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Archive for the ‘Fourth Amendment’ Category

After he was arrested and later released without charge, Illinois resident Bruce Williams filed suit against four officers, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. According to Williams, the officers arrested him without probable cause and proceeded to assault him, causing facial scars that made it impossible for him to follow his vocation of cosmetologist/educator. Williams was allowed to proceed in forma pauperis and later retained attorney Garry Alonzo Payton on a contingent-fee basis.

Six months after the trial court’s deadline for the filing of a final pretrial order, and after repeated attempts to elicit a response from a draft pretrial order, the officers moved for sanctions. The trial court declined to dismiss the case, but refused to schedule a pretrial conference. Instead he ordered Williams and Payton to reimburse the legal expenses incurred in order to obtain a response to the draft order, approximately $9,000, within 30 days.

Williams unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a payment plan at a rate of $25 per month, unable to afford more on his $1,050 monthly salary. The officers rejected the plan and the 30-day deadline passed without payment. Though he acknowledged Williams’ poverty, the trial court dismissed the case for failure to pay the sanction.

Williams also complained to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, blaming Payton for the delay in responding to the pretrial order. The commission agreed and ordered Payton to pay the sanction and suspended him for 45 days.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals criticized the dismissal as a disproportionate response to the misdoing:

[Williams] was given 30 days; he sought 11,000. But the court was mistaken to term the plaintiff’s failure to pay ‘contumacious.’ No one doubts that he can’t afford to pay the monetary sanction. To ignore a party’s inability to pay a sanction could result in a disproportionate punishment–as this case illustrates.

Had the case been allowed to proceed to trial, the $10,000 settlement offered by the officers could have covered the sanction. The Seventh Circuit applauded the decision of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, noting that "Payton got off lightly. Ignoring the need to prepare a pretrial order was inexcusable. Ignoring the order to pay sanctions was worse; it was contempt of court." The Seventh Circuit reinstated Williams’ case and remanded it back to the trial court.

For the full story, click here.

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Antoine Jones was convicted of drug trafficking based on information collected by the FBI through the use of global positioning surveillance (“GPS”). Jones, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, appealed his conviction, arguing that the use of GPS is not covered by the United States Supreme Court’s “beeper” ruling 25 years ago. The Court’s ruling in that case, United States v. Knotts, permitted the use of legally installed radio beepers to help police physically follow a vehicle on public roads. However, he Court made it clear that the ruling did not control “dragnet-type law enforcement practices” or technical intrusion into private places. In its decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the use of GPS tracking can replace human surveillance, enables 24-hour surveillance at nominal cost, allows police to track vehicles in private places and public roads, and enables the simultaneous surveillance of an unlimited number of people. The court stated the following:

By combining [the GPS data] with Jones’s cell-phone records the government was able to paint a picture of Jones’s movements that made credible the allegation that he was involved in drug trafficking. . . . [A] reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there.

Accordingly, the court overturned Jones’s conviction. For the full story, click here.

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Mack v. Dillon, No. 09-1295.

In early 2004, Dolandon Mack robbed a Little Rock convenience store at gunpoint. When police officers arrived, Mack fled from the store and was eventually shot by police. The shooting resulted in Mack’s leg being amputated.

Accounts differ as to what happened as Mack ran away from the officers. Mack claims that one of the officers, Tim Dillon, began shooting at him immediately after directing him to “freeze,” even though Mack was not holding a gun. Dillon asserts that Mack was holding a gun, ignored his directions to stop, and turned toward him so that Dillon believed Mack was going to shoot him. The videotape from another officer’s patrol car supports Mack’s version of events.

Mack filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Dillon, several other police officers, and the City of Little Rock alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and a conspiracy to conceal the violation. The trial court dismissed all of Mack’s claims for various reasons. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with dismissal of all of the claims except those against Dillon. The court held that, because of the differing accounts of the shooting, a material fact existed as to whether Dillon’s actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him. Accordingly, the court reversed dismissal of Mack’s claims against Dillon and remanded the case for further consideration.

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