Tagged: Search and Seizure

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll The Law Is A Ass #389


Now I know the answer to the question.

For years people have been asking me, what kind of laws would the Marvel or DC legislatures – federal, state, or local – have passed in light of the super-powered activities in their respective universes?

Now you know the question.

So, what’s the answer? Well, after what happened in the Robin War story that ran through several of the Batman family of books earlier this year, I deduced what the answer to that question must be. A two-thirds supermajority of Congress must have passed an amendment to the Constitution. Then a three-fourths supermajority of the fifty states ratified said amendment and the amendment became part of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

What did said amendment say? Again, based on what happened in “Robin War,” it must have said, “Hey, you know that whole Bill of Rights thing? Offer void where prohibited.”

Seriously, there can be no other explanation for what happened in “Robin War.”

Now, if you’re good, you should also know the next question: What happened in “Robin War?” And I’ll get to that. But before I can answer that question, I have to tell a little of what happened in We Are Robin, the comic book off of which “Robin War” spin-off spun.

We Are Robin was a comic book about an African-American teenager named Duke Thomas, who was so inspired by Batman and his succession of Robin sidekicks that he created his own startup comprised of teenage crime fighting vigilantes. Everyone in the group adopted the non du guerre Robin and wore something with an identifiable element of the Robin costume on it. Maybe a red shirt or hoodie or baseball cap. But something that was red and had the Robin insignia on it. The Robins fought crime in Gotham City, and spouted the team’s catchphrase, “I am Robin,” more often than a pod of whales with a dozen extra blowholes.

Which leads us to “Robin War.” In Robin War #1, one of the Robins stopped an armed robbery. The Robin subdued the robber and had taken his gun. That’s when an armed police officer entered the store and, upon seeing two masked people in the store one of whom was holding a gun, made the not unwarranted assumption that both the actual perp and the Robin were robbin’ the store. While the police officer tried to make an unwarranted arrest – well, it was a warranted arrest, the officer just didn’t have a warrant – the Robin didn’t put down the gun as ordered and tried to explain that he was one of the good guys and had apprehended a robber. The robber used the confusion to try to escape. Which created a “shots fired” situation. Unfortunately, shots were fired by the Robin into the officer, accidentally killing him.

That’s when the Gotham City Council, led by Councilwoman Noctua, passed the most sweeping and unconstitutionally overreaching laws I’ve ever seen. Which is why I hypothesize that there must have been a “void where prohibited” amendment added to the Constitution. Otherwise the “Robin Laws,” unlike a real robin, could never have gotten off the ground.

The laws placed City Council “in charge of all police matters related to Robin matters.” They also made possessing or wearing “Robin paraphernalia” illegal. “Anyone seen in a Robin mask, or a Robin ‘R’ or whatever they wear [would be] immediately identifiable as a delinquent and subject to arrest.”

How broad and overreaching were these laws? Well, when Duke Thomas was walking down the street, he was arrested simply for wearing red sneakers. “Red means Robin. And in Gotham, Robin means you’re under arrest.” The shoes in question had no Robin indicia on them. No Robin logo. Not even an R. Duke was arrested simply for wearing red shoes.

In a world where the Constitution hasn’t been declared void, this law would be struck down as unconstitutionally overbroad. You can’t make it illegal for all people to wear red clothing, simply because some kids wore red clothing to play at being Robin. Under the law, people who were wearing red for perfectly legal reasons would be subject to arrest. Ringmasters could be arrested. Revolutionary War reenactors. Hell, firemen could be arrested for wearing their red suspenders.

In the height of the Crips and Bloods wars, did Los Angeles make it illegal to wear black or red? No. If they had Wayne Gretzky would have won the 1993 Stanley Cup playing for the San Quentin team, not the Los Angeles Kings.

Know what else would be unconstitutional? City Council ordering the police department to search every locker in a school “for evidence of any delinquent activity.” So guess what happened in Gotham City schools after the Robin Laws were enacted?

I know in New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a school environment does permit some easing of the search and seizure requirements of the Fourth Amendment. But even T.L.O. didn’t authorize the wholesale abandonment of the Fourth Amendment shown in this story. Or the sort of blanket searches committed in this story. Hell, they weren’t even searching for blankets.

The T.L.O. court said a high school search is reasonable if 1) there are reasonable grounds for believing the search will reveal evidence that the student or students whose property is being searched violated the law and 2) the search is related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive. The searches conducted in this story didn’t meet either of the T.L.O. criteria.

Search of every locker in a school to find out whether any of the students might possibly have Robin paraphernalia? Not based on reasonable suspicion. Search every locker even those of students you have no reason to believe might be Robins? Excessively intrusive. Let silly things like the Constitution stop you from doing whatever you want? Naw, constitutions are for wussies.

