Posts Tagged ‘Miranda warnings’

In a devastating ruling handed down in Maryland v. King, a divided U.S. Supreme Court has approved the practice by police of forcefully obtaining DNA samples from individuals arrested for serious crimes, even though they are presumed innocent, without first obtaining a search warrant.

Any American who thinks they’re safe from the threat of DNA sampling, blood draws, and roadside strip and/or rectal or vaginal searches simply because they’ve ‘done nothing wrong,’ needs to wake up to the new reality in which we’re now living. As the Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland v. King shows, the mindset of those in the highest seats of power—serving on the courts, in the White House, in Congress—is a utilitarian one that has little regard for the Constitution, let alone the Fourth Amendment. Like Justice Scalia, all I can hope is that “today’s incursion upon the Fourth Amendment” will someday be repudiated.

As Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the dissent, points out, the Court’s ruling succeeds only in burdening “the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment’s protections ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the State’s accusations.” Moreover, if such a dubious practice were to prevail simply for the sake of “solving more crimes,” as Scalia suggests, it would not take much to justify the “taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the “identity” of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school.”

In 2009, Maryland police arrested Alonzo Jay King Jr. on charges of assault. Relying on a state law which authorizes DNA collection from people arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, police carried out a cheek swab on King to obtain his DNA profile without first procuring a warrant. The DNA sample was then matched up against a database which identified him as having allegedly been involved in a 2003 rape. King was then convicted of the 2003 crime. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in April 2012 that the state law violated the Fourth Amendment. In an unusual move, in July 2012, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay of the lower court’s ruling, prior to the Court’s even agreeing to hear the case, using the rationale that collecting DNA from people accused of serious crimes is “an important feature of day-to-day law enforcement practice in approximately half the states and the federal government.”

In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Fourth Amendment allowed law enforcement officials to collect DNA from people who have merely been arrested and so are presumed innocent. Yet  the Court’s subsequent 5-4 ruling which equates forcefully obtaining a DNA sample to “fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” further guts an already severely disemboweled Fourth Amendment. Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito affirmed the practice of warrantless DNA grabs by the police. Issuing a strongly worded dissent were Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland v. King is available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-207_d18e.pdf.

For more on these issues, read my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State which paints a chilling portrait of a nation in the final stages of transformation into a police state, complete with surveillance cameras, drug-sniffing dogs, SWAT team raids, roadside strip searches, blood draws at DUI checkpoints, mosquito drones, tasers, privatized prisons, GPS tracking devices, zero tolerance policies, overcriminalization, and free speech zones.

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“Of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”—C.S. Lewis

Caught up in the televised drama of a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion, most Americans fail to realize that the world around them has been suddenly and jarringly shifted off its axis, that axis being the U.S. Constitution.

For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law—its citizens under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches in search of two young and seemingly unlikely bombing suspects—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

Mind you, these are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state. The police state has arrived.

Equally unnerving is the ease with which Americans welcomed the city-wide lockdown, the routine invasion of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses. Watching it unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:

It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

As the events in Boston have made clear, it does indeed work the same in every country. The same propaganda and police state tactics that worked for Adolf Hitler 80 years ago continue to be employed with great success in a post-9/11 America.

Whatever the threat to so-called security—whether it’s rumored weapons of mass destruction, school shootings, or alleged acts of terrorism—it doesn’t take much for the American people to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, even if it means submitting to martial law, having their homes searched, and being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

As journalist Andrew O’Hehir observes in Salon:

In America after 9/11, we made a deal with the devil, or with Dick Cheney, which is much the same thing. We agreed to give up most of our enumerated rights and civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk, the promise of “security” and the freedom to go on sitting on our asses and consuming whatever the hell we wanted to. Don’t look the other way and tell me that you signed a petition or voted for John Kerry or whatever. The fact is that whatever dignified private opinions you and I may hold, we did not do enough to stop it, and our constitutional rights are now deemed to be partial or provisional rather than absolute, do not necessarily apply to everyone, and can be revoked by the government at any time.

