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June 2021


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

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Parker: Supreme Court Was Pretty Good To Law Enforcement This Year

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker

With a couple of notable exceptions the Supreme Court continued to be good to law enforcement in general this past year of 2014, particularly to federal agencies. The functioning so-called “conservative” majority of Chief Justice Roberts along with Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy was not invariably responsible for this result. In fact, predicting in advance the votes of particular Justices on particular issues was a dicey exercise.

Although the Supreme Court decides cases by September to June terms, just like most school kids in America, this column will examine notable 2014 Criminal Cases (and those which might be of interest to federal agents). Most were decided in the 2013-2014 term with a few already ruled upon in the 2014-2015 term.

Vehicle Stop Cases

Plumhoff v. Rickard (5/27) – Upholds the use of deadly force (shooting the driver) to end a dangerous car chase by police of a wanted driver of a vehicle that was endangering other drivers and pedestrians.

Navarette v. California (4/27) – Officer had reasonable suspicion that justified a vehicle stop based on an anonymous 911 call that the vehicle had run the caller off the road. Similar cases invalidating stops were distinguished because in this case the informant had actually seen criminal activity.

Hein v. North Carolina (12/15) – An officer’s mistake of law (that a car must have two working brake lights under NC law) if reasonable under the circumstances can validate reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle.

Search and Seizure Cases

Fernandez v. California (2/25) – Consent to search given by an abused co-inhabitant to police after they had arrested and removed from the house an objecting inhabitant was valid. Prior cases invalidating cases were distinguished since the objecting occupant in those cases was still physically present when the officers acted on the consent of the other occupant.

Riley v. California (6/25) — Officers cannot search digital information from a cell phone seized as incident to an arrest absent a valid search warrant. Such a warrantless search could still be valid in exigent circumstances. See an earlier column for a detailed analysis.

Firearm Cases

Rosemund v.US  (3/5) – Conviction for aiding and abetting a crime of carrying a gun requires proof that the defendant knew in advance that the carrier would be armed and that the defendant had a realistic opportunity to abandon the crime.

Abarmski v. US (6/16) – A straw buyer (who happened to be a policemen buying for his uncle and with his uncle’s money) who purchases a firearm on behalf of another person while filling out the ATF form that the purchase was for himself violates the sec. 922(a)(6) false statement prohibition, even if the other person could have legally purchased the firearm. This was a 5-4 decision in which the normally pro law enforcement Justices voted in the dissent.

US v. Castleman (3/26) – Dismissal of Armed Career Criminal Act charges was reversed by a holding that a prior misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence barred firearm possession under sec. 922(g)(9) even though no physical force had been used in the assault.

Capital Punishment Cases

Hall v. Florida (5/27) – Florida statute which established a bright line rule for defining intellectual disability for the purpose of qualifying for the death penalty at IQ 70 was invalidated as too rigid and permitted an unacceptable risk of executing a disabled defendant. See an earlier column for more detailed analysis.

Note – The nation’s struggle to establish due process in this category continued, sometimes with bizarre results. The majority of states have eliminated the death penalty either de facto or by legislation and in only a handful of southern states does it remain in use. Henry Lee McCollum was exonerated by DNA after he had spent over 30 years on death row in North Carolina in a case that Justice Scalia is said to have ridiculed his appeal a decade earlier. In Arizona a motion to stop an execution was filed and argued by conference call in the middle of an execution by lethal injection when death did not result for over two hours. Alabama continued to be the only state to permit judges to disregard a jury’s verdict of life imprisonment and to impose a death sentence. This has occurred 95 times in the last 30 years and 43 defendants are on death row under the same circumstances.

Controlled Substances Case

Burage v. US (1/27) – Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt a “but-for” causation in order to convict a defendant of distribution where death results. Contributing to or acting as a substantial cause in the death is insufficient.

Cases Involving Agents

Wood v. Moss (5/27) – Secret Service Agents were entitled to qualified immunity in a Bivens civil action where they moved a protest group two blocks away and out of sight of the President when he unexpectedly decided to deviate from a planned motorcade route in Oregon in order to eat lunch. The agents acted in good faith with valid security concerns. The fact that the protesters could not continue their expressions like the supporters when the President went back to the planned route did not justify the civil suit.

US v. Clark (6/9) – A bare allegation that IRS agents had acted with an improper purpose, without adequate facts, was insufficient to compel them to be subject to examination in a civil action by taxpayers who had been summoned to testify and produce documents.

In these dozen cases, dedcisions favorable to law enforcement were an 8 to 4 majority, a good result in most fields of endeavor.



