How much of a violation needs to take place before it's a Constitutional violation? It's a trick question, at least in the hands of the right judge. With the wrong judge, a minimal violation is considered excusable, or at least salvageable by any number of Fourth Amendment exceptions.But with the right judge, any Fourth Amendment violation is a Fourth Amendment violation, no matter how small or how fleeting it is. That's how we get to this decision [PDF], handed down by the Supreme Court of Idaho, which not only calls on cops to do better with their drug dog handling, but also tips the hat to recent decisions involving parking enforcement measures. (via FourthAmendment.com)Here are the facts of the case:
In March 2019, police officers stopped Howard for a traffic violation and took him into custody after discovering an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Officers then brought in a drug-sniffing dog (“Pico”) to sniff the exterior of the car. Pico alerted to the presence of illegal drugs, and a subsequent search of the car uncovered methamphetamine, heroin, and drug paraphernalia. Neither Howard nor his passenger was the registered owner of the vehicle, and police contacted the owner who took possession of the vehicle at the scene.After prosecutors charged Howard with drug trafficking offenses related to the heroin and methamphetamine, Howard moved to suppress all evidence arising from the search of the car. During the hearing on the motion, Howard argued Pico momentarily put his nose through the open window of the car before giving his final, trained response to indicate the presence of illegal drugs, and that this was a trespass constituting an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights under United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012). The only witness testifying at the hearing was Officer Amy Knisley, Pico’s handler. A portion of Knisley’s body camera footage showing the dog sniff was also admitted into evidence.
The district court was fine with Pico's momentary intrusion and denied the motion to suppress. It said that because the sniff was of the dog's own volition, it couldn't possibly have been a rights violation.
The district court denied Howard’s motion to suppress because it found the Court of Appeals opinion in State v. Naranjo, 159 Idaho 258, 359 P.3d 1055 (Ct. App. 2015), was controlling. In Naranjo, the Court of Appeals held that a drug dog’s sniff through the open window of a vehicle had been “instinctual”—as opposed to facilitated or encouraged by the police—and therefore was not a “search” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.
The challenge of the search pointed to the Supreme Court's decision in Jones, which found intrusions -- however minimal -- into private property were unconstitutional without a warrant or any applicable warrant exception. In that case, officers placed a tracking device on a parked car. That minimal intrusion (in service of a greater, more extended intrusion) was impermissible.Idaho's Supreme Court agrees with the defendant. Jones is controlling here. The intrusion may have been minimal but it was still an intrusion.
We agree with Howard that Naranjo is inconsistent with Jones and that Pico’s entry was a search. Jones is clear that for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, a search occurs when the government trespasses in order to obtain information.
Though not squarely on point, and certainly not binding on this Court, we find that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Taylor v. City of Saginaw is instructive. In Taylor, the city enforced time limits for parking by tire chalking, i.e., placing chalk marks on the tread of car tires—marks that rub off as soon the cars are moved—to determine whether the cars have remained in place longer than allowed. The plaintiff, apparently a frequent recipient of parking tickets, alleged that the practice violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The city responded, in part, by arguing that chalking was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. It held that chalking, though a slight interference with private property, was nevertheless an interference for the purpose of obtaining information and therefore a “search” under Jones.
This was the same conclusion a California federal court reached last spring. A tire mark is a search. And, if that's upheld on appeal, there will be controlling precedent in Idaho (the Ninth Circuit, which also covers California) that aligns with the findings here.And that finding is that it isn't the means or methods or length/depth of the intrusion. It's the intrusion that matters.
Like the marking of chalk on a car tire’s tread, a dog’s nose passing through an open window is a minimal interference with property. But the right to exclude others from one’s property is a fundamental tenet of property law, and we see no room in the Jones test for a de minimis exception.
That's the baseline. And the court says the government can't save its search by claiming the drug dog was in the process of alerting prior to the intrusion into the vehicle. The officer's testimony stated that the dog had not shown a "final" alert prior to sticking its nose through the window. Only after that did the dog sit, something the officer said was an "alert."
When the statements of Officer Kinsley’s belief are excluded from our consideration of her testimony, these are the facts that remain: (1) Pico is a certified drug dog trained to sit or lie down to indicate the presence of drugs; (2) Pico did not sit or lie down before entering the car; (3) at least sometimes Pico “freezes” or tries to “cheat the system” by looking at the officer for his reward before indicating as he has been trained to do; (4) Pico froze and looked back at the officer before entering the car. From these facts, we cannot know whether Pico’s freezing and looking back was a reliable indication that narcotics were present, and we cannot determine whether Officer Kinsley’s subjective belief was objectively reasonable. For instance, how often does Pico freeze or look back at the officer before giving a final, trained alert? Does Pico only freeze when in odor? Does Pico only try to “cheat the system” when narcotics are present?
