Category: Criminal Procedure


The Potentially Profound Implications of United States v. Jones

I must respectfully disagree with a recent post by Renee Hutchins on our blog about the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones.    She concludes:

With full knowledge of this history, the Jones decision should give us pause. It is widely believed that the test the court enunciated nearly a half-century ago better protects the privacy interest of citizens in the face of advancing technology. By reverting to the language of trespass, the court this week took a step back when it could have taken a bold step forward. Moreover, by failing to engage the admittedly “thorny” question of whether the monitoring of the GPS device alone violated Mr. Jones’ constitutional rights, the court missed a momentous opportunity to speak clearly in a brave new world.

Although it is true that the majority opinion is narrow, the concurring opinions indicate five votes for a broader more progressive view of the Fourth Amendment, one which breaks from some of the Court’s antiquated notions of privacy. When I read Jones, I see cause for celebration rather than disappointment.

I have long argued that the Court has failed to understand that aggregated pieces of information can together upend expectations of privacy. See Privacy and Power 1434-35 (2001), The Digital Person 44-47 (2004), Understanding Privacy 117-21 (2008).  I have also critiqued what I call the “secrecy paradigm” where the Court has held that privacy is only invaded by revealing previously concealed information.  See The Digital Person 42-44 (2004), Understanding Privacy 106-12 (2008).  I have argued that privacy can be invaded even by public surveillance.  More recently, in Nothing to Hide 178 (2011), I argued:

The problem with the secrecy paradigm is that we do expect some degree of privacy in public.  We don’t expect total secrecy, but we also don’t expect somebody to be recording everything we do. Most of the time, when we’re out and about, nobody’s paying any special attention to us. We do many private things in public, such as buy medications and hygiene products in drug stores and browse books and magazines in bookstores. We expect a kind of practical obscurity—to be just another face in the crowd.

In Justice Alito’s concurring opinion, he seemingly recognizes both of the concept of aggregation and the fact that the extent of the surveillance matter more than merely whether it occurs in public or private:

Under this approach, relatively short-term monitoring of a person’s movements on public streets accords with expectations of privacy that our society has recognized as reasonable.  But the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.  For such offenses, society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not—and indeed, in the main, simply could not—secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.

Justice Sotomayor discusses this passage with approval in her concurrence, indicating five votes for this view.  Indeed, she would go even further than Justice Alito.

I see profound implications in Jones for the future direction of the Fourth Amendment and privacy law more generally.  I explain this in detail in a recent essay, United States v. Jones and the Future of Privacy Law: The Potential Far-Reaching Implications of the GPS Surveillance Case, Bloomberg BNA Privacy & Security Law Report (Jan. 30, 2012).  From the essay:

The more contextual and open-ended view of privacy articulated by Justice Alito has five votes on the Court.  This is a sophisticated view of privacy, one that departs from the antiquated notions the Court has often clung to.  If this view works its way through Fourth Amendment law, the implications could be quite profound.  So many of the Court’s rationales under the reasonable expectation of privacy test fail to comprehend how technology changes the dynamic of information gathering, making it ruthlessly efficient and making surveillance pervasive and more penetrating.  We might be seeing the stirrings of a more modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, one that no longer seems impervious to technological development.

I continue:

Read More


United States v. Jones, A Step Back for Rights

I appreciate the chance to engage with CoOp readers on the United States v. Jones case.  I wrote an Op Ed for the Baltimore Sun, so here’s what I have to say.

I really wanted to love the Supreme Court’s decision Monday in United States v. Jones. As one deeply committed to personal liberty and restrained government, what’s not to love when the nation’s highest court finds the police must obtain a warrant before continuously tracking the citizenry with installed GPS devices?  Unfortunately, the answer is “plenty.”

The Supreme Court in Jones could have categorically denounced intrusive government monitoring in the mold of the Orwellian state. It didn’t. And so, while the result in Jones is being roundly celebrated in many quarters, there remain good reasons for privacy fans to hold our applause.

Acting on suspicions that Antoine Jones was selling drugs, the government attached a GPS device to his car. From that device, police computers received a steady stream of information about the car’s location for 28 days. In all, more than 2,000 pages of location data were transmitted. Some of the data linked Mr. Jones to a house where substantial quantities of drugs and money were found. Mr. Jones was consequently charged with drug trafficking offenses. The trial court held that most of the data gleaned from the GPS device was admissible.