FBI Recovers Millions of Dollars Worth of Paintings Missing for 6 Years

By Steve Neavling 

A joint investigation by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department led to the recovery of nine paintings totaling million of dollars that had been stolen six years ago from the home of an elderly couple, Reuters reports.

The FBI arrested the 45-year-old suspect, Paul Espinoza, after an undercover agent posed as an art buyer interested in the stolen pieces, some of which were painted by Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera.

Espinoza was arrested and pleaded not guilty to possession of stolen property in court on Oct. 27.

Other Stories of Interest



U.S. Authorities: North Korea Was ‘Centrally Involved’ in Sony Hacking Attack

By Steve Neavling 

U.S. authorities believe the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent hacking attacks on Sony Pictures because of anger over a comedy that was about to be released, the Boston Globe reports.

The determination by U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, coincided with Sony’s decision to cancel its release of “The Interview,” a controversial film about plotting to assassinate a fictional Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea.

The White House hasn’t yet determined whether to publicly accuse the country for its alleged roof.

Some officials are worrying about escalating tensions between the two counties.

Sony officials received a threat that “the world will be full of fear” if the film was released.

“Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” the threat added.


FBI, Casino Regulator Criticized fo Failing to Get Warrant for Evidence Seizure

By Steve Neavling 

The FBI and a Nevada casino regulator entered Ceasars Palace posed as Internet repairman and gathered evidence against suspects in an allegedly illegal online gambling operation without ever consulting with a judge, according to testimony in the case.

The Associated Press reports that Nevada Gaming Control Board Special Agent Ricardo Lopez acknowledged in court, like those before him, that he had no permission from prosecutors and lacked a warrant.

The investigators didn’t even bother to get permission from the hotel.

The defense is trying to get the case dismissed because of what they say was an illegal search.



Slate Takes a Look at What It’s Like to be a U.S. Marshal Through Photographs and Words

By Jordan G. Teicher

The U.S. marshals currently employ just 5,431 people nationwide, but they get a lot done: In 2013, the organization arrested more 110,000 fugitives, moved federal prisoners nearly 300,000 times, and cleared more than 134,000 warrants. Brian Finke witnessed some of that activity firsthand over the course of three years shadowing the country’s oldest law enforcement agency.

For Finke, who has previously spent months photographing bodybuilders and hip-hop music video stars, hanging out with the marshals was yet another exciting immersion into a distinct culture. He likens his new book, U.S. Marshals, which was published in November by PowerHouse books, to his “own version of the TV show, Cops.”


Movie Theater Operators on Edge After Threat Delivered to Sony Over Film

By Steve Neavling 

Operators of movie theaters are on edge after the group that hacked Sony last month purportedly theater to unleash violence at upcoming screenings of “The Interview.”

But Homeland Security said Tuesday that it’s unaware of any plot to attack movie theaters, Fortune reports.

The hacking group left reporters a note, warning of potential attack against any cinema that screens “The Interview,” a Sony comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States,” the DHS official said in a statement. “As always, DHS will continue to adjust our security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people.”

The letter warns, “Remember the 11th of September 2011” and threats a “bitter fate” for any cinema that shows the film.

Terrorists Still Fixated on Bombing Planes Despite Successful Attempts to Thwart Them

By Steve Neavling 

Terrorists remain stubbornly fixated on targeting airplanes and creating better bombs, the Indiana Business Journal reports.

Although it has been 13 years since a successful terrorist attack – the Sept. 11, 2011 – terrorists seem committed to bombing a plane, said John Pistole, the departing head of the TSA.

“The threats continue,” Pistole, 58, said in an interview at the agency’s Arlington, VA, office. “They are persistent. The terrorists are innovative in their design, construction and concealment of devices.”

During Pistole’s four-year tenure, authorities have thwarted to attacks on planes.

Other Stories of Interest

Bill Would Require Every Police Killing to Be Tallied by Justice Department

By Steve Neavling 

Without a federal requirement to disclose police killings, it’s impossible to know how many cops kill civilians in any given year.

That could change under new legislation that would require all police departments to report law-enforcement killing to the Justice Department, Essence reports.

Currently the FBI keeps a tally on the number of police killings, but local departments aren’t required to produce the information. A Wall Street Journal analysis found that the FBI’s tally of law-enforcement killings between 2007 and 2012 was missing 550 deaths.

“What we know is that some places have chosen not to report these, for whatever reason,” Cooper told the Journal.

Under the new legislation, introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN, all police agencies would be required to disclose every death during police custody.

“Before we can truly address the problem of excessive force used by law enforcement, we have to understand the nature of the problem, and that begins with accurate data,” Rep. Cohen said in a statement.

Called the “National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act of 2014,’ the bill likely will have to be reintroduced in January.