That's the problem with four-legged probable cause. It's mostly up to the officer interpreting the dog's acts. And, without the benefit of dashcam or body camera recordings, these subjective takes become part of the official record and are difficult to challenge. This recounting of events raises enough questions about the dog's actions that the court is unwilling to call any of what's described above "probable cause."This decision says the government can't have the evidence it obtained with the aid of an intrusive canine. And that means it can't have its conviction either. Going forward, cops in Idaho are going to need actual probable cause -- not just inconsistent dogs -- before searching people's cars during traffic stops.
Eddy Grant, responsible for the banger Electric Avenue, has made it onto our pages a couple of times in the past, most recently over a copyright spat with Donald Trump. At issue in the lawsuit was the Trump campaign sending around a video of a "Trump/Pence" train zipping by, with a Biden hand-car chugging behind it. While there were lots of references to Biden sniffing people's hair (seriously, what is that?) and other silly jabs, the real problem is that the entire video has Electric Avenue playing as its soundtrack. Eddy Grant didn't like this, of course, and sued over it. Trump tried to get the suit tossed on fair use grounds, arguing that the use of the song was transformative... but that isn't how it works. Simply using the song in a way the author didn't intend doesn't make the use transformative. Were that the case, every commercial advertisement out there would feature copyrighted songs as backgrounds to selling all manner of things. Again, not how it works and the court refused to toss the suit in response to Trump's Motion to Dismiss.And so now this whole case moves forward and Trump is once again asserting fair use in his answer to the complaint... but with a twist! More on the twist in a moment, but first the fair use argument.
Former President Trump denied Eddy Grant's copyright infringement claims in a formal response submitted to the court late Monday night."Defendants deny that they have willfully and wrongfully infringed Plaintiffs' copyrights," the response said. "Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants are barred, either in whole or in part, by the doctrines of fair use and/or nominative use."
So pretty much the same fair use argument that was made in Trump's initial motion to dismiss (embeded below). This argument almost certainly won't work. And, while I don't find myself arguing against fair use very often, this one doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The video used a significant portion of the song and the song was used in nearly the entire video in question. And, while Trump asserted the video was parody, it's not parody of Electric Avenue. That's the point of the parody defense: the use of a work in order to satirize it. That isn't what's happening here. The target of the satire is Joe Biden, not Eddy Grant or his song.It seems like Trump's legal team might realize that argument is a loser as well, given that the added twist I mentioned earlier.
The former president also asserted Grant cannot sue him because of what Trump's attorneys called "Presidential absolute immunity."
So, here's the thing: someone really needs to get Donald Trump in a room, sit him down, and explain to him that he cannot simply shout "presidential immunity!" every time something in his life doesn't go the way he wants to make it magically go away. This immunity claim is something he's using with wild abandon, including in far more serious realms like in denying requested documents for the January 6th committee.But this is far more absurd. It wasn't Donald Trump, the President, that put out this video. Rather, it was the Donald Trump campaign that did so and that campaign very much does not qualify for presidential immunity, "absolute" or otherwise. Immunity for presidents from prosecution or suit typically ends when that person is no longer president and, last time I checked, the subject of the mockery in the video is president now, not Donald Trump.
"Given the court's recent favorable determination, there are very few issues that remain to be resolved. We are confident that our clients' rights will ultimately be fully upheld and look forward to Mr. Trump fully explaining his actions," Grant's attorney, Brian Caplan, said in a statement provided to ABC News.
That's the sound of a lawyer quite confident in his case. And it's frankly quite hard to argue with him.