Commendably, the Supreme Court reversed that decision and declared the GPS monitoring of Mr. Jones unconstitutional. In doing so, however, the court refused to answer the long-standing question of constitutional limits on the Orwellian state. The case was an opportunity for the court to announce that round-the-clock surveillance of citizens without a warrant offends Fourth Amendment guarantees. Instead, the court based its analysis upon the narrower observation that the police attached a device to Mr. Jones’ car. The Supreme Court’s reluctance is understandable; the broader questions are complex and not easily resolved. But, now more than ever, advances in technology make pressing the need to confront the questions head on.

The court’s refusal to tell us whether the Constitution protects us from suspicion-less government monitoring is alone cause for frustration. But perhaps as troubling is the language the court used to accomplish its elusion. Read More

Barry Friedman on United States v. Jones

Professor Barry Friedman’s opinion piece in the New York Times on Jones is characteristically insightful: we’ve featured his work in our Bright Ideas series and other posts.  His piece adds an important layer to, and echoes, the conversation our experts have been having this past week.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

EVERY day, those of us who live in the digital world give little bits of ourselves away. On Facebook and LinkedIn. To servers that store our e-mail, Google searches, online banking and shopping records. Does the fact that so many of us live our lives online mean we have given the government wide-open access to all that information?

The Supreme Court’s decision last week in United States v. Jones presents the disturbing possibility that the answer is yes. In Jones, the court held that long-term GPS surveillance of a suspect’s car violated the Fourth Amendment. The justices’ 9-to-0 decision to protect constitutional liberty from invasive police use of technology was celebrated across the ideological spectrum. Read More


Why Scalia is Right in Jones: Magic Places and One-Way Ratchets

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Jones yesterday, and the blogosphere is abuzz about the case. (See Margot Kaminski, Paul Ohm, Howard Wasserman, Tom Goldstein, and the terrifyingly prolific Orin Kerr.) The verdict was a clean sweep – 9-0 for Jones – but the case produced three opinions, including a duel between Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Thus far, most privacy and constitutional law thinkers favor Alito’s position. That’s incorrect: Justice Scalia’s opinion is far more privacy protective. Here’s why: Read More


Jones is a Near-Optimal Result

Thanks to Danielle for inviting me to post my thoughts. I’ll try to come up with some new, original thoughts in a later post, but to start, let me offer an abridged version of what I posted yesterday on my home blog, Freedom to Tinker.

I think the Jones court reached the correct result, and I think that the three opinions represent a near-optimal result for those who want the Court to recognize how its present Fourth Amendment jurisprudence does far too little to protect privacy and limit unwarranted government power in light of recent advances in surveillance technology. This might seem counter-intuitive. I predict that many news stories about Jones will pitch it as an epic battle between Scalia’s property-centric and Alito’s privacy-centric approaches to the Fourth Amendment and quote people expressing regret that Justice Alito didn’t instead win the day. I think this would focus on the wrong thing, underplaying how the three opinions–all of them–represent a significant advance for Constitutional privacy, for several reasons:

  1. Justice Alito?
  2. Maybe I’m not a savvy court watcher, but I did not see this coming. The fact that Justice Alito wrote such a strong privacy-centric opinion suggests that future Fourth Amendment litigants will see a well-defined path to five votes, especially since it seems like Justice Sotomayor will likely provide the fifth vote in the right future case.

  3. Justice Scalia and Thomas showed restraint.
  4. The majority opinion goes out of its way to highlight that its focus on property is not meant to foreclose privacy-based analyses in the future. It uses the words “at bottom” and “at a minimum” to hammer home the idea that it is supplementing Katz not replacing it. Maybe Justice Scalia did this to win Justice Sotomayor’s vote, but even if so, I am heartened that neither Justice Scalia nor Justice Thomas thought it necessary to write a separate concurrence arguing that Katz’s privacy focus should be replaced with a focus only on property rights.

  5. Justice Sotomayor does not like the third-party doctrine.
  6. It’s probably best here just to quote from the opinion:

    More fundamentally, it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. E.g., Smith, 442 U.S., at 742; United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435, 443 (1976). This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers. Perhaps, as JUSTICE ALITO notes, some people may find the “tradeoff” of privacy for convenience “worthwhile,” or come to accept this “dimunition of privacy” as “inevitable,” post, at 10, and perhaps not. I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year. But whatever the societal expectations, they can attain constitutionally protected status only if our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence ceases to treat secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection.

    Wow. And Amen. Set your stopwatches: the death watch for the third-party doctrine has finally begun.

