Wednesday, April 24, 2019

News & Notes

1. Is "chalking" your car a violation of the 4th Amendment? Yup, according to the 6th Circuit in this case. Orin Kerr discusses here:

From a practical perspective, this is a really important decision. It concludes that a routine practice that wasn't thought to be illegal (if it was thought of at all) is actually unconstitutional. I'm not sure if the decision is correct. And as I'll explain below, there are several plausible but debatable moves in the opinion. But this decision is now binding in the Sixth Circuit and may also be followed elsewhere: Traffic enforcement officers around the country should be paying attention to this.
2. What's going to happen with the census question in SCOTUS. Most are predicting a conservative 5-4 ruling. Mark Joseph Stern explains why the conservatives are being hypocritical:
To uphold the citizenship question, the court’s conservatives will have to feign respect for the Voting Rights Act, international law, and agency deference—three of their greatest enemies in any other context. In the process, they’ll have to pretend that Ross’ absurd pretexts, his many lies and obfuscations, are believable, even reasonable. And they appear willing to do exactly that to let Ross and Trump have their way. Such a decision would be an embarrassment to the judiciary, evidence that a majority of the justices place the goals of the Republican Party above the truth. A partisan ruling in this case would diminish the court’s legitimacy and fuel support for the addition of more justices. If SCOTUS abandons any pretense of neutrality and throws its weight behind the Trump administration, court packing may come to look like the only sensible option to save democracy from its wayward guardians.
3.  Meantime in our District, the word is the newly-minted Judge Roy Altman has a stable of cases now and has brought the parties in for status conferences.  He will be having a busy summer.  The big question -- will he get to send cases to the two new judges who will be coming shortly.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Michael Avenatti case has Miami connection

The L.A. Times has the story about Avenatti being accused of stealing $1.5 million from Hassan Whiteside and his girlfriend here:

When Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat wired $2.75 million to Michael Avenatti in January 2017, the pro basketball player intended most of the money to go to his former girlfriend, Alexis Gardner.

Avenatti was Gardner’s attorney. An actress and barista, she’d hired him just a few weeks before to negotiate a settlement of a potential lawsuit against Whiteside. It’s unclear what she would have alleged. Avenatti quickly struck a $3-million deal, and the $2.75 million was Whiteside’s first payment.

Avenatti, prosecutors say, was entitled to take just over $1 million in legal fees, leaving the rest for Gardner.

Instead, they allege, Avenatti hid Whiteside’s payment from her and immediately took $2.5 million to buy a share of a private jet.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Federal prosecutors are trying to bully 'Aunt Becky' into pleading guilty

That’s the title of my piece this week in The Hill. From the intro:

Let’s put aside whether we really want cheating on a test or lying on a resume to become a federal crime. And let’s also put aside whether we really want cheating on a test to result in federal prison time.  A larger problem with the criminal justice system is being exposed with the college admissions scandal — federal prosecutors are bullies. As we are seeing in the college admissions case, they bully defendants to plead guilty in at least 5 ways:

And one of the ways:

Threatening charges against family members. In other words, “Plead guilty or your family will pay!” Criminal defense lawyers across the country can empathize with this threat because it’s frequently made by federal prosecutors. And in this case, prosecutors have sent target letters to some of the adult children of people charged. The message is clear — if you plead guilty and fall on the sword, we will not go after your kids. Shame on prosecutors for using those kinds of threats to force guilty pleas.

Let me know your thoughts on the rest of the piece before you turn your attention to the Mueller report.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Big en banc 4th Amendment opinion comes down 7-5

It's the usual battle lines in United States v. Paul Johnson, Jr.

William Pryor for the majority, which includes Ed Carnes, Tjoflat, Marcus, Newsom, Branch and Grant. Newsom concurs, Branch concurs (joined by Grant), Jordan dissents, Rosenbaum dissents, and Jill Pryor dissents (joined by Wilson, Martin, and Jordan).

Lots of interesting writing and fighting here.

Pryor starts off this way:
This appeal requires us to decide whether a police officer violated the Fourth Amendment when he removed a round of live ammunition and a holster from the pocket of a suspect during a protective frisk, see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). At 4:00 a.m., the officer responded to a call about a burglary in progress in a high-crime area. When the officer arrived at the scene, he saw Paul Johnson, who matched the burglar’s description, standing in a dark alley. After detaining Johnson, the officer frisked him and immediately recognized that he had a round of ammunition in his pocket. The officer removed the ammunition and an empty holster covering it. He then canvassed the area and found two pistols less than a foot from where he first saw Johnson. After a grand jury indicted Johnson for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), he moved to suppress the pistols, ammunition, and holster, but the district court denied his motion. A panel of this Court reversed. United States v. Johnson, 885 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir.), reh’g en banc granted, op. vacated, 892 F.3d 1155 (11th Cir. 2018). We then vacated that decision and ordered rehearing en banc. We now affirm the denial of Johnson’s motion to suppress because the officer was entitled to seize the ammunition to protect himself and others.