Then there was the question of what the Robin Laws allowed Gotham City to do with the Robins after most of the Robins were arrested. In Detective Comics v2 #47, we learned the Robins were being kept in supermax jail cells suspended from the ceiling like bird cages. Because, well when you’re dealing with a bunch of kids wearing bird-motif costumes, why be subtle?

Some of these Robins were under the age of 18, so juvenile offenders. Juveniles are treated differently than adults. When a juvenile is arrested in New Jersey, the courts must hold an initial detention hearing by no later than the following day and both the juvenile and the juvenile’s parents or legal guardians must be present. They can’t be held in supermax conditions indefinitely. Moreover, the parents or legal guardians of a juvenile must be notified of the juvenile’s arrest and must be present anytime the juveniles are questioned. The juveniles can’t be held incommunicado.

You know, the Robin Laws in this story were so extreme and sweeping and illegal and unconstitutional, you’d think that Councilwoman Noctua, who spearheaded the laws, had her own secret agenda and was benefitting financially from the chaos the laws created. Turns out –


Noctua was lining her pocketbooks from the chaos created by the Robin Laws and using the laws to earn a place in the Court of Owls.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why the rest of the Gotham City Council agreed to these patently unconstitutional laws. But I only explain why legislatures in comic books can’t do the things they’re shown doing. I don’t try to explain why they do them. That way lies madness.

The Law Is A Ass


backgroundWell, at least this time the judge had a reason for getting the law completely wrong.

We’re talking The Amazing Spider-Man #16.1 (16.1? Seriously? What’s with the odd-ball numbering in comics nowadays? We’ve had zero issues. Millionth issues. Fractional issues. Now decimal point issues? I should adapt Life of Pi to a comic book mini-series and number the issues 3.1, 3.14, 3.141, 3.1415, and so on.)

In the aforementioned and strangely numbered Spider-Man comic, Detective Teddy Rangel obtained a search warrant for a building based on a tip he received that it was a hideout of wanted crime boss Lonnie Thompson Lincoln, a.k.a. Tombstone. The New York Police Department, with the help of Spider-Man – because, after all, it was his comic – executed said warrant and arrested Tombstone and his men. Had this been Hawaii Five-O, the story would have ended when Danno booked em. It wasn’t Hawaii Five-O. It wasn’t even the revival. So the story didn’t end there.

Eight days later, Judge Anson Howell– who was to judges what Thurston was to millionaires– granted Tombstone’s motion to suppress the evidence. He ruled the search warrant was defective so the search was invalid and all the evidence obtained during said search was inadmissible.

As decisions go, that one was more questionable than “Put Your Daughters to Work Day,” which never really caught on the way that other day did. It’s true that ever since 1961 and Mapp v. Ohio, the states have lived under the exclusionary rule; a rule created by the Supreme Court that says when police obtain evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment, that illegally seized evidence must be excluded from trial. One would think that evidence seized under a defective search warrant would be suppressed. And one would be right, if the world had stopped in 1961. It didn’t. I know because I’m waaay older than nine.

Since it’s inception, the exclusionary rule has been less popular than Justice Scalia at a gay pride parade. Over the years, the Supreme Court chipped away at the exclusionary rule by creating exceptions to it. Lots of exceptions. Ever since 1984, the year not the novel, when the Supreme Court decided United States v Leon, the country has had a “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule.

The good faith exception says that if the police execute a search warrant in good faith and later it turns out that the search warrant was defective, then the evidence obtained during the search should not be excluded from trial. The Leon court reasoned that the exclusionary rule exists to prevent the police from violating the Fourth Amendment, because they know evidence won’t be admissible, if they do violate it. However, if the police believe in good faith that they obtained a valid warrant, then they didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. It wasn’t their fault that a neutral and detached magistrate issued the warrant in error. So suppressing the evidence would not further the the exclusionary rule’s purpose of preventing police misconduct, because there was no police misconduct. For that reason, evidence obtained by good faith reliance on a search warrant that turned out to be defective should not be suppressed.

In the case of The People v Tombstone – yes, I know it’s actually The People of New York v. Lonnie Thompson Lincoln, but who wants to keep typing The People of New York v. Lonnie Thompson Lincoln? – Judge Howell should not have suppressed the evidence seized from Tombstone’s hideout. Even though the search warrant to have been defective, the police executed it in good faith and the good faith exception required that the evidence be admissible.

