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Criminal justice

Three years ago the Court curbed the use of random roadblocks for general law enforcement.  Illinois and fourteen other states have asked the Court to clarify this rule, and indicate how far police may go in using random roadblocks to track down criminals without violating the privacy rights of other motorists.  The Court has agreed that police may set up sobriety checkpoints looking for drunken drivers, and border roadblocks to intercept illegal immigrants.  But to set up a random roadblock looking for drugs is an invasion of privacy because it is not based on any probable cause.  Roadblocks are allowed for emergencies, such as the shutdown of interstate highways during the three-week sniper rampage in the Washington area in the fall of 2002.

Police were stopping cars in 1997 to hand out leaflets seeking tips about a crime, and in the process pulled over Robert Lidster, who was drunk.  He was arrested and the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the conviction on the grounds that no emergency existed to justify the police stopping cars at random.  The state appealed, asking the Court for more precise guidelines on when and how they may use roadblocks.  Illinois v. Lidster.

In another Fourth Amendment case, law enforcement officers, in the course of executing a search warrant for illegal drugs, forcibly entered an apartment only fifteen or twenty seconds after knocking and announcing their presence. The Ninth Circuit said they should have waited longer to determine if the suspect was fleeing or resisting arrest. United States v. Banks.

The high court has also accepted a case in which it will decide whether an officer can search the car of a recent occupant who was arrested outside the vehicle and had been unaware of the presence of the officers. Rodney Gant pulled his car into his driveway not knowing that police had been waiting for him.  As an officer walked toward the car, Gant got out, and was arrested based on an outstanding warrant.  The police then searched the car, found cocaine and drug paraphernalia, and was subsequently tried and convicted on drug charges, receiving three years in prison. An Arizona appeals court overturned the conviction and held that the evidence seized in the car had to be suppressed. It said that a warrantless search would have been permissible if Gant had been in the car or had been aware of the presence of the police, but not otherwise. Arizona v. Gant.

The Court will hear three cases on police questioning, and how the 1966 Miranda ruling needs to be applied. A convicted drug dealer, John J. Fellers of Lincoln, Nebraska, claims his confession was wrongly obtained because police interviewed him at home eliciting information, and then took him to police headquarters where they read him his Miranda rights, and he repeated what he had said at home. The information elicited both times amounted to a confession of selling drugs, helped convict him of charges of distributing methamphetamine, and led to a twelve-year prison sentence.  The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said the second statement was admissible, rejecting Fellers' argument that both statements should be suppressed.  Fellers v. United States.

In the second case, police arrested Samuel Patane in 2001 outside his residence in Colorado Springs for violating a domestic violence restraining order. Detective Josh Benner began reading Patane his Miranda rights, and after Patane had been told of his right to remain silent, he said he knew his rights and the detective stopped erading the required warning. Benner asked Patane what guns he owned, and Patane said that one was already in police custody.  Benner, however, had been told by a probation officer that Patane was a convicted felon, and also possessed a Glock pistol. Patane acknowledged he owned the gun, that it was on a shelf in his bedroom, and gave the officer permission to get it. Patane was later charged with illegal possession of a firearm, and sought to suppress the police seizure because police had not read him his full Miranda rights. A federal judge and and appeals court agreed with him, and the question before the high court will be the relationship between Miranda warnings and the seizure of physical evidence. United States v. Patane.

The third case deals with whether statements made after Miranda warnings are admissible, if the police questioning began with officers intentionally failing to give the required warning. Missouri v. Seibert.



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