Newsom writes a concurrence saying that both sides have nice totality of the circumstances arguments and that on balance he's with the majority, but he favors bright lines and would end up saying that cops can always seize a bullet:
So in the next “bullet case,” rather than asking—or worse, requiring the responding officer to ask—whether the neighborhood is sufficiently scary, the hour sufficiently late, the light sufficiently dim, and the suspect and scene sufficiently secure, I would simply hold that the Fourth Amendment permits the protective seizure.

Branch agrees (Grant joins) with Newsom but writes separately without all of the nice stuff about the dissents:
Because I conclude that a bullet falls in to the category of “guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer,” id. at 29, and cannot logically be separated from a gun for Terry purposes, I would find that anytime an officer conducts a lawful Terry frisk, the officer may seize any bullet located during the frisk.

Jordan dissents and says, what about originalism? Originalism would not have allowed this to go forward and all of those in the majority who are generally champions of originalism are awfully quiet now:
Relying on Justice Scalia’s originalist position, Mr. Johnson argues that we should construe Terry narrowly, and not extend it to allow the seizure and removal of items that are neither weapons nor contraband. See Mr. Johnson’s En Banc Br. at 18-23. But the majority barely acknowledges this argument, and declines to address its merits. According to the majority, we are bound by Terry, and must therefore ignore the original understanding of the Fourth Amendment.2
The majority is correct that Terry constitutes binding precedent, and that no one on this court can wish it away. But accepting Terry does not require extending its reach on an issue of first impression. Terry permitted pat-downs for weapons, and only weapons. See Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 93-94 (1979) (“Nothing in Terry can be understood to allow . . . any search whatever for anything but weapons.”). By allowing officers to seize a stand-alone bullet from an unarmed suspect who is in handcuffs and being held at gunpoint by several officers, the majority expands Terry beyond its “narrow scope.” Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 210 (1979).

Rosenbaum dissents, arguing that the majority is answering a question that was never briefed or argued:

Today we hold that any ammunition may always be seized during a frisk when the searching officer immediately identifies it as ammunition, regardless of any surrounding circumstances. This is a new rule that we did not ask the parties to address, that neither party briefed, and that the government expressly declined to adopt at oral argument.
Indeed, during oral argument, the Court asked the government, “Once you feel the bullet, the officer can seize the bullet. Is that the government’s position?” Recording of Oral Argument dated Oct. 24, 2018, at 38:58. And the government responded without equivocation, “No, Your Honor.” Id. Then the government explicitly stated, “We are not asking the Court to rule that a bullet in isolation in all circumstances would be sufficient to reach in [to the pocket and seize]; we are asking the Court to apply the facts-specific Fourth Amendment tests that this Court has applied and other courts have applied . . . under the totality of the circumstances.” Id. at 51:34.1
Because we operate only “as arbiters of legal questions presented and argued by the parties,” Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Admin. v. Nelson, 562 U.S. 134, 148 n.10 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), once the government disclaimed the per se rule at oral argument, we were left with only two permissible options: apply a true totality-of-the-circumstances test or rehear the case, ask the per se question to the parties and, if necessary, appointed counsel, and analyze the arguments presented. Instead, the Majority Opinion takes a third route and adopts the new per se rule on its own. That new rule may well be correct. Or it may not. But if we wanted to consider such a rule, we should have asked the parties to brief and argue it in this en banc proceeding, instead of asking them to brief and argue a more discrete question.

Judge Rosenbaum is the Kagan of our Circuit. A glimpse here from the conclusion:
Charades may be fun at parties, but not in judicial opinions where officer safety and privacy rights hang in the balance. I therefore respectfully decline to engage in that activity.12
Today we issue a new rule we did not ask the parties to brief, they did not brief, and the government expressly disavowed. And we do this even though we could have obtained the parties’ input on the question we decide today. I respectfully decline to participate in that activity. The parties’ testing of the issues we decide is and should be the engine that drives our adversarial system.

