Posts Tagged ‘missouri v. mcneely’

In yet another victory for the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Missouri v. McNeely that police may not forcibly take blood from a drunk driving suspect without a warrant. Insisting that the Fourth Amendment requires judicial authorization for such drastic action except in emergency situations, the Court rejected arguments by state officials asking it to establish a per se rule that all cases of drunk driving present “exigent circumstances” allowing police to extract blood from a suspect without a warrant.

The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus curiae brief in the case on behalf of Tyler McNeely, who was forced to give a blood sample after being arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Although McNeely refused to submit to a blood test, the arresting officer ordered hospital personnel to extract his blood anyway and test it for alcohol levels. In weighing in on the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that the state’s interests in ensuring public safety and discouraging drunk driving could have been realized in a manner that secured the desired blood alcohol evidence while at the same time protecting McNeely’s constitutional rights in keeping with the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement and prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

In accord with the Institute’s brief, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion held that forced extraction of a person’s blood is “an invasion of bodily integrity [that] implicates an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy” and, absent some emergency, should not be allowed unless a judge has found probable cause to justify the intrusion.

While public safety is of great concern, especially when it comes to serious offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol, Americans’ constitutional rights cannot be wholly discounted and conveniently discarded. This case has far-reaching implications that go beyond one man’s run-in with the police. The Supreme Court is to be commended for recognizing that if we allow government agents broad powers to invade our bodies without consent or court order, the bodily integrity of all persons in the United States will be in serious jeopardy.

The case arose out of an incident that took place in in October 2010 when Tyler McNeely was stopped by a Missouri state highway patrolman. Based upon his behavior, the patrolman suspected that McNeely was intoxicated. The patrolman led McNeely through a series of field sobriety tests and based upon the results, arrested him for drunk driving. After McNeely refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, the patrolman took him to a nearby hospital in order to secure a sample of his blood and test it for alcohol levels. Although McNeely refused to consent to a blood test, the patrolman ordered a hospital lab technician to take a blood sample from McNeely. At no point did the officer attempt to obtain a warrant authorizing the extraction.

In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys stressed that forcible bodily intrusions of the kind inflicted on McNeely are among the most serious abuses of government authority which the Fourth Amendment was meant to forbid, and that such intrusions should be allowed only in extremely urgent circumstances. Institute attorneys also noted that enforcement of drunk driving laws does not suffer when warrants for blood extraction are required, many of which can be obtained within a relatively short time, often within 30 minutes of an arrest. — John W. Whitehead

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“The shaping of the will of Congress and the choosing of the American president has become a privilege reserved to the country’s equestrian classes, a.k.a. the 20% of the population that holds 93% of the wealth, the happy few who run the corporations and the banks, own and operate the news and entertainment media, compose the laws and govern the universities, control the philanthropic foundations, the policy institutes, the casinos, and the sports arenas.” – Journalist Lewis Lapham

The pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration has died down. Members of Congress have taken their seats on Capitol Hill, and Barack Obama has reclaimed his seat in the White House. The circus of the presidential election has become a faint memory. The long months of debates, rallies, and political advertisements have slipped from our consciousness. Now we are left with the feeling that nothing has really changed, nor will it.

This is not by accident. The media circus leading up to the elections, the name calling in the halls of Congress, the vitriol and barbs traded back and forth among people who are supposed to be working together to improve the country, are all components of the game set up by those who run the show. The movers and shakers behind these engaging, but ultimately trite, political exercises are the elite, the so-called upper class, who benefit from the status quo. This status quo is marked by an economic crisis with no end in sight, by the slow but steady growth of a police state aimed at the lowest rungs of society, and a political circus which keeps us enraptured long enough that we don’t question what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, this elite, composed of corporations profiting off of our ignorance, avoid being brought to task for their destruction of democratic governance and the economy. These are the corporations who sent our economy into a tail spin and were then rewarded with taxpayer money. These are the corporations who write laws which eliminate real competition in the market in order to secure their profits through lucrative government contracts. These are the corporations who avoid criminal prosecution, and are instead slapped with meager fines which do nothing to halt their felonious activities.