Particularly disheartening is the fact that Americans, consumed with the need for vengeance, seem even less concerned about protecting the rights of others, especially if those “others” happen to be of a different skin color or nationality. The public response to the manhunt, capture and subsequent treatment of brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is merely the latest example of America’s xenophobic mindset, which was also a driving force behind the roundup and detention of hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men following 9/11, internment camps that housed more than 18,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and the arrest and deportation of thousands of “radical” noncitizens during America’s first Red Scare.

Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Moreover, there has been little outcry over the Obama administration’s decision to deny 19-year-old U.S. citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his due process rights and treat him as an enemy combatant, first off by interrogating him without reading him his Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”).

Presently, under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule, if law enforcement agents believe a suspect has information that might reduce a substantial threat, they can wait to give the Miranda warning. For years now, however, the Obama administration has been lobbying to see this exception extended to all cases involving so-called terror suspects, including American citizens. Tsarnaev’s case may prove to be the game-changer. Yet as journalist Emily Bazelon points out for Slate: “Why should I care that no one’s reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights? When the law gets bent out of shape for him, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.”

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly recognized in its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona that police officers must advise a suspect of his/her civil rights once the suspect has been taken into custody, because the police can and often do take advantage of the fact that most Americans don’t know their rights. There have been few exceptions to the Miranda rule over the last 40 years or so, and with good reason. However, if the Obama administration is allowed to scale back the Miranda rule, especially as it applies to U.S. citizens, it would be yet another dangerous expansion of government power at the expense of citizens’ civil rights.

This continual undermining of the rules that protect civil liberties, not to mention the incessant rush to judgment by politicians, members of the media and the public, will inevitably have far-reaching consequences on a populace that not only remains ignorant about their rights but is inclined to sacrifice their liberties for phantom promises of safety.

Moments after taking Tsarnaev into custody, the Boston Police Dept. tweeted “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won.” Yet with Tsarnaev and his brother having been charged, tried and convicted by the government, the media and the police—all without ever having stepped foot inside a courtroom—it remains to be seen whether justice has indeed won.

The lesson for the rest of us is this: once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government. Increasingly, those on the left who once hailed Barack Obama as the antidote for restoring the numerous civil liberties that were lost or undermined as a result of Bush-era policies are finding themselves forced to acknowledge that threats to civil liberties are worse under Obama.

Clearly, the outlook for civil liberties under Obama grows bleaker by the day, from his embrace of indefinite detention for U.S. citizens and drone kill lists to warrantless surveillance of phone, email and internet communications, and prosecutions of government whistleblowers. Most recently, capitalizing on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear, government officials used the Boston Marathon tragedy as a means of extending the reach of the police state, starting with the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which opens the door to greater internet surveillance by the government. 

House of Representatives passes CISPA in the wake of Boston Marathon explosions.

These troubling developments are the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well. What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace.

All the while, the American people remain largely oblivious to the looming threats to their freedoms, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster or even a flu epidemic. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes, we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness. — John W. Whitehead

Walking a narrow line, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 in Florida v. Jardines that the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of homes is unconstitutional.

In keeping with the Court’s recent decision in Florida v. Harris, in which the justices ruled unanimously that police may use drug dogs to conduct warrantless searches during traffic stops, the Court did not address the question of whether a drug dog’s sniff constitutes a violation of one’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Instead, the Court ruled that an officer bringing a drug-sniffing dog to the front of a home without a warrant constitutes an unconstitutional invasion of private property.

In an age in which the police can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, it’s difficult to really celebrate this ruling given that it basically just gives a head nod to the Fourth Amendment. What we are experiencing today is a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it’s the Fourth Amendment being inexorably bled to death. It remains to be seen whether today’s ruling by the Supreme Court proves to be little more than a band-aid fix to a rapidly worsening condition.

