The Vibrancy Of Our Fourth Amendment Protections

A few days ago our new and improved Right Thinking site saw a most raucous and  spirited debate involving the safety of some of our most basic freedoms, and whether a individual state court can in effect abrogate constitutionally protected freedoms. I have maintained through out that the Fourth Amendment is still inviolate, unreasonable search and search is still unlawful and the hurdle of probable cause has not been removed in procuring search warrants.

Today, while perusing my local paper, I found a story on the front page that speaks directly to this and provided a timely reminder that bad things happen to cops that violate people’s rights:

Peter Knowles says he still doesn’t know why he was targeted by Benicia police, and he still worries there’s no independent agency to call if a resident believes he or she is being harassed by authorities.

Last week, Knowles and the city of Benicia settled a federal lawsuit in which he contended he was harassed repeatedly by members of the city’s police force between December 2007 and May 2008. He said he was targeted in an attempt to force him to move from Benicia.

In the agreement announced May 13, Knowles, now 26, and his attorneys will receive $620,000 and a promise that the city will help him clear his name.

He had sought $1.7 million.

A little background is in order. I have lived in Benicia for about 25 years, it is a sleepy little residential community on the water. It has the lowest crime rate, highest home values, highest per capita income, best school scores in the county, and is continually voted high on the lists of best town for family life in California. The police dept. is small with few ever staying because there is very little to do crime wise. Now the problem with Mayberry RFD communities like this is that when cops get bored, they tend to go looking for stuff beyond what is healthy, there is the set up.

Back to the story:

Knowles said the problems began Dec. 23, 2007, when he was arrested at his home. According to U.S. District Court transcripts from March of this year, Benicia police Sgt. Frank
Hartig spotted a red Jeep spinning its tires and speeding off from Solano Square. Hartig had stopped another motorist, and as soon as he finished with that stop, he began searching for the Jeep.

When he saw one going the opposite way, he turned around to pursue, but lost sight of the vehicle.

When he found one in a garage on Stuart Court, Hartig parked his patrol car, entered the garage and arrested the driver, identified as Knowles. A test indicated his blood-alcohol level was above the legal driving limit of .08 percent, and Knowles was charged with drunken driving and his license was suspended.

That case later was dismissed when Solano County Superior Court Judge Raymond Weiser said Hartig didn’t have enough probable cause to enter Knowles’s home.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb issued a summary adjudication order, finding that Hartig had violated Knowles’s Fourth Amendment rights during the incident.

Did you get that last part? Constitution-still in effect, Fourth Amendment protections is still the order of the day. Now when arrested, in his place of residence (garages have been determined in prior court rulings to be considered part of a dwelling) he did not physically resist as some would say he had a perfect right to do, and he is now the richer for it.

One of the things that I hate about how stories like this are reported is that I really don’t know exactly what happened, how the events unfolded and what the verbal exchange was between the two. But this does nothing to negate the simple fact that a U.S. District Court judge found that constitutionally protected freedoms were in fact violated, and a reckoning must be brought.

Now I do not agree with Knowles’ initial assertion that he had no place to turn. No where in the article does it mention that he called an on duty supervisor to complain, no alerting the chief of police or the city manager,no mention of him going to the county District Attorney’s office, the state AG office, even the FBI or the press.

The article does paint a sinister example of what appears to be a concerted effort to target this guy by the police. Whether it is all true or even partially true, no matter, $620,000 is a lot of money for a small town to pay out, and a valuable lesson reenforced that we are still a nation of laws, and nobody is above them.

Comments are closed.

  1. Hal_10000

    Don’t know if you saw this, but SCOTUS issued an 8-1 decision yesterday upholding the right of police to do an unauthorized search if they have reason to believe that evidence is being destroyed. In this case, they knocked on the wrong door for a drug raid, smelled pot, heard movement, decided that evidence was being destroyed and busted in. SCOTUS upheld the ensuing drug conviction.

    What country are we living in?

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  2. richtaylor365 *

    I am reading about it now, but on it’s face is it not consistent with the exigent circumstances exception already on the books?

    And given that most SCOTUS decisions, even those supported by the most compelling of arguments, are 5-4 decisions, that this was 8-1, does that lend itself at all to the “common sense” of the conclusion?

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  3. JimK

    And given that most SCOTUS decisions, even those supported by the most compelling of arguments, are 5-4 decisions, that this was 8-1, does that lend itself at all to the “common sense” of the conclusion?

    Absolutely not. To my mind it lends itself to the fact that we are reaching new levels of the “law enforcement is always right” mentality in this country, and furthermore that thought pattern has reached even the Supremes. It’s just another in a long series of incremental moves to remove rights and responsibility from the individual and place it in the hands of the state or agents of the state, often at the point of a gun.

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  4. richtaylor365 *

    To my mind it lends itself to the fact that we are reaching new levels of the “law enforcement is always right” mentality in this country

    But doesn’t the story behind the above thread, which states categorically that in this instance the cops were NOT right, shoot that notion down?