We now live in a two-tiered system of justice and governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and the corporations, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like rectally probe you during a roadside stop, or listen in on your phone calls and read all of your email messages, or indefinitely detain you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of justice has been a long time coming. The march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Journalist Chris Hedges, one of the few voices to speak against the corporate-state, who has put himself on the line by making a legal challenge to the President’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens, summarizes the situation at hand:

 “Our passivity has resulted… in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.”

Indeed, electoral politics are off the table as a means of reforming the system. They are so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is no chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress.

Just consider the last election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. This massive spending was mirrored at the congressional level, where business lobbying soared in the last three months of the year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent over $125 million attempting to influence members of Congress, an 88 percent increase from 2011.

Indeed, lobbyists are the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington, and their attempts to woo Congressmen only exacerbate the problems inherent to the institution. Jack Abramoff should know. Jailed for bribing public officials, the former lobbyist insists that the system is every bit as corrupt now as it was when he was convicted. From job offers for staffers and Congressmen after they leave Capitol Hill, to taking representatives to sporting events and fancy restaurants, there is no shortage of methods of influencing public officials to enact the policies of special interests. According to Abramoff, these tactics are still in use today, and “the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all.”

Once their foot is in the door, these lobbyists then offer up language for legislation that is “so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise” as to make passage as easy as possible. This legislation cements the privilege of the corporations to do as they please, making all of their dubious activities “legal.”

This lobbying is buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. And yet, even Congressmen in safe seats are expected to fundraise constantly so as to support their colleagues in competitive districts. As Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) put it, “…this is the mother’s milk of what [Congressmen] need to do to try to sustain their campaigns, and it’s the only system they have to work with.”

Thus, even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

“Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.”

The influence of corporate money on Congress is exacerbated by how out of touch Congressmen are with the daily struggles of most Americans. In February 2012, the median net worth of Congressmen was $913,000 as compared to $100,000 for the rest of the population. Aside from being immediately wealthy, Congressmen also weathered the tribulations of the financial crisis much better than the average American. An analysis of Congressional finances by theWashington Post in October 2012 revealed that the wealthiest one-third of Congress was largely shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. While the median household net worth of the average American dropped by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010, the median wealth of Congressmen rose 5 percent. It rose 14 percent for the wealthiest one-third.

At a time when most people in the country are suffering, Congressmen are profiting. This alone should demonstrate how out of touch our elected leaders have become. Members of Congress, entrusted to represent the best interests of the average American, instead play out a stilted, ineffective soap opera on our TV screens, complete with phony discussions of fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings which take the place of real proposals for meaningful change in the country.

There is no voice for the working American in the halls of Congress, the American who was promised a life beyond taxes, debt, and unemployment. There is no voice for the peace loving American, the American who understands that America’s military might is meant for defense of the homeland, not looking for trouble in faraway lands. There is no voice for the American who expects his representatives to abide by the Constitution, who laments the way Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court work together to take away our rights piece by piece. — John W. Whitehead

 

We’re at an important crossroads in our country in terms of how the police operate and how the courts are not operating. The only thing, in my opinion, that’s standing between us and a total police state are the courts. We’re not going to get any help from Congress or the president. So are we going to have courts of justice or courts of order? Now courts of order are going to enforce the regime. Courts of justice are going to protect and uphold our Constitution. If we don’t have courts of justice–if they don’t protect the Constitution–then in my opinion, freedom as we have known it will be lost. — John W. Whitehead

Tune into my latest vodcast to hear more:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aytoYIVWeo8

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

If you want a recipe for disaster, take police officers hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge, throw in a few court rulings suggesting that security takes precedence over individual rights, set it against a backdrop of endless wars and militarized law enforcement, and then add to the mix a populace distracted by entertainment, out of touch with the workings of their government, and more inclined to let a few sorry souls suffer injustice than to challenge the status quo.