There are some exceptions to the good faith exception. One is if the police lie in their application for a search warrant and mislead the magistrate who issued it, then they know that warrant was defective They knowingly got the warrant in bad faith so can’t rely on its validity in good faith

So, did Detective Rangel obtain the warrant in bad faith by lying to the magistrate? Possibly. In fact, I’ll say probably. Detective Rangel’s source was the super villain crime boss Mr. Negative. It’s not likely that either the law or the order part of the criminal justice system would put much stock in what Mr. Negative said, as it would rather put Mr. Negative in the stocks. So it is likely that Detective Rangel claimed his source was an anonymous informant who had supplied him with reliable information in the past rather than admitting it was Mr. Negative. Judges routinely issue search warrants based on similar reliable anonymous informant representations.

If the basis of Tombstone’s motion to suppress the evidence was that the source who tipped Detective Rangel wasn’t reliable, Rangel would have had to testify at the hearing to vouch for the reliability of his source. I suspect that was the basis of the motion, as Judge Howell based his ruling on the fact that Rangel – who had been shot in the line of duty, was in a coma, and ultimately died – couldn’t testify and verify his source’s reliability.

If Rangel did lie about his source and misled the judge who issued the search warrant then he acted in bad faith. That bad faith would be imputed to the rest of the police department. So, if Judge Howell ruled that the good faith exception didn’t apply, he would have been correct.

But Judge Howell was still incorrect in suppressing the evidence.

Remember how I said that Detective Rangel was shot in the line of duty? Well, like Rangel himself, I was guilty of leaving out an important detail or two. What I didn’t tell you was that Rangel was shot by one of Tombstone’s men, when Tombstone and his men opened fire on the police officers who were executing the warrant. (Important safety tip, when the police are executing a search warrant, you don’t get to execute the police.) As soon as Tombstone and his men started shooting police officers, they broke several New York state laws. Not the least of which was NY Penal L § 120.11, aggravated assault upon a police officer.

The police had probable cause to arrest Tombstone and his men for their crimes. The police didn’t need an arrest warrant because they saw the offenders committing the crimes. When the police see people committing crimes, they have probable cause to arrest the offenders immediately and don’t need to obtain an arrest warrant first.

The police had the right to arrest Tombstone and his men for shooting the police. Tombstone and his men were in their hideout when they were arrested. That means the police were entitled to search the hideout as part of a search incident to arrest.

Search incident to an arrest, that’s another one of those numerous exceptions to the exclusionary rule I talked about earlier. When the police make an arrest, they are allowed to search the surrounding area for their own protection. So when the police arrested Tombstone, they were allowed to search the hideout incident to that arrest to make sure that there were neither more people nor more weapons in it. Judge Howell erred when he granted Tombstone’s motion to suppress. It didn’t matter that the search warrant was defective, the search didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment because it was as a lawful search incident to arrest.

So why did I say that the judge had a reason for getting the law completely wrong, if he suppressed evidence that should never have been suppressed? Because Judge Howell was corrupt. Tombstone was bribing him. And that was his reason for getting the law completely wrong.

Hey, I never said the judge had a good reason.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #356: RICK CASTLE HAS A SEIZURE

127956_9905Aced her Captains Exam, my ass! Based on the level of knowledge Kate Beckett showed this week, she couldn’t have aced a Poker hand with a stacked deck.

The May 11th episode of Castle was a fairly typical episode of the show. I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing. A fairly typical episode of Castle is entertaining and doesn’t insult your intelligence over much. A fairly typical episode of Castle, also means New York City homicide detective Kate Beckett and her husband, mystery writer Rick Castle, were investigating a murder.

The episode started with a Jane Doe running through some remote woods in upstate New York then out onto a road, where she was hit by a truck, and died. Someone had carved crosses onto the woman’s face, so the state troopers believed she had been attacked in the woods then chased until she was hit by the truck. The truck driver saw a dark figure wearing a mask emerge from the woods. Based on this, the state troopers classified the case as a homicide. There was a recent receipt from a Manhattan coffee shop on the victim, so the troopers called Beckett hoping she could help them track down the victim’s identity.

Accidental death by truck during a brutal assault, however, is too ordinary a case for a police procedural show like Castle. There had to be a complication. Something to give the case that audience-grabbing oomph just before the show broke away for the opening credits.

There was. First Castle recognized the facial cross carvings and the truck driver’s description of the assailant’s mask. Then Castle gave us that extra oomph.

When he was a boy, Castle chanced upon a murder in progress while walking through some woods. Castle saw the killer had carved crosses onto the victim’s face and that the killer wore a distinctive mask; the same crosses and same mask from the current Jane Doe case. Castle realized that the Jane Doe was the work of a serial killer who had been operating for thirty years.

