Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

All citizens of the United States have the right to feel secure in knowing that their home and personal belongings are not subject to unreasonable searches and seizures.

Protection for the people

Photo by: Chuck Coker

Photo by: Chuck Coker

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “ The Fourth Amendment is there to protect the people from searches that are unjust and unreasonable.

When is a search unreasonable?

Unless a warrant is provided, a search is considered unreasonable if it violates a person’s privacy. Things considered private can include a residence, vehicle, private property, or clothing. There are often times when obtaining search warrants are not needed in order to conduct a search. These loopholes regularly exercised by law enforcement can include:

• Verbal permission is given to do a search by the person who the property or possessions

• Illegal or dangerous items can be seen easily without having to search the property

• There is reason to believe that an immediate threat to another’s well-being is at stake

• Enough probable cause is noted to conduct a search

Common incidents of illegal searches

Whether it’s working on a hunch or trying to meeting quota, there are officers out there who are merely hoping to find a reason to make an arrest. Unfortunately, many citizens see police as someone of superior authority who outranks the common civilian and they tend to not speak up when their belongings are gone through without a valid reason. A few incidents where these unreasonable searches and seizures are more likely to take place are:

• Searching the trunks and vehicles during routine traffic stops

• Going outside the permitted areas of a search warrant

• Entering an unlocked home, garage or vehicle

• Pat downs of random law abiding pedestrians

Questionable Violation of Fourth Amendment rights

Occasionally citizens may believe that they have been a victim of unreasonable searches and seizures, when the judge may not agree with their assessment. A hit in run case involving a young woman named Chelse Marie Brierley of Layton Utah was almost dismissed when it appeared that her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Following the hit and run, police were able to track Brierley down to her residence and while at her home they entered uninvited through the front door that was left open by the Brierley’s housekeeper. Although they were not invited to enter the residence, during the time that they were in the house nothing was searched. However because these officers entered the home unlawfully, Brierley assumed she was a victim of unreasonable searches and seizures. It was determined last week that none of the evidence in her case was obtained while officers were in her home so the charges against her for the hit and run were not dismissed.

Charges and evidence acquired during unreasonable searches and seizures

Photo by: Copper Kettle

Photo by: Copper Kettle

Not all cases fighting unreasonable searches and seizures turn out to be naught. If there is any indication that the charged person is in fact a victim of a Fourth Amendment violation, it is imperative to speak to counsel before getting any admittance of guilt on record. It is possible that the charges could be dropped entirely. If a judge rules that the charged person was a victim of unreasonable searches and seizures, then all evidence for the case that was derived because of that illegal search is invalid and will not be submitted in court. Not only is the evidence directly obtained during the search no longer submissible, but any information or items obtained because of the knowledge obtained during the illegal search and seizure is also unusable to the prosecution. In other words, if the source of the info is tainted, then so is everything that came because of it. If you are concerned that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately before moving forward with your case.

Restoring Civil Rights for Convicted Felons

Convicted felons lose more than their freedom; they lose many civil rights as well. Serving time in prison for a felony is not the only punishment for those convicted. Rights that are granted to each U.S. citizen may be withheld from convicted felons while they serve prison time or for the rest of their lives.

Photo by: Kelley Minars

Photo by: Kelley Minars

Right to Vote

The right to vote is something that every U.S. citizen is granted as soon as they turn 18 years of age. Being convicted of a felony will suspend this right temporarily in most states. According the Title 20A Chapter 2 Section 101.5 of the Utah State Code, “Each convicted felon’s right to register to vote and to vote in an election is restored when:
(a) the felon is sentenced to probation;
(b) the felon is granted parole; or
(c) the felon has successfully completed the term of incarceration to which the felon was sentenced. “

Hence, as long as you’ve served your time or been released, your right to vote will be restored.

Right to Hold Office

Watch yourself Mr. Mayor, cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s” city council members. Getting a felony charge loses the convicted person’s right to hold office. In order for someone to hold office again, they not only have to serve the time given them for their crimes, they either have to have their record expunged or wait a decade to run for office again. This doesn’t apply in every case however. According to Utah State Code, “ an individual who has been convicted of a grievous sexual offence,[…] against a child, may not hold the office of State Board of Education member or local school board member.”

Right to Serve on a Jury

While many U.S. citizens detest getting a jury summons in the mail, a convicted felon that has been at the mercy of a jury before may wish to have that right later in life. Maybe they were displeased with the way the jury handled the case and evidence and wish to be a better juror for someone else if given the chance. Perhaps they were satisfied with the jury system and wish to be a part of it themselves someday. Unfortunately, the majority of states exclude convicted felons for life from participating in a jury. Fortunately, in the state of Utah, convicted felons are restored their right to serve on a jury if they’ve had their record expunged.

Photo by: Richard Loyal French

Photo by: Richard Loyal French

Right to Bear Arms

In 18 U.S. Code § 922 it states “It shall be unlawful for any person […] who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; […] to possess […] any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition […]
If a convicted felon disobeys this law by being in possession of a firearm is looking at an additional 10 years behind bars. Although this law sounds absolute, there are ways for convicts to restore their gun rights. The only way for a convicted felon to go about this is to have their record expunged. Unfortunately, as gun laws tighten, restoring gun rights to convicted felons tighten as well. For instance, there are times when records can be expunged for those wishing to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury, but there is will be an exception with restoring the right to bear arms. This is most common with violent crimes. Capital crimes, sex crimes against children, first and second degree forcible felonies, as well as repeat felons or those who have already had their records expunged before.

Seek Legal Counsel

If you or are a convicted felon who has finished serving the required time for your crimes and has waited to allotted amount of time for “cleansing”, speak with an attorney about restoring your civil rights and returning to society with the equal rights given to all U.S. citizens.

High Schooler Tweet, Suspension Raises First Amendment Issues

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media. The Power of Just Two Words In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn. Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment. In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.” According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.” The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges. In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’” Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record. Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment? Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case. Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important. Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.” The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer. When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world. “Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said. Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology. Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country. “I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said. According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.

Photo: Steindy/Wikimedia Commons

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media.

The Power of Just Two Words

In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn.

Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment.

In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.”

According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.”

The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges.

In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’”

Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record.

Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment?

Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case.

Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important.

Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.”

The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer.

When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world.

“Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said.

Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology.

Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country.

“I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said.

According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.