Saturday, May 26, 2007

It's not KidLaw but I couldn't resist

After seeing this post from my friend and colleague Atty. Marie Saccoccio on the MassPrivateCounsel yahoogroup (for criminal and other defenders), I couldn't resist posting it here. (Sorry I don't know Marie's original source, so I can't cite it right now.)

Los Angeles County, California v. Rettele, 550 U.S. ___ (#06-605 , decided May 21, 2007)

"When the Court gets jittery, it reaches for its equivalent of a nicotine patch to calm its nerves: a good old per curiam summary reversal of the Ninth Circuit. Everyone on First Street is a little calmer after Monday.

"The plaintiffs in this case, who are white, sued under § 1983 after officers mistakenly searched their home looking for 4 black suspects. Turns out the plaintiffs had bought the home from the suspects shortly before the police got their search warrant.

"Just as it only rains when you forget your umbrella, going to sleep naked more or less guarantees that the cops will arrive that night. And so it was here. The officers rousted the plaintiffs out of the bed and forced them to make like Greek statues for 3 minutes (but probably minus the placid expressions on their faces), while police searched the rest of the house.

"The CA9 found that this treatment unnecessarily denuded the plaintiffs of their dignity and therefore their Fourth Amendment rights. Proving that turnabout is fair play, the CA9 stripped the officers of their qualified immunity. The court of appeals reasoned that once the officers saw the white occupants of the house, they should have known they had the wrong house and stopped the search.

"It took the Court 7 pages to set the law aright. Police may reasonably detain a house’s occupants during a search, to protect officer safety and the integrity of the search. Here, they did not have to abandon their search simply because they encountered persons of a different race than the suspects—“the presence of some Caucasians in the residence did not eliminate the possibility that the suspects lived there as well.”

"This was the rare case in which the CA9 was not politically correct enough, for the Court had to instruct that “it is not uncommon in our society for people of different races to live and work together”, or for that matter, to commit crimes together.

"Finally, the plaintiffs’ brief au naturel detention was reasonable because the suspects were believed to be armed and could have been hiding a gun under the bed covers. There was no allegation that the police left plaintiffs unclothed any longer than necessary to secure the room.

"JPS (+RBG) penned a two-page concurrence in the judgment, blasting the CA9 for issuing a hotly contested 2-1 decision as an unpublished opinion (a well-known CA9 tactic for hiding summary reversal candidates). He also restated his long-held view that the Court should not decide the constitutional merits of a case when it can more easily be resolved on qualified immunity grounds, as this one could. "

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