    And regarding the 8-1 vote, considering that we have 4 liberal justices who never vote in tandem with their conservative counterparts, and who have voted in the past to curtail and limit police powers, the simple fact that 3 out of those 4 now side with the majority in this case, that does not sway you in the least?

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  5. sahrab

    Rich

    Dont take offense but you are taking a very simplistic view to this .. discussion.

    In your mind, this thread you started strengthens your view that the Fourth Amendment is strong and kicking. In my view, and others on here, the point of this same article shows the very erosion we have been concerned with.

    The Fourth Amendment, in this case, was effective AFTER the fact. The Fourth Amendment, in the Constitution, should have protected the person before it got that far.

    Its a sticky widget/slippery slope/uncomfortable situation and any time we are in this situation the rights of the Citizenry should always supercede the Governments. This is what the Founding Fathers intended.

    A better example, was the Boston Professor Gates boondoggle (another example of our inept President). Ignore the racial idiotry Gates threw into the conversation, the discussion has nothing to do with his race, and i am in NO WAY condoning his race baiting antics.

    The Boston Police are called in to investigate a potential Home Break-in. They arrive at the residence and face a belligerent individual wanting to know why they are in his home. The individual does show his Identification, and the officer states in his report that he was relatively certain he was the homeowner.

    At the point the officer established Gates residency, he no longer had probably cause. BUT…. Here is the important part, according to the Constituion of the United States Citizen he NEVER had to comply. Hiibel, Miranda, all lend strength that it was never Gates requirement to prove himself, it was the officers duty to establish probably cause.

    The travesty wasnt the racial BS, whatever Gates said to the cop was in the privacy of his own home. The travesty is that he was handcuffed in his home, and then taken downtown. AFTER it was established that he was indeed the householder.
    Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the state of Nevada – Citizens have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names

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  6. Rann

    The Fourth Amendment, in this case, was effective AFTER the fact. The Fourth Amendment, in the Constitution, should have protected the person before it got that far.

    This. This right here.

    Rich, you’ve typically framed it as “Okay, the cops are doing wrong. But everything’s okay as long as the courts sort it out after, so it’s better if we set it up so that no one gets hurt.” This is ignoring that the focus should not be on what happens when the police illegally enter into a dwelling, but the fact that police need to be reminded not to illegally enter a dwelling in the first place. You’re effectively taking a “Let God sort them out” stance on the bill of rights.

    You keep saying it’s better to keep homeowners from violently rebuffing illegal police entry into their homes, and saying that it all works out so long as the courts rule in favor of the violated. You’re kind of forgetting to mention that we should be stopping the whole “illegal entry” matter in the first place and making cops be absolutely sure they have legal right to enter a dwelling first, rather than just letting them bust into houses as they wish and determining the legality afterward, and soothing over “hurt feelings” with a cash payout afterwards if it turns out it was an illegal search. This is equivalent to saying that it’s constitutional to make all the laws against owning firearms that you want, so long as the law tacks on a “But if you wind up actually being oppressed, then it’s okay and you can have one.” Since, hey, sure it’s a violation of a constitutional right now, but it won’t be when there’s oppression! (Unless, of course, the revolution fails, because then it’s just treason.)

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  7. richtaylor365 *

    sahrab, I suggest you read Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the state of Nevada again, because it says just the opposite of what you think it says:

    Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), held that statutes requiring suspects to identify themselves during police investigations did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Under the rubric of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the minimal intrusion on a suspect’s privacy, and the legitimate need of law enforcement officers to quickly dispel suspicion that an individual is engaged in criminal activity, justified requiring a suspect to identify himself.

    Now, on to this:

    The Fourth Amendment, in this case, was effective AFTER the fact. The Fourth Amendment, in the Constitution, should have protected the person before it got that far.

    But that is how ALL laws work. You think because they made a law against speeding, that after that no one will speed? Why do you think we have courts at all? Because laws are broken “AFTER the fact”. You are saying that the Fourth Amendment should of protected the victim before the crime, no offense, but how silly. That is like saying that that we have a law on the books against burglary, so why was my house burgled last week (it wasn’t, I’m just for instancing). Why do you think laws have penalties attached? Because people break them AFTER the fact. You seem to think that this is a condemnation of our judicial system because an officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights, I think just the opposite, that it is a confirmation of that same system, because a wrong was committed and the wrong was punished with the victim being remunerated. Sounds like justice was done.

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  8. richtaylor365 *

    Rann, this probably would of been better handled on the other thread, but since it was brought up here.

    This is ignoring that the focus should not be on what happens when the police illegally enter into a dwelling, but the fact that police need to be reminded not to illegally enter a dwelling in the first place.