Florida v. Jardines arose out of an incident that took place in November 2006, when Miami police responded to an “anonymous” tip that marijuana was being grown at the residence of Joelis Jardines. After police surveillance of the Jardines home failed to reveal any incriminating evidence, the police brought in a drug-sniffing dog and handler to inspect the property at 7:30 a.m. The police handler walked the dog up to the front door on a leash and the dog allegedly “alerted” to the scent of contraband, which was reported to the investigating police who also approached the door and allegedly smelled marijuana. Using this information, the police obtained a warrant to search the Jardines residence, resulting in the seizure of marijuana plants.

In court, Jardines’ lawyer moved to suppress the evidence obtained under the warrant, insisting that the warrant itself was invalid because of its reliance on the alert by the drug-sniffing dog. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the use of detection dogs at private residences raises significant privacy concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court, having ruled in previous cases that dog sniffs do not constitute “searches” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, agreed to review the state court decision.

In weighing in on the matter, The Rutherford Institute had asked the Supreme Court to declare the warrantless use of drug-sniffing dogs in both scenarios, searches of homes and vehicles, to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In an amicus curiae brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida v. Jardines, Institute attorneys cited mounting empirical evidence that narcotics detection dogs are unreliable and inaccurate, pointing out that both anecdotal evidence and research show that dogs frequently signal false alerts and show sensitivity to handler bias. Institute attorneys also pointed out that the amount of time it takes for the dogs to carry out a detection sniff on the perimeter of a private residence constitutes a trespass under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The Court ruled unanimously in a similar case, Florida v. Harris, that police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops. — John W. Whitehead

“I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman and degrading are consistent with United States law and policy, that the Supreme Court would have to order the president of the United States to treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention, never thought that I would see that a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens. This disrespect for the rule of law is not only wrong, it is destructive.”—Eric Holder, June 2008 speech to the American Constitution Society

Since the early days of our republic, the Attorney General (AG) of the United States has served as the chief lawyer for the government, entrusted with ensuring that the nation’s laws are faithfully carried out and holding government officials accountable to abiding by their oaths of office to “uphold and defend the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, far from holding government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the attorneys general of each successive administration have increasingly aided and abetted the Executive Branch in skirting and, more often than not, flouting the law altogether, justifying all manner of civil liberties and human rights violations and trampling the Constitution in the process, particularly the Fourth Amendment.

No better example is there of the perversion of the office of the AG than its current occupant Eric Holder, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Hailed by civil liberties and watchdog groups alike for his pledge to “reverse the disastrous course that we have been on over the past few years” and usher in a new era of civil liberties under Obama, Holder has instead carried on the sorry tradition of his predecessors, going to great lengths to “justify” egregious government actions that can only be described as immoral, unjust and illegal.

Indeed, Holder has managed to eclipse both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez, whose tenures under George W. Bush earned them constant reproach by Democrats and other left-leaning groups for justifying acts of torture, surveillance of American citizens and clandestine behavior by the government. Holder, however, has largely been given a free pass by these very same groups in much the same way that Obama has. The reason, according to former Senate investigator Paul D. Thacker, is that “Obama is a Democrat. And because he is a Democrat, he’s gotten a pass from many of the civil liberty and good-government groups who spent years watching President Bush’s every move like a hawk.”

Despite getting a “pass” from those who would normally have been crying foul, during his time as attorney general, Holder has “made the Constitution scream”—that according to one of his detractors. The colorful description is apt. Some of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) “greatest hits” under Holder begin and end with his stalwart defense of the Obama administration’s growing powers, coming as they do at the expense of the Constitution.

Moreover, as head of the DOJ, Holder’s domain is vast, spanning several law enforcement agencies, including the United States Marshals Service; FBI; Federal Bureau of Prisons; National Institute of Corrections; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Office of the Inspector General (OIG), as well as the U.S. National Central Bureau for INTERPOL. To say that the agencies under Holder have struggled to abide by the rule of law is an understatement.

The following are just some of the highlights of the dangerous philosophies embraced and advanced by Holder and his Justice Department.

