone before giving it to his girlfriend, knew the password, used the phone frequently, and accessed his Facebook account on the phone, the Court held that he did not have a reasonable expectation in the phone because the girlfriend carried it throughout the day, the defendant never used it outside her presence, and her parents paid the bill. The Court further held that Carpenter did not apply here because law enforcement was trying to determine the girlfriend’s location, not the defendant’s.

United States v. John Gayden (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant doctor’s conviction and sentence for operating a “pill mill.” Among other things, the Court held that a physician does not have standing to challenge the search of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program because they do not have a privacy interest in their prescriptions. The Court also held that dismissal of the indictment, obtained five years after the defendant’s clinic shut down, was not warranted because the defendant could prove prejudice but not that the government engaged in any deliberative conduct to gain a tactical advantage over him.

United States v. Tamaran Bontemps (9th Cir. October 2020)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Court held that there was reasonable suspicion to detain and search the defendant based solely on the officer believing he had a concealed firearm (illegal in California) after noticing a “very large and obvious bulge” under the defendant’s sweatshirt. The Court also discussed other kinds of “suggestive bulges” that can give rise to reasonable suspicion, such as when a defendant is hiding drugs.

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