The resulting concoction, I can promise you, will be a messy, noxious stew unfit for consumption, miserable to digest and with after-effects that will leave you reeling and clutching your stomach in dismay. Such is the nature of life in the emerging police state that is America today, where roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.

Consider, for example, what happened to 38-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, who were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. First, the trooper berated the women for littering on the highway. Then, insisting that he smelled marijuana, he proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.

Women Suing State Troopers Over Roadside Cavity Searches

Leila Tarantino was allegedly subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic during a routine traffic stop, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino’s body. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers have been charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers is accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums. Half-way across the country, the city of Oakland, California, has agreed to pay $4.6 million to 39 men who had their pants pulled down by police on city streets between 2002 and 2009.

And then there’s the increasingly popular practice of doing blood draws at DUI checkpoints, where drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test find themselves subjected to forcible blood extractions to test for alcohol levels. Police in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, actually had a registered nurse and an assistant district attorney on hand “to help streamline the ‘blood draw’ warrants and collect blood samples from suspected impaired drivers” at one exercise in holiday drunk driving enforcement. A similar case, Missouri v. McNeely, which deals with a driver who failed a sobriety test, then refused a breathalyzer test and was subjected to a warrantless blood draw, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, the issue being debated in McNeely is not so much whether the government can forcibly take your blood but whether it can do so without a warrant. As important as the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement may be, it’s scant comfort in the face of a societal acceptance of roadside stops where blood is being drawn and cavity searches are being carried out.

No matter which way the Supreme Court rules in Missouri v. McNeely, it will do little to rein in this runaway police state of ours. Indeed, as we have seen repeatedly, by the time a case arrives before the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s almost too late for any real change to take place, especially when it’s a matter of government abuse. More often than not, during the course of however many years it takes for a case to make its way through the courts, the particular violations being challenged have already been accepted by the citizenry as part of the government’s modus operandi.

Such was the case with Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, which attempted to challenge the practice of forcible strip searches by government officials, namely jail wardens. Albert Florence, an African-American man in his mid-thirties, was on his way to Sunday dinner in 2005 when his then-pregnant wife, who was driving, was pulled over by a New Jersey State Police trooper. Asked to show his ID, Florence soon found himself handcuffed, erroneously arrested for failing to pay a traffic fine, and forced to submit to two egregious strip and visual body-cavity searches at two different county jails. After spending six days in jail, Florence was finally able to prove his innocence. Outraged, Florence sued the jail officials who had needlessly degraded his bodily integrity.

It took seven years for Florence’s case to make it to the Supreme Court, and a year later, in April 2012, the Court handed down a 5-4 ruling which struck a blow to any long-standing protections against blanket strip searches, declaring that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.

However, all the while Florence was making its way through the courts, law enforcement officials were playing fast and loose with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on searches and seizures, especially as it relates to violations of bodily integrity and roadside strip searches. Examples of minor infractions which have resulted in strip searches include: individuals arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, making an improper left turn, engaging in an antiwar demonstration (the individual searched was a nun, a Sister of Divine Providence for 50 years). Police have also carried out strip searches for passing a bad check, dog leash violations, filing a false police report, failing to produce a driver’s license after making an illegal left turn, having outstanding parking tickets, and public intoxication. A failure to pay child support could also result in a strip search.

This brings us to the present moment where we find ourselves hapless, helpless passengers in a runaway car hurtling down the road toward a police state, and the only hope of salvation rests with the Supreme Court, which is little hope at all when you consider that the Court has, in recent years alone, given a green light to all manner of police abuses, including the tasering of a pregnant woman for failing to sign a speeding ticket.

It must be remembered that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the citizenry from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, the rights supposedly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment have been steadily eroded over the past few decades. Court rulings justifying invasive strip searches as well as Americans’ continued deference to the dictates of achieving total security have left us literally stranded on the side of the road, grasping for dignity. — John W. Whitehead

 

For more information about John W. Whitehead and the work of The Rutherford Institute, visit www.rutherford.org.