  7. The wrong case for a privacy overhaul of the Fourth Amendment.
  8. Most importantly, I’ve had misgivings about using Jones as the vehicle for fixing what is broken with the Fourth Amendment. GPS vehicle tracking comes laden with lots of baggage–practical, jurisprudential and atmospheric–that other actively litigated areas of modern surveillance do not. GPS vehicle tracking happens on public streets, meaning it runs into dozens of Supreme Court pronouncements about assumption of risk and voluntarily disclosure. It faces two prior precedents, Karo and Knotts, that need to be distinguished or possibly overturned. It does not suffer (as far as we know) from a long history of use against innocent people, but instead seems mostly used to track fugitives and drug dealers.

    For all of these reasons, even the most privacy-minded Justice is likely to recognize caveats and exceptions in crafting a new rule for GPS tracking. Imagine if Justice Sotomayor had signed Justice Alito’s opinion instead of Justice Scalia’s. We would’ve been left with a holding that allowed short-term monitoring but not long-term monitoring, without a precise delineation between the two. We would’ve been left with the possible new caveat that the rules change when the police investigate “extraordinary offenses,” also undefined. These unsatisfying, vague new rules would have had downstream negative effects on lower court opinions analyzing URL or search query monitoring, or cell phone tower monitoring, or packet sniffing.

    Better that we have the big “reinventing Katz” debate in a case that isn’t so saddled with the confusions of following cars on public streets. I hope the Supreme Court next faces a surveillance technique born purely on the Internet, one in which “classic trespassory search is not involved.” If the votes hold from Jones, we might end up with what many legal scholars have urged: a retrenchment or reversal of the third-party doctrine; a Fourth Amendment jurisprudence better tailored to the rise of the Internet; and a better Constitutional balance in this country between privacy and security.


Welcoming Experts to Discuss the Supreme Court’s Decision in United States v. Jones

As my co-blogger Dan Solove noted, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Jones, finding the warrantless GPS surveillance of a car unconstitutional.  There’s much to discuss about the majority opinion written by Scalia (with Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, and Sotomayor), a concurrence written by Sotomayor, and a concurrence by Alito (with Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan).  We’re lucky to have experts on board to help us sort it out: Margot E. Kaminski, Executive Director of the Yale Information Society Project and Research Scholar and Lecturer at Yale Law School whose scholarship focuses on civil liberties, privacy, and surveillance, guest blogger Paul Ohm, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Colorado School of Law and former computer programmer and network systems administrator who has authored many important pieces on privacy and surveillance, and Priscilla “Cilla” Smith, Senior Fellow at the Yale Information Society Project who has co-authored “When Machines Are Watching: How Warrantless Use of GPS Surveillance Technology Violates the Fourth Amendment Right Against Unreasonable Searches,” 121 The Yale Law Journal Online 177 (2011) (with Nabiha Syed, David Thaw and Albert Wong).   In a week or so, we will also be hearing from my colleague Renée Hutchins, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, whose article Tied Up in Knotts?” GPS and the Fourth Amendment, 55 UCLA Law Review 1 (2007) appeared in many district and Court of Appeals decisions wrestling with warrantless GPS tracking on cars.


United States v. Jones — The Fourth Amendment and GPS Surveillance

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided United States v. Jones, concluding that when the government installs a GPS surveillance device on a car, it is a Fourth Amendment search.  The majority uses a property-based rationale and the concurring opinion (Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) uses a privacy-based rationale.   More thoughts and analysis to come later.

I also want to congratulate my colleague Orin Kerr, who is cited in both the majority opinion and in a concurring opinion for his article, The Fourth Amendment and New Technologies: Constitutional Myths and the Case for Caution, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 801 (2004).  The majority opinion relies heavily on Orin’s theory of the Fourth Amendment and property that he sets forth in the first part of his article.


Russian Human Rights Council Recommends Quashing Khodorkovsky’s Conviction

Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev met Tuesday with Mikhail Fedotov, Chairman of Medvedev's Human Rights Council. The Khodorkovsky report was the first topic that Mr. Fedotov raised.

Just before Christmas, Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights recommended that the December 2010 conviction of Yukos-Oil-CEO-now-prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky be annulled.  That announcement (unfortunately, only available in Russian, but reported by the BBC, among others) coincides with massive street protests not seen in Russia since shortly before Christmas 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. 

The Council’s recommendation was based on a 427-page report on Khodorkovsky’s conviction that the Council gave to President Medvedev.  The report contained the analysis of nine scholars that the Council selected last spring from Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.  I was the American contributor.  The report on the Council’s website is in Russian, but you can find an English-version of my portion of the document here

The Khodorkovsky case will be the focus of a “hot topics” panel on Friday morning, January 6, at 10:30 at the AALS Conference in Washington D.C.  How does the case relate to the recent protests in Russia?  What does it say about the rule of law in Russia and prospects for reform?  Come to the panel and find out!


