Fourth Amendment

The Federal Docket

French v. Merrill (1st Cir. October 2021)

In an appeal from a grant of qualified immunity in a 1983 case, the First Circuit held that police officers violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law when they repeatedly entered the curtilage of a man’s home and knocked on his door and windows despite clear indications that he did not want to come to the door. The Court held this was clearly a violation of the man’s Fourth Amendment rights under Florida v. Jardines.

United States v. Latecia Watkins (11th Cir. September 2021)

On remand from the Eleventh Circuit’s en banc holding, the Court held that the district court erred in suppressing evidence where the government proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the incriminating evidence would have been discussed through lawful means despite the violation of the defendant’s rights. The agents had been contemplating a knock and talk, which would have revealed to them the incriminating drug evidence, and it was not controlling that they had discussed this tactic after the constitutional violation.

United States v. Gastelum (8th Cir. September 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged an officer’s warrantless search of his rental car during a traffic stop. The Court held that the officer did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop where reasonable suspicion existed to extend the stop based on the incongruity between the defendant’s stated travel plans and his rental car agreement, inconsistencies in the defendant’s travel history, the disparity between the cost of flying versus renting a car, and the defendant’s emphasis on his military background in response to questioning. Moreover, despite the officer initially commanding the defendant to open his trunk and let him search his luggage, the Court held the defendant’s consent was voluntary where the officer subsequently confirmed he had permission and the circumstances showed the officer was not acting authoritatively or in a confrontational manner.

United States v. Soybel (7th Cir. September 2021)

The Seventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence for initiating cyber attacks against his former employer. The Court held that suppression was not warranted where agents monitored the defendant’s internet traffic through a pen register for IP addresses, which was not meaningfully distinguishable from a pen register for phone numbers.

United States v. James Braddy (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence from a traffic stop. The Court held that the officer’s mistaken interpretation of Alabama traffic law was reasonable, the officer did not unlawfully prolong the stop by asking the driver about his plans and itinerary or allowing his dog to sniff near the car, and there was probable cause to search the vehicle based on the dog’s change in behavior near the car, though the dog did not give a “final response” indicating the presence of drugs.

United States v. Latecia Watkins (11th Cir. August 2021), EN BANC

Sitting en banc, the Eleventh Circuit reversed prior precedents regarding the “Inevitable Discovery Doctrine” and held that, to preclude suppression of unlawfully obtained evidence, the Government must show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that law enforcement would have ultimately discovered the evidence through lawful means anyway. In doing so, the Eleventh Circuit abandoned the “reasonable probability” standard.

Lange v. California (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 6-3 opinion with several justices concurring in the judgment, the Supreme Court reversed the denial of a defendant’s suppression motion after an officer entered his garage without a warrant after chasing him for a misdemeanor traffic offense. The Court held that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor does not categorically create exigency sufficient to allow the warrantless entry into a home. Instead, a case-by-case analysis must be performed to see if, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a true emergent need to act before a warrant could be obtained.

United States v. Jerome Stancil (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction and sentence under the ACCA. The Court held that his prior convictions under a Virginia law that criminalized the mere “sharing” or “giving away” of drugs were predicate prior convictions under the ACCA. The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the magistrate judge improperly credited the officers’ testimony at his suppression hearing where the alleged inconsistencies in their testimony were not material.

Caniglia v. Strom (U.S. Supreme Court, May 2021)

In a case where police officers had entered a man’s house and seized his firearms after responding to calls that the man was possibly suicidal, the Supreme Court unanimously held that there is no “community caretaking” exception the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Several of the justices issued concurring opinions, however, emphasizing that the Court’s holding does not affect the exigency exception to the requirement.

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.”

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