It takes a special kind of hubris to appropriate music and lyrics not just from another artist, but another cultural genre of artists, and then threaten someone else for "stealing" what you've "stolen". Meet Barry Mann. If that name doesn't sound terribly familiar to you, fear not, as he is known for the 1961 hit song Who Put The Bomp? and other songs from decades ago. And if that song title doesn't sound familiar, you've almost certainly heard the song. To jog your memory, it includes such made up words as "ramalama ding dong". See, those are called vocables: made up syllables used to effectuate rhythmic form rather than meaning. You can listen to the song below to get an idea of what I'm talking about."The Mann", which is what I'll be calling him from here on out, is still kicking at 82 and apparently is learning a new hobby: threatening other artists with copyright claims. He and/or his legal representatives apparently sent a cease and desist notice to Le Tigre, a feminist punk band, over a song called Decepticon. See, Decepticon takes a couple of lyrics found in The Mann's song and repurposes them to become a feminist anthem. For that and one additional reason that we'll get into later, Le Tigre filed suit for declaratory relief of The Mann's copyright infringement claim. Here is Decepticon so you can go hear for yourself just how copyright-infringe-y this all isn't.Between the suit and the song itself, you should notice a number of things. First off, you may be thinking to yourself that this song sounds decidedly retro for punk music. That's because the song came out twenty years ago and has long been Le Tigre's most famous song. Why a lawsuit is only being filed now is an open question. In addition, the use of the lyrics is minimal and the song itself is nothing remotely like The Mann's song.
Additionally, even if Defendants had a legitimate claim to ownership of the small portion of Bomp lyrics at issue, they nonetheless have no copyright infringement claim against Le Tigre or its licensees because Le Tigre’s transformative use of those lyrics in Deceptacon is an emblematic case of fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107.
Transformative use? Let's get into that. You may also have noticed that the lyrics are actually slightly different. For instance, the lyric to start the song is no longer "who put the bomp", it's "who took the bomp".
Deceptacon’s reference to and inversion of the Bomp lyrics at issue delivers a stinging indictment and parody of Bomp, which is clear from a comparison of the songs’ lyrics and sharply contrasting musical styles, as critics have noted over the decades. Bomp, written from a man’s perspective, begins with the statement: “I’d like to thank the guy who wrote the song that made my baby fall in love with me.” Bomp’s singer asks, “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?” and “Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?” Deceptacon, by contrast, is a feminist anthem that begins with the proposition that music “is sucking my heart out of my mind” and continues to ask, “Who took the bomp from the bomp-a-lomp-a-lomp?” and “Who took the ram from the rama-lama-ding-dong?” Thus, Le Tigre’s use of the lyrics that appear in Bomp instills those lyrics with a new meaning that is directly at odds with and a clear criticism of the message in Bomp, which is precisely the sort of fair use that Section 107 of the Copyright Act is designed to protect.
But parody and criticism of what? Well, there certainly is the feminist angle to it, yes, and Le Tigre is well known for creating that sort of stinging lyrics within its songs. But not just the feminist critique. Remember the change from "put" to "took"? Well...
The Bomp lyrics putatively at issue are mainly comprised of song titles and non-lexical vocables (nonsense syllables used in music). But Mr. Mann did not create these vocables or song titles; rather, it appears that Mr. Mann and his cowriter copied them from Black doo-wop groups active during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Specifically, it appears that Mr. Mann took “bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp” from The Marcels’ distinctive version of “Blue Moon,” which sold over a million copies, and “rama lama ding dong” from the Edsels’ then-popular “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” In short, the Bomp lyrics at issue are not original to Mr. Mann, and Defendants have no legitimate copyright claim in them.
And that is how this all comes full circle, in a way. The Mann threatened a punk feminist group over a song it created with lyrics designed to specifically criticize how he appropriated those lyrics from black doo-wop groups in the 60s. Like I said, that takes a nearly impressive amount of hubris.As far as copyright cases go, this should be an easy one for the courts.
One of the more common violations of the First Amendment is viewpoint discrimination. When entities run into speech they don't like, they often steamroll Constitutional rights in their hurry to shut this speech down.The government is allowed some time and place restrictions on speech, but it is very limited in its options. To expand these options, government entities will often say things about "public safety" to justify their incursion on people's rights. These justifications rarely justify the overreach.Maybe these things happen because governments (incorrectly, in some cases) assume those whose rights have been abridged won't sue. Maybe they happen because governments assume nebulous "public safety" concerns won't be examined thoroughly if they are sued. Or maybe they just assume that, because they're using the public's money to both violate rights and defend against accusations of rights violations, none of this really matters because it isn't any particular government employee's money at stake.That brings us to this case [PDF], where a Maryland federal court has ruled the government had no justifiable reason to shut down a "prayer rally." What it did have were some unjustifiable reasons, which were mainly related to the speakers and the kind of speech the government expected to be uttered… I mean, if it hadn't unconstitutionally shuttered the event. (via Courthouse News Service)Here's some brief background by the court, which doesn't highlight the most likely trigger: alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos, who has been banned from [name a social media platform].