The detectives determined that their killer du semaine must have hidden his victims’ bodies so none were ever found. They were classified as missing persons. No one knew they murder victims, let alone that there was a TV-styled serial killer involved.

No one, that is, until Castle put the pieces together. When Castle saw the killer the first time, the killer, for reasons known only to no one, didn’t kill the only person who knew about his mask and his penchant for carving facial crosses. The killer simply warned Castle not to tell anyone about what he saw. Because that’s what you want to do if you’re a serial killer who operates in such secrecy that no one even knows you exist; you leave the only person who knows you exist alive to talk to the police. Oops, let me rethink that whole not insulting your intelligence thing.

In the course of their investigation, Castle and Beckett end up interviewing a person and Castle immediately recognized that person’s voice as being the murderer’s voice. So with about ten minutes to go in the episode, Castle and Beckett knew who the murderer was.

Problem was they had no proof.

Then Beckett learned the murderer’s dead parents had owned a remote farm in upstate New York near where the Jane Doe died. The farm was now held in trust now and their suspect was the trustee. Castle and Beckett realized that this remote farm was a perfect place for hiding bodies.

Problem was they still had no proof.

Beckett knew she could never get a warrant to search the farm based solely on Castle’s thirty-year-old voice recognition. “And if I searched it without one, then any evidence I would find would be inadmissible.” Okay, so far so good. Beckett showed an understanding of search and seizure law that was more than good enough to you ace a captains exam.

Then Beckett proved she actually understood search and seizure about as well as Cookie Monster understands good eating habits. “But you’re not [a cop],” Beckett said to Castle. “It would be trespassing. You would be breaking the law. But if you found something… And I know how much this means to you. So whatever you decide, I will back your play.”

The show broke for commercial. But rather than watch AT&T’s Lilly profess her love of bedazzling again, I took the opportunity to start writing this column in my head.

Detective Beckett was correct, the Fourth Amendment did prevent her from searching the farm without a warrant. Beckett was also correct that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t cover the actions of private citizens and that if a private citizen searched the farm without a warrant then gave any evidence he found to the police, that evidence would be admissible, because there was no state action involved – state action being actions by any government, either state or federal. It’s called the Silver Platter Doctrine, a term first used in Lustig v. United States, 338 U.S. 74.

Where Beckett went wrong was classifying Castle as a private citizen.

If a private citizen conducts a search while acting as a government agent, then state action does exist. United States v. Jacobsen 466 U.S. 109. If the private citizen is working with the police, than anything the private citizen finds during an illegal search is every bit as inadmissible as evidence found by an actual police officer, because, in essence, the police did find it.

So the question is: Was Castle acting as a private citizen or as a government agent when he searched the farm? The answer is plain. But to make it plainer, let’s look at the test most federal courts use to determine whether a person is acting as a private citizen or a government agent.

It’s a two-prong test, because courts would never make anything so simple that it could be answered with only one prong. The prongs are “ 1) whether the government knew of and acquiesced in the intrusive conduct, and 2) whether the party performing the search intended to assist law enforcement efforts or to further his own ends.” U.S. v. Walther 652 F.2d 788, 791 (9th Cir. 1981).

Here Detective Beckett not only knew of and acquiesced in Castle’s warrantless search, she actually suggested that Castle commit criminal trespass in order to search the farm for the evidence to convict the murderer. Under the Walther test, there wasn’t enough doubt that Castle was acting as a police agent to give Thomas the Apostle pause.

And even Thomas would have stopped doubting when the show came out of commercial break. Castle didn’t drive up to the farm alone. Castle and Beckett drove up to the farm together. Beckett stayed in the car which was parked just on the other side of the farm’s property line and watched through binoculars, while Castle searched the farm’s barn. But Beckett didn’t want Castle “going in alone.” She instructed him to put his cell phone on speaker. Ever the dutiful husband, Castle gave Beckett a step-by-step account of what he found over his cell. At one point, Beckett even told him, “you’re gonna need more than that to call the police. Look around he may have keep trophies from his victims.” Beckett may not have been physically conducting the search, but she was directing it from long distance.

Was there state action? Hell yes! Castle’s search had more state than the 114th Congress. In fact, considering current gridlock, Castle’s search had a more government action than the 114th Congress. A lot more.

Beckett’s suggested plan of attack was one that guaranteed none of the evidence found on the farm would be admissible. Her plan actually jeopardized their chance of catching the killer. Unless, of course, she and Castle planned to lie on the witness stand about how Castle found the evidence.

But they wouldn’t do that, would they? Not even I am so cynical as to suggest that “Effective Perjury” is covered in the captains exam.