In the case of Hume Hamilton versus the State of Florida, Mr. Hamiton was an 82-year-old man who was out walking his dog on a leash when a cat got too close to the dog. The two animals began fighting, so Mr. Hamilton tried to separate them while keeping the leash on his dog. Unfortunately, the dog killed the cat, and Mr. Hamilton ended up being charged with the crime of animal cruelty. But not only was he charged with animal cruelty, he was also eventually convicted of that crime and sentenced to three years in prison.
Hamilton appealed his case, and the court of appeals ruled that he was not guilty of animal cruelty because he did not intend for his dog to kill the cat. The court of appeals said that Hamilton would have been guilty if he had taken the leash off of his dog so that it could attack the cat.
In the case of Thomas Smith versus the State of Florida, Mr. Smith was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and possession of chemicals used to make methamphetamine.
The case began when the police executed a search warrant at a home that was leased by a woman named Kelly Jiminez. The police found a Gatorade bottle containing methamphetamine as well as chemicals used to make methamphetamine. Both Smith and Jiminez were at home when the police executed the warrant. One of those officers later testified at Smith’s trial that he believed the apartment belonged to Jiminez and that she was Smith’s girlfriend.
The prosecutor relied on the following pieces of evidence to prove that Smith lived in Jiminez’ home and therefore had control over the methamphetamine and the chemicals used to make methamphetamine:
1. One athletic shoe size 11 or 11 1/2 that was located on top of a bookcase in a bedroom.
2. A picture found on a nightstand located in another bedroom which showed two men, one of whom was wearing a gas mask and holding a Gatorade bottle containing a white substance that might have been methamphetamine.
3. A gas mask found on a shelf in the same bookcase where the athletic shoe was located.
Smith was convicted of the drug charges. However, the Court of Appeals found that:
a. There was nothing unusual about Jiminez having a picture of her boyfriend located on her nightstand.
b. The fact that the man in the picture was holding a Gatorade bottle that might have contained methamphetamine was not evidence that Smith had control over the bottle that the police found during the search, which the evidence showed was actually a different bottle.
c. The fact that Smith posed for a photo wearing a gasmask similar to the one found by the police did not prove that he lived in Jiminez’ house on the day the police entered because no evidence was presented showing when or where that picture was taken.
d. The existence of a single shoe on the top shelf of the bookcase also did not prove that Smith lived in Jiminez’ house the day the police executed the search warrant.
Because the prosecutor’s evidence did not prove that Smith had what the law calls “dominion and control” over the methamphetamine and chemicals, the Court of Appeals reversed Smith’s convictions.
In the case of Dwight Parker versus the State of Florida, a police officer made a routine traffic stop of Mr. Parker’s car after which he found a gun and some drugs located in the car. Before trial on the drug charges, Parker’s lawyer asked the judge to not let the prosecutor mention the gun to the jury because it wasn’t relevant to the drug charges, and it was very prejudicial. However, the judge disagreed saying that evidence of the gun was necessary to explain why the police searched Parker’s car. Parker was convicted of the drug charges and appealed. The court of appeals reversed Parker’s conviction for the following reasons:
1. The gun found in Parker’s car should not have been admitted into evidence at his trial.
2. The gun should not have been shown to the jury.
3. The jury should not have been told that Parker was arrested for a gun-related charge and that he attempted to reach for the gun after being stopped by the police.
4. Even though Parker was on trial for drugs and not the gun, the gun still became an improper feature of his trial.
In the case of Juan Guardado versus the State of Florida, Mr. Guardado was involved in a three-vehicle crash. Two of the passengers in Guardado’s car were killed. When a Trooper from the Florida Highway Patrol arrived at the scene of the accident, he saw Guardado in the driver’s seat with injuries to his face, and the two passengers in Guardado’s car appeared to be dead. Guardado was taken to a hospital where the Trooper asked hospital personnel to take blood samples from Guardado in order to find out if he had been drinking alcohol or taking drugs before the accident occurred. Those samples were sent to the medical examiner’s office where it was determined that Guardado’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was more than twice the legal limit. Guardado was later charged with DUI manslaughter.
The prosecutor’s office notified Guardado that it intended to subpoena his medical records from the hospital so that it could show the jury that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of the accident. Guardado objected. At the hearing that was held on Guardado’s objection, the prosecutor acknowledged that the Trooper did not have probable cause to request that blood samples be taken from Guardado at the hospital. Nevertheless, the prosecutor argued, the hospital still had a right to draw Guardado’s blood because of the injuries he sustained in the accident, and it was that evidence that the prosecutor wanted access to.
On appeal, the court said that the prosecutor should not have been allowed to get Guardado’s medical records because the only evidence it relied upon to get those records was the Trooper’s illegal request for blood samples at the hospital. The prosecutor did not present any lawful evidence such as police reports that established a connection between the blood samples taken by the hospital for medical reasons and the accident investigation. Therefore, the prosecutor should not have been allowed access to Guardado’s medical records.
Last week, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively cut federal prison sentences for drug crimes. The Commission voted to retroactively decrease the drug table by two offense levels for all drug types. The result is that approximately 50,000 people who are currently incarcerated in the federal prison system for drug crimes could be eligible for a reduction of their sentence by an average of about 2 years. Provided Congress takes no action to nullify the Commission’s vote, federal courts can begin granting motions for sentence reductions on November 1, 2014. However, the Commission delayed the actual release date for inmates to November 1, 2015 in order to provide the courts with time to consider motions and to provide the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other agencies with time to prepare for the upcoming changes.