Original Habeas Writ

My brilliant colleague Lee Kovarsky is an expert on the theory and practice of habeas corpus.  He’s a wunderkind.  One can find him, in any given week, arguing habeas petitions before an appellate court, working on the first habeas casebook entitled Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation with his co-author Brandon Garrett, and, as I imagine is true this week, grading civil procedure exams.  Professor Kovarsky is also writing ground-breaking articles.  Here is the abstract for his most recent work entitled Original Habeas Redux, published by the Virginia Law Review:

In Original Habeas Redux, I map the modern dimensions of the Supreme Court’s most exotic jurisdiction, the original habeas writ. The Court has not issued such relief since 1925 and, until recently, had not ordered a case transferred pursuant to that authority in over fifty years. In August 2009, by transferring a capital prisoner’s original habeas petition to a federal district court rather than dismissing it outright, In re Davis abruptly thrust this obscure power back into mainstream legal debate over both the death penalty and the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

Scrambling to understand how the authority has evolved since its nineteenth-century heyday, commentators have been severely limited by the absence of any data reporting the attributes of the original petitions themselves. I have filled that empirical void by collecting and organizing the only modern original habeas data, and this Article presents those results for the first time. The data shows that the vast majority of original petitioners are criminally confined, but that they are not collaterally challenging that confinement in their initial habeas proceedings. Original writ procedure is now primarily a vehicle for litigating “successive” habeas corpus petitions that are otherwise subject to severe jurisdictional limits in the federal courts.

I argue that, in light of the writ’s history and the data I have compiled, Davis is not a blip in an otherwise constant state of original habeas inactivity. I observe that the availability of original habeas relief has historically exhibited two over-arching characteristics: (1) that the Supreme Court’s Article III appellate power to grant it is basically coextensive with Article III judicial power common to all federal courts; and (2) that the Court does not actually exercise that authority when it may avail itself of jurisdictional alternatives. I also present data confirming that the availability of conventional appellate jurisdiction exerts the dominant influence on the modern original habeas docket’s composition. I ultimately advance what I call the “capital safety valve paradigm”–the idea that original habeas should and likely will emerge as a means to ensure that the death penalty is not erroneously imposed.


The Phone Booths in Katz v. United States?

I’ve chipped away at the K2-esque stack of Crim Pro and Torts exams that sit on my desk. Plus, if I grade another examination right now, my margin comments will consist solely of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” So, notwithstanding my earlier prediction that grading would prevent further posts, I am allowing myself this entry as a reward and respite.

Here, I want to share an (arguably) interesting video with this blog’s readers.  As background, my Criminal Procedure course reader begins with the seminal Katz v. United States case.   The Katz case involved the government’s warrantless eavesdropping on an occupant of a phone booth situated along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  As those of you who teach Crim Pro, or who took this course in law school already know, Katz is the wellspring of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard that has become the touchstone for Fourth Amendment analysis.

I use PowerPoints in my classes, and I’ve been searching fruitlessly for good visuals for the Katz v. United States case for some time. Stock photos of 1950s college-age kids stuffing themselves into telephone booths, movie posters for the Colin Farrell vehicle “Phone Booth,” and my simple line drawings don’t really convey the scene quite as well as I would like.

Toward this purpose, while procrastinating from grading examinations today, I came across a website that hosts several scrolling videos of the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles,  circa the mid-1960s.  I thought that one of these videos might show the fateful bank of phone booths, and in any event, continuing my search for same would provide an extremely valid excuse not to grade more exams.

According to the Ninth Circuit’s opinion below in Katz, the bank of three phone booths that Katz used was on the 8200 block of Sunset Boulevard.  And, sure enough, if one scrolls down to the fourth video on the page—the one that’s 2:48 in length—about 49 seconds in, one can see a bank of three phone booths on the 8200 block. (How do I know which block this is?  The Jay Ward studios—home of Bullwinkle the Moose, and featuring a conspicuous Bullwinkle statue in front—were located at 8217 Sunset Boulevard, quite close to the phone booths.)

I don’t know for certain that these are the phone booths involved in Katz (the caption for the video indicates it was recorded in 1967, whereas the facts in Katz took place in 1965; plus, I don’t know whether there was another set of phone booths on the [unfilmed] north side of the street), but they might well be.  Just thought I’d pass it along; even if these aren’t the same phone booths, the video conveys a nice sense of time and place for the case.