Jill Pryor's dissent (joined by Wilson, Martin, and Jordan) defends the panel decision:
The panel correctly held that the seizure of a bullet and holster from the pocket of Mr. Johnson—who was compliant with officers’ commands, on the ground, handcuffed behind his back, and held at gunpoint by several officers—constituted an unreasonable seizure under Terry and its progeny. See United States v. Johnson, 885 F.3d 1313, 1323-24 (11th Cir. 2018). With respect, I dissent from the majority opinion’s contrary holding.

The Supreme Court addresses whether FUCT can be trademarked

The issue at yesterday’s oral argument was whether Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act’s prohibition on the federal registration of “immoral” or “scandalous” marks is facially invalid under the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Some background from SCOTUSblog:
This case arose when Erik Brunetti applied to register his trademark FUCT for use as a brand for clothing. Brunetti started a streetwear company in 1990 with professional skateboarder Natas Kaupas, and later applied to register the trademark with the USPTO. The examining attorney rejected Brunetti’s trademark application on the basis that the mark is a phonetic equivalent of a vulgar word. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal, finding that the examiner had provided sufficient evidence that a substantial composite of the general public would find the mark vulgar. The TTAB stressed that consideration of the constitutionality of Section 2(a) was beyond the scope of jurisdiction of the TTAB.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed that substantial evidence supported the board’s findings that the FUCT mark is vulgar and was therefore unregistrable under Section 2(a). However, it ultimately reversed the board’s holding. The Federal Circuit found that the bar on registering scandalous and immoral trademarks is a content-based restriction on free speech in violation of the First Amendment.

This case arises in the aftermath of, and perhaps as a natural consequence of, Matal v. Tam, which struck down the registration bar for the other type of offensive trademarks — those deemed disparaging. In Tam, the Supreme Court held that trademarks are private, not government, speech, and an examiner may not refuse to register trademarks based on the particular viewpoint the trademarks express. Because the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) denied registration to any trademark that was deemed disparaging by a substantial composite of the referenced group, it discriminated based on viewpoint: “Giving offense is a viewpoint.” The court found that whether strict scrutiny or a more lenient standard used to evaluate the constitutionality of restrictions on commercial speech under Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York applied, the provision could not withstand either level of review because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a substantial government interest. Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in his concurrence that “the central purpose of trademark registration is to facilitate source identification… Whether a mark is disparaging bears no plausible relation to that goal.”

There were legal gymnastics at oral argument not to say the word FUCT. More from SCOTUSBlog:

Sommer has pre-empted the warning that has typically come from the court about not using profane or vulgar language during arguments in past cases involving Paul Cohen’s “F**k the Draft” message on the jacket he wore in a courthouse, George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” routine (or the “seven words you can’t say on the public airwaves”), and the “isolated utterances” of obscene words on television.

An amicus brief on Brunetti’s side from the Cato Institute, besides offering its own thoughtful take on the importance of vulgar language in society, directs readers to a fascinating article in a 2012 issue of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal by Thomas Krattenmaker, who was a law clerk to Justice John Marshall Harlan. In Cohen v. California, Harlan (and mostly Krattenmaker, by his account) wrote the opinion for the court that said the anti-draft message on the jacket was protected from criminal prosecution by the First Amendment.

Krattenmaker relates the well-known fact that before oral argument in Cohen in the fall of 1970, then-Chief Justice Warren Burger sought to head off the use of the offending word by telling Cohen’s lawyer that the justices were familiar with the facts of the case. But the lawyer, Melville Nimmer, used the word in response to the first question he received. Krattenmaker further relates that Nimmer worried that court security personnel might jump up and say, “He said F*** in the Supreme Court, grab him!”

No one grabbed Nimmer that day, of course.

One thing the justices seem to agree on this morning is that the Trademark Office has been thoroughly inconsistent in its treatment of trademark applications involving the “seven dirty words” and their variations.

Justice Neil Gorsuch refers to the appendix at the end of Brunetti’s merits brief, which provides a four-page guide to those inconsistencies with examples that would make any sailor blush.

“There are shocking numbers of ones granted and ones refused that do look remarkably similar,” Gorsuch says.

(The appendix is part of the printed “red brief,” but is a separate document in the court’s docket for the case. Parental Guidance suggested. And by that, we mean that some parents may need to consult their 20-something children for explanations.)

We weren’t surprised to learn that the motto on the wallet of Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Jules) in “Pulp Fiction” was rejected for federal trademark protection. (As Jules puts it in the classic 1994 Quentin Tarantino film, “It’s the one that says ‘Bad Mother F*****.’”)

When Stewart starts to discuss an example by spelling out a phonetic equivalent for the profane past participle form of the word at issue, Gorsuch cuts him off.

“I don’t want to go through the examples. I really don’t want to do that,” he says to laughter from the courtroom.