In the case of the United States versus Quartavious Davis, Mr. Davis was convicted of several armed robberies that occurred at different times and in several different locations. In order to prove that Davis was in the general vicinity of the robberies when they occurred, the prosecutor presented “cell site location information” at Davis’ trial. That information consisted of a record of the calls supposedly made by Davis as well as calls that he received. It also consisted of information about which cell phone towers carried those calls to and from Davis. Typically when you make a call using your cell phone, the cell tower that is closest to you will carry that call to whomever you are calling. By knowing which cell towers were used to send Davis’ calls, the prosecutor was able to show approximately where Davis’ phone was located on certain dates and at certain times. Coincidentally, the prosecutor argued, Davis’ phone was located in the same general vicinity as the robberies that occurred and at the same time that they occurred. Therefore, the prosecutor argued, Davis was one of the robbers.
Davis objected to the cell cite location information being presented to the jury because the government agents who obtained that information did so without first getting a search warrant. They instead obtained the information by getting a court order.
The court of appeals deciding Davis’ case agreed that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution required that the agents get a warrant before they could obtain the cell cite location information. Davis, the appellate court said, had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in that information. The agents mere reliance upon a court order was not good enough.
In the case of Riley versus California, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police generally may not, without a warrant, search the contents of a cell phone that is taken from someone who has been arrested. The facts in the Riley case are as follows:
David Riley was stopped for a traffic violation which eventually led to his arrest on weapons charges. While searching Riley, a police officer found a cell phone located in his pants pocket. The officer looked at information contained on the phone and noticed the repeated use of a term associated with a street gang. A few hours later, a detective at the police department who specialized in gangs further examined information contained on Riley’s phone. Based in part on photographs and videos that the detective found, the prosecutor’s office charged Riley in connection with a shooting that had occurred a few weeks earlier and sought an enhanced sentence based upon his gang membership.
Riley filed a motion in which he argued that it was illegal for the police to have searched the contents of his phone without first getting a search warrant. The United States Supreme Court agreed with him. The Court said that when the police arrest someone, they are allowed to search items found on his person without first getting a warrant if those items can harm an officer or be used to escape (for example, a gun) or if those items can be destroyed (for example, drugs). However, in the case of cell phones, data stored on a phone cannot be used as a weapon to harm an officer or to help someone escape from the police. Also, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the police should not be required to get a search warrant because evidence on a cell phone can be destroyed by remote wiping and data encryption. The Court said that neither of those things is all that prevalent in our society.
The Supreme Court was also concerned about the privacy interests that are at stake when cell phone data is involved. Cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, and hundreds of videos. Thus, a cell phone can contain an electronic record of nearly every aspect of someone’s life. And because of those privacy concerns, the police are required to get a search warrant before looking at the contents of someone’s cell phone whom they have recently arrested.
In the case of Melva Gay versus the State of Florida, a police officer stopped a car for failing to come to a complete stop at at stop sign. Melva Gay was a passenger in that car. The officer asked the driver to get out of the car and then asked him if he could search the car for illegal drugs. The driver said he could. The officer then asked Melva Gay to also get out of the car. She did so but left her purse in the car. While searching her purse, the officer found a small metal pill box containing some pills. Because the officer did not know what the pills were, he took them to his patrol car where he learned, through the website Drugs.com, that the pills were ritalin and tramadol. Ms. Gay was arrested and later charged with committing the crimes of possession of a controlled substance (ritalin), possession of drug paraphernalia (the metal pill container), and possession of a prescription drug without a prescription (tramadol).
Ms. Gay filed a motion with the court in which she argued that it was illegal for the officer to take the pills and pill container from her purse. The court of appeals agreed with her that what the officer did was illegal because:
1. Nothing about the pills or pill box gave the officer reason to believe that Ms. Gay had committed a crime.
2. The officer did not know what the pills were before taking them to his patrol car and checking them out on Drugs.com.
3. The officer did not testify that in his experience people sometimes carry illegally possessed prescription drugs in a pill box like the one Ms. Gay had in her purse.
4. The mere observation of pills in a pill container is as consistent with noncriminal activity as with criminal activity.
Because the officer’s actions were illegal, the court of appeals reversed Ms. Gay’s conviction and sentence.
In the case of the State of Florida versus Dennis Baker, some security guards at a department store located inside a shopping mall saw Mr. Baker take a videotape recorder and leave the store without first paying for it. When Baker saw the guards coming towards him, he put the recorder down inside the mall and began running. When the guards stopped him, Baker began struggling and shouting that they should leave him alone and that he had a gun. Baker never attempted to grab the recorder from off the floor during the struggle. He was eventually charged with committing the crime of robbery.
Baker asked the judge to dismiss his case because he originally took the recorder without using any force, and he put it on the ground before using force against the guards. In order to be guilty of robbery, Baker argued, he would have to have been in possession of the recorder while running away from the guards or while struggling with them. But because neither of those things occurred, he was not guilty of robbery. The judge agreed with him and dismissed his case.
In the case of the State of Florida versus Melissa Hope Williams, Ms. Williams moved to Florida in 2005 from Michigan where she had been adjudicated delinquent for a misdemeanor sex offense and required to register as a sex offender. She was 11 years old when she committed her crime and 13 years old when she was adjudicated delinquent by a Michigan court for committing that crime. When Williams moved to Florida in 2005, she registered as a sex offender with the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, but she failed to re-register when she changed her address in 2009. Because of that, she was charged in criminal court with failing to register as a sex offender.
Williams asked the judge to dismiss the case against her because according to Florida law, a person is a sexual offender when that person “as of July 1, 2007, has been adjudicated delinquent for committing, attempting, soliciting or conspiring to commit certain [sex crimes] in [Florida] or another jurisdiction when the juvenile was 14 years of age or older.” The judge dismissed her case, so the prosecutor appealed.
The court of appeals agreed that Williams’ case should be dismissed because she was only 13 years old when she was adjudicated delinquent in Michigan.