14 January 2009

Remember the Fourth Amendment?

I do. It was a good one. It was down, but it was still twitching. Today SCOTUS hit it with an iron pipe.
I'm about to go on one of my Constitutional rants again. Please bear with me. It's solid, I promise.
The Founders of the Republic were very wary of a government that exercised unchecked power. They went to great pains to create a system of governance intended to guarantee individual liberties. A fundamental premise of all the foundational documents is this: depriving an individual of his liberty, property and privacy is an extreme sanction, and there should be a number of safeguards that protect the people against the state's abuse of this enormous power. Among these safeguards is the Fourth Amendment's demand that all searches and seizures arrests be reasonable. It's not that much to ask. Reasonableness requires a specific warrant derived from probable cause made under oath.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
SCOTUS invented The Exclusionary Rule, which is a doctrine that says "if a citizen is searched illegally, any evidence obtained from the illegal measures cannot be used against the citizen." The purpose of the Exclusionary Rule was to prevent law enforcement from ignoring the Constitution in an excess of zeal to enforce the law.
Our overly conservative SCOTUS has gradually gutted the Fourth Amendment to the point that it currently guarantees nothing. Virtually no search is held "unreasonable" anymore. "Probable cause" has become "reasonable suspicion," unless you're in a car, in which case no suspicion is required if it's called a "sobriety checkpoint." Arrests and searches on invalid warrants are okay if there was a "good faith" belief on the part of law enforcement that the warrant was valid. Naturally, law enforcement is generally presumed to act in good faith.
Today SCOTUS held 5-4 (yeah, the RATS + Kennedy) that evidence obtained from "police mistakes [that] are the result of negligence...of constitutional requirements" may be admissible in court.
Astonishing. Permit me to put negligence on a continuum. If you take reasonable care to do what you're supposed to, that's "diligence." If you're so sloppy that you don't take reasonable care, that's "negligence." If you exercise no care at all, that's "recklessness."
The facts of the case are essentially this. Jurisdiction A issues a "failure to appear" warrant for Guy, then recalls same warrant. Jurisdiction B doesn't bother to update records to reflect the recalled warrant, arrests Guy, finds a gun and drugs in search subsequent to arrest. Guy's warrant had been recalled months prior to the arrest. Not hours or days. Five months.
Applying the Exclusionary Rule, since Guy's arrest was unlawful because the warrant was invalid, the gun and dope are inadmissible evidence. The exclusion of evidence would send a message to law enforcement agencies that is it important — nay, vital — that they keep accurate records where people's liberty is at stake.
Instead, SCOTUS just told law enforcement in a digital age that evidence obtained in an unlawful search may be used to convict in a criminal case even though the search is unlawful because of an agency's sloppiness. Wow.
"The marginal benefits that might follow from suppressing evidence obtained in these circumstances cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion." 
Oh, I see. Protecting the individual's Constitutional rights and demanding some administrative diligence from law enforcement agencies is now a "marginal benefit," while the state's failure to put another dipshit tweaker behind bars is a "substantial cost."
Oh my effing head.
The conservative justices take every opportunity to insist that they are not given to radical interpretations of the Constitution. Nonsense. The Fourth Amendment says clearly that the people's right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure shall not be violated. Period. How does one get to "...but if the state does negligently violate the people's right to be secure, any evidence obtained via that violation can be used to secure their conviction" without applying a truly radical interpretation? 
Once, the judiciary was the branch that protected the citizens from the excesses of the government. The overwhelming conservatism of the federal judiciary has turned it into a rubber stamp. 
At least we still have the right not to get gay married.

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