The military can detain anyone, including American citizens, it deems a threat to the country. Not only has the DOJ persisted in defending a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act that sanctions indefinite detentions of Americans, but it has also blasted the federal judge who ruled the NDAA to be vague and chilling as overstepping the court’s authority and infringing on Obama’s power to act as Commander in Chief.

Presidential kill lists and drone killings are fine as long as the president thinks someone might have terrorist connections. Holder has gone to great lengths to defend Obama’s use of drones to target and kill American citizens, even on U.S. soil, as legally justifiable. In fact, a leaked DOJ memo suggests that the President has the power to murder any American citizen the world over, so long as he has a feeling that they might, at some point in the future, pose a threat to the United States.

The federal government has the right to seize the private property—cash, real estate, cars and other assets—of those suspected of being “connected” to criminal activity, whether or not the suspect is actually guilty. The government actually collects billions of dollars every year through this asset-forfeiture system, which it frequently divvies up with local law enforcement officials, a practice fully supported by the DOJ and a clear incentive for the government to carry out more of these “takings.”

Warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone, email and Facebook accounts is not only permissible but legal. According to court documents, more Americans have had their electronic communications spied on as a result of DOJ orders for phone, email and Internet information—40,000 people alone in 2011—and that doesn’t even begin to take into account agencies outside Holder’s purview, terrorism investigations or requests by state and local law enforcement officials.

Judicial review is far from necessary. Moreover, while it is legal for the government to use National Security Letters (NSL) to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge, it is illegal to challenge the authority of the Justice Department. Administrative subpoenas or NSLs—convenient substitutes for court-sanctioned warrants that require only a government official’s signature in order to force virtually all businesses to hand over sensitive customer information—have become a popular method of bypassing the Fourth Amendment and a vital tool for the DOJ’s various agencies. Incredibly, the DOJ actually sued a telecommunications company for daring to challenge the FBI’s secret order, lacking in judicial oversight, that it relinquish information about its customers. The FBI alone has issued more than 300,000 NSLs since 2000.

Due process and judicial process are not the same. In one of his earliest attempts to justify targeted assassinations of American citizens by the president, Holder declared in a March 5, 2012 speech at the Northwestern University School of Law that “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” What Holder was attempting to suggest is that the Fifth Amendment’s assurance that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” does not necessarily involve having one’s day in court and all that that entails—it simply means that someone, the president for example, should review and be satisfied by the facts before ordering someone’s death. As one history professor warned, “Insert even a sliver of difference between due process and judicial process, and you convert liberty into tyranny. Holder, sworn to uphold the laws of the United States, is the mouthpiece of that tyranny, and Obama is its self-appointed judge, jury and executioner.”

Government whistleblowers will be bankrupted, blacklisted, blackballed and in some cases banished. As AG, Holder has reportedly prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks than all his predecessors combined. Relying on the World War I-era Espionage Act, the DOJ has launched an all-out campaign to roust out, prosecute, and imprison government whistleblowers for exposing government corruption, incompetence, and greed. Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is merely one in a long line of so-called “enemies of the state” to feel the Obama administration’s wrath for daring to publicly criticize its policies by leaking information to the media.

Government transparency is important unless government officials are busy, can stonewall, redact, obfuscate or lie about the details, are able to make the case that they are exempt from disclosure or that it interferes with national security. AsSlate reports, “President Obama promised transparency and open government. He failed miserably.” Not only has Holder proven to be far less transparent than any of his predecessors, however, but his DOJ has done everything in its power to block access to information, even in matters where that information was already known. For example, when asked to explain the “Fast and Furious” debacle in which government operatives trafficked guns to Mexican drug lords, DOJ officials—unaware that much of the facts had already been revealed—“responded with false and misleading information that violated federal law.” When pressed for further information, the Justice Department retracted its initial response and refused to say anything more.

