Hold On To Your Constitutional Rights: The Supremes are Back!

Like the swallows returning each year to Capistrano, we are in the midst of the annual flight to Justice, when the U.S. Supreme Court decides which cases it will review at the beginning of its new year.  On the first day when they announced several cases for review, the Supreme Court demonstrated that this “Term” will have a big impact on the type of constitutional issues that we regularly face when representing people or companies under investigation or being prosecuted for alleged crimes.

I will do a series of posts about the new cases.  These subsequent posts will give more detail and some of the juicier aspects of the case to show that these are not just dry legal disputes, but instead involve real people and lawyers fighting for our rights.  But today, I’ll just do brief reviews of the 3 big criminal justice cases announced today that will be on the Supreme Court’s plate this upcoming Term.

Two of the cases involve automobiles and the Fourth Amendment.  In Byrd v. United States, the question is whether society should recognize an “expectation of privacy” for the driver of a rental car who has the renter’s permission to use the vehicle, but who is not listed as a driver on the rental agreement.  With no such “expectation”, the driver cannot fight back against any police search of the car, but one who has such an “expectation” at least has a fighting chance if he or she can prove that the searching official engaged in a search found to be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The second “car case” really involves a motorcycle. Police officers entered private property, approached the house, and pulled up the tarp covering a motorcycle, discovering from the vehicle ID number that it was listed as being stolen. Collins v. Virginia concerns the question of whether the “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment allows the police to engage in such a warrantless search.

Another case involving constitutional rights arises in the context of a civil lawsuit, but the civil case arose out of an aborted criminal prosecution.  A police officer named Vogt was compelled to make statements about a knife in his possession, and those statements were then used in the preliminary hearing of a criminal case.  The criminal charges were dismissed, and by-then former-Officer Vogt brought a civil lawsuit against the city and his supervisors who compelled him to make the statements.  Our wonderful Fifth Amendment tells us that “no person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  The Supreme Court took this case for review to answer the question of whether the Fifth Amendment applies not only when a prosecutor uses a compelled statement at a criminal trial, but also to the prosecution’s use of such statements in pretrial proceedings, including probable cause of preliminary hearings.  That case is City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt.

We do lots of appeals here at Kish & Lietz, so we keep up on this type of material.  There are other criminal cases on the Supreme Court’s docket, those that were accepted for review late in the previous Term.  We will also take a look at those and some of the issues we are facing in our own matters where we have taken appeals.  Stay tuned!