St. Michael’s, a non-profit organization, “is a vocal critic of the mainstream Catholic Church,” including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”). Plaintiff seeks to hold the prayer rally and conference to criticize the Church, particularly with respect to child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, and it wants to do so on a date that coincides with the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly. The USCCB plans to meet from November 15 – 18, 2021 at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel (“Hotel”), a private facility located near Pier VI.On or about August 5, 2021, weeks after plaintiff had paid a $3,000 deposit to SMG for use of the Pavilion, SMG, on instruction of the City, notified St. Michael’s that plaintiff could not rent the Pavilion. The City cited safety concerns linked to some of the people who were identified as speakers at the event.
Given the average government's "for the children" protestations whenever it plans to violate rights, you'd think a rally criticizing a religious entity infamous for sexual abuse of children would be right up its rhetorical alley. You'd assume wrong -- not if its "allies" include people the elected officials of Baltimore find noxious. (That list includes Yiannopoulos, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and Newsmax commentator Michelle Malkin.)St. Michaels sued, alleging First Amendment violations. The court (unsurprisingly) agrees. First, it notes a similar rally by the same group in 2018 which resulted in no acts of violence or any other threats to public safety. Nevertheless, city officials insisted this time would be different.
Michael Huber, Mayor Scott’s Chief of Staff, avers that the discussions between SMG and St. Michael’s “came to the attention” of the City in July 2021. In particular, the City learned that St. Michael’s planned a rally featuring speakers “known for encouraging violent actions that have resulted in injuries, death, and property damage.” In the City’s view, some of the speakers would “provoke a strong reaction and raise the potential for clashes and disturbances,” given the “very real potential [that the speakers] would use [the rally] to incite violence and public disruption.”
While it's true some of the threat matrix may have changed following an unprecedented attack on the Capitol building in Washington, DC by so-called conservatives apparently hoping to negate a peaceful presidential election, no previous experience with this group should have led city officials to this conclusion. And, while the forum being rented was privately-owned, the city has some say in the issuance (and, in this case, rescinding) of contracts. When it interceded -- for internally inconsistent reasons -- it violated the plaintiff's rights.
Without question, the City reacted to a perceived safety concern arising from past use of inflammatory remarks by some of the rally speakers. In thwarting the rally, the City essentially invoked or relied on the heckler’s veto. And, in doing so, it exercised complete, unfettered discretion; it acted on an ad hoc basis, without any standards. Further, it has presented somewhat shifting justifications for its actions, with little evidence to show that the decision was premised on these justifications.As to the matter of discretion, the City apparently has unbridled discretion to determine whether, when, and how to intervene in bookings of the Pavilion. The record before the Court indicates that the process used here was entirely ad hoc. After plaintiff’s plans came to the attention of the City, the City decided to intervene with SMG, requiring SMG to terminate negotiations with St. Michael’s. No policies, guidelines, or procedures have been brought to the attention of the Court providing any factors or systematized approach governing the City’s actions here. As far as the Court is aware, none exist.
As the court notes, the main concern the city had appeared to be about those who would show up and protest the St. Michael's protest, rather than the supposed "incendiary" participants working with St. Michael's. That only adds to the list of ways the city violated the First Amendment.
The City’s invocation of a heckler’s veto also raises serious concerns that its decision was motivated by viewpoint discrimination. Huber cited the prospect of counter protestors when explaining the City’s decision. And, at the hearing, counsel for the City placed considerable weight on the City’s concerns as to counter protestors and the disruption and potential violence that might ensue. In other words, the City seems to have based its decision on the anticipated reaction of counter protestors, which is precisely the “persistent and insidious threat[s] to first amendment rights” discussed in Berger, 779 F.2d at 1001…This is not an acceptable justification for regulating speech.
And more along those same lines:
As the Ninth Circuit put it in Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, although this concern might receive less weight outside of a traditional or designated public forum context, it is still relevant when “used as a mere pretext for suppression expression” based on viewpoint. This includes, for example, “where the asserted fears of a hostile audience reaction are speculative and lack substance.”Such is the case here. The City cannot conjure up hypothetical hecklers and then grant them veto power.
St. Michael's gets its injunction against the City of Baltimore. The show will go on. The City violated the group's rights when it decided the people who didn't secure the venue were so potentially dangerous the speakers who rented the venue shouldn't be allowed to speak. A heckler's viewpoint is indistinguishable from viewpoint discrimination in situations like these. The city decided in favor of one viewpoint (the counterprotesters [a.k.a., the hecklers] and decided the other viewpoint (St. Michael's) had no right to be heard.