When it comes to Wall Street, justice is not blind. As revealed in a PBS Frontline report, the Obama administration has driven federal prosecutions of financial crimes down to a two-decade low, buoyed in its blindness to corporate corruption by campaign donations from Wall Street banks (whom Holder has determined are too big to prosecute anyhow) and staffers whose lucrative financial portfolios came about as a result of chummy relationships with financiers. As David Sirota points outs:

After watching the [PBS] piece, you will understand that the word “justice” belongs in quotes thanks to an Obama administration that has made a mockery of the name of a once hallowed executive department… Rooted in historical comparison, it contrasts how the Reagan administration prosecuted thousands of bankers after the now-quaint-looking S&L scandal with how the Obama administration betrayed the president’s explicit promise to “hold Wall Street accountable” and refused to prosecute a single banker connected to 2008′s apocalyptic financial meltdown.

Not all suspects should have the right to remain silent. In 2010, Holder began floating the idea that Miranda rights—which require that a suspect be informed of his right to remain silent—should be modified depending on the circumstances. Curiously, the Supreme Court is presently reviewing a case addressing a similar question, namely whether a suspect’s silence equates to an admission of guilt.

Clearly, it’s not the Constitution that Eric Holder is safeguarding but the power of the presidency. Without a doubt, Holder has taken as his mantra Nixon’s mantra that “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” It may be that the time has come to create a “non-political” and “independent” Attorney General, one who would serve the interests of the public by upholding the rule of law rather than justifying the whims of the President. — John W. Whitehead

The right to remain silent when being questioned by the police is an essential element of liberty. If government agents are allowed to use silence in the face of accusatory questions as a sign of guilt, then the burden of proof will have been shifted to the suspect to prove his innocence, hearkening back to the days of the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism.

This essential right to not incriminate oneself is at the heart of Salinas v. Texas, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Rutherford Institute has asked the Court to affirm the right of criminal suspects to remain silent during interactions with police by prohibiting prosecutors from using a suspect’s pre-arrest silence as proof of his guilt during a criminal trial.

The facts of the case are as follows:

In 1992, Juan and Hector Garza were found murdered in their apartment. Genovevo Salinas, an acquaintance of the men who had been at a party with them the evening before they were found dead, was suspected by police as being responsible for the murders. The police approached Salinas at his home and asked him to accompany them to the police station so they could question him and clear his name. Salinas was never handcuffed and was not given Miranda warnings. At the police station, Salinas was taken to an interview room where, during the course of the interview, police questioning became more accusatory, and Salinas was asked whether his father’s shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” Salinas remained silent and did not answer the question. The interview proceeded.  At the conclusion of the interview, police arrested Salinas for outstanding traffic fines.  The district attorney later charged Salinas with the murders, but police were unable to arrest Salinas on the murder charge until 2007. After the first trial resulted in a hung jury, Salinas was re-tried. During the second trial, the prosecutor suggested that Salinas’ silence during the police interview prior to his arrest was a “very important piece of evidence” and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. The jury found Salinas guilty of murder and sentenced him to twenty years in prison.

In appealing the verdict to the Texas Court of Appeals, Salinas argued that the prosecution’s emphasis on his pre-arrest silence as evidence of his guilt was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against self-incrimination. Two Texas appeals courts upheld the verdict, ruling that Salinas was not under government compulsion during the time of the police interview, thus he had no Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling, The Rutherford Institute is asking the Court to affirm that under the Fifth Amendment, a person cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself, whether by being forced to testify, or by using his silence as evidence of his guilt. In keeping with the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “[n]o person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” Institute attorneys are urging the Court to reverse the conviction of Genovevo Salinas, who was found guilty of homicide after prosecutors argued that Salinas’ silence during a police interview prior to his arrest was a “very important piece of evidence” and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. A jury found Salinas guilty of murder and he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

In their “friend of the court” brief, Institute attorneys argue that a person’s refusal to answer police questions, even before arrest and before Miranda warnings are given, does not indicate guilt in light of the well-known “right to remain silent.” — John W. Whitehead

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Salinas v. Texas