    But of course, but how do you stop mistakes from being made? Tell me, who on this blog is perfect and never makes mistakes? Who on this earth is perfect and never makes mistakes? Even the most well intentioned and diligent (fill in the blank with any profession you can think of any at all) whatever, he at some point in his life makes mistakes. If you think I am condoning anything illegal, you are wrong, I am not condoning illegal entry and since this is a feed off from that other thread, I will caution you to do what I’ve told everyone else, read what the court said:

    We hold that there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.

    They are not waving their magic wand and making what was before Unlawful now Lawful, they are not excusing illegal entry (nor am I).

    You’re kind of forgetting to mention that we should be stopping the whole “illegal entry” matter in the first place and making cops be absolutely sure they have legal right to enter a dwelling first,

    And I’ll ask you again, how do we do this, factoring in the sometimes mistakes are made?

    rather than just letting them bust into houses as they wish and determining the legality afterward,

    Seriously, do you honestly take that as my official stance? Have I not made it clear that the law determines whether in fact the entry was legal or illegal, not the particular officer that is doing the entering?

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  9. richtaylor365 *

    Or, to put it another way: If the world worked exactly the way I wanted, what would my order of preference be, In order of highest to lowest preference:

    Most preferred: Mistakes would never ever be made, all police are not only diligent and honest, but every set of circumstances involving any entry whatsoever would be that all were legal and proper.

    Next preferred: People are human, so not only hire the best and brightest but train them properly so that legal compliance is the standard, and on those rare occasions where honest mistakes are made, no one gets hurt, and if the mistake is not honest but duplicitous, then punish the offenders.

    Least preferred: Using Rann’s description:

    letting them bust into houses as they wish and determining the legality afterward

    This is not at all preferred and in no way could it be made to work.

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  10. sahrab

    Rich,

    And thats why I stated it was a sticky widget/slippery slope/uncomfortable situation.

    In one hand, Gates had a reasonable expectation of Privacy, while in his own home and breaking now laws.

    On the other hand, the Officer had probable cause.

    Both were equally valid, and legal.

    The difference, and the reason we are having this particular discussion, we do not live in a Police State, while cooperating with the Police may be the decent thing to do, if you are not breaking the law you do not HAVE to do it.

    In this the Constitution, the Laws and Supreme Court ruling are very clear on Citizens rights while in Private, vs the States rights to invade that privacy.

    The other case i was looking for was Katz vs United States, in this the Supreme Court of the United States, ruled a citizen has a reaonable right to Privacy when breaking no laws (Think Gates).

    Hibel also lends to the Gates case. The officer was within his rights to ask Gates for identification, because he was investigating a crime. Gates was justified in refusing if he wanted (he didnt, he did show his identification) because he wasnt breaking any laws or engaging in illegal activity. (hence the sticky widget)

    But that is how ALL laws work. You think because they made a law against speeding, that after that no one will speed? Why do you think we have courts at all? Because laws are broken “AFTER the fact”.

    Laws are enacted to prevent Citizens (others) from committing an Act. The Constitution prevents the Government from doing something. Laws DO NOT supercede the Constitution.

    Additionally, laws have to be broken in order for them to be enforced. You are excusing the Government for breaking the Constitution.

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  11. sahrab

    Rich,

    I havent read the Indiana Supreme Court ruling, i am solely basing this discussion on the comments here.

    But based on your comments, i take it your accepting that mistakes will be made. You are also accepting that this sets back every ruling on Castle Doctrine that has come out in the last 100 years (or so).

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  12. richtaylor365 *

    Regarding Gates, I always believed that both Gates and the officer stepped on their dicks, they both had a chip on their shoulder, both acted “stupidly” and each’s stupidity invalidated any real lessons being learned.

    The Constitution prevents the Government from doing something.

    And as I’ve said at least a half dozen times now, becasue we as humans are fallible, mistakes will invariably be made, that just because you make a law against an action or insert an amendment into the Constitution granting a right, they only legislate the action or the right, those things can still be broken.

    Concerning the 4th Amendment, why do you think SCOTUS has had to make ruling or findings concerning the defining of this amendment so many times in the last 50 years? According to you, if its in the Constitution then it is protected and it never ever gets violated, right? Remember the Exigent Circumstance exception I brought up earlier? take a look at that, this is a classic example of what I am talking about. Courts find themselves, from time to time, having to revisit our constitutional rights because of breaches, these breaches happen whether buy honest mistakes, ambiguity in the law, or nefarious conduct, but they still happen.

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  13. richtaylor365 *

    But based on your comments, i take it your accepting that mistakes will be made. You are also accepting that this sets back every ruling on Castle Doctrine that has come out in the last 100 years (or so).

    Essentially, yes, on both.

    l

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  14. sahrab

    Maybe thats my problem with the matter. I do not accept, nor see as a justificaiton, the allowance of mistakes being made.

    The ruling, as i understand it, says Mistakes will be made. It doesnt justify the mistakes but it does make the precident that allows mistakes to be made.

    It does not reinforce the inallienable right to the Fourth Amendment. It weakens the Fourth by allowing the rights of citizens to be trampled, but then seek recourse after the fact…

    if they live through the mistake

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