Did San Diego Sheriffs Use Excessive Force When They Killed a Suicidal Suspect?

On December 2, 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of CHELSEY HAYES V. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, Case #09-55644 , heard this civil rights Complaint brought under the Federal statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law wherein a minor daughter alleged violations of her 14th and 4th Amendment rights and her deceased father’s 4th Amendment rights when San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies acted negligently in shooting and killing her father who allegedly was suicidal and wielding a knife during a response to a domestic violence call.

 In the underlying case, the Court said there was no evidence the sheriff’s fired their guns for any other purpose than self-defense and, therefore affirmed the District Court’s Decision by declaring there was no violation of plaintiff’s rights under the 14th Amendment. On the other hand, the Court reversed the lower Court after it determined a jury could conclude the use of deadly force by the sheriffs was not objectively reasonable and that under California law supported a basis for a wrongful death claim.

A compelling argument was made on behalf of Hayes that the sheriffs could have avoided the incident by obtaining more information about the suspect or requesting a psychiatric emergency response team (“PERT”) when the first deputy responded to a domestic violence call at a neighbor’s house and learned there had been no physical altercation, and before the second deputy arrived and they both entered the home. At that point it became a matter of whether the officers used excessive force.

The above reported Decision can be found at the following link: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/12/02/09-55644.pdf

 

Can Police Search Your Cell Phone?

In the current case of DAVID LEON RILEY, Petitioner v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA Respondent (13-132), the U.S. Supreme Court on a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari will review the unpublished Decision of the Fourth District California Court of Appeal and, hopefully, clarify whether the police may seize a cell phone from a person under arrest and search its contents.

 

In the underlying case, Riley was stopped by the police on August 22, 2009 for an expired vehicle registration tag. Soon thereafter, the officer determined Riley was driving on a suspended license (DSL) and impounded the vehicle. While documenting the contents of the vehicle, the officers discovered under the hood of the car two concealed and loaded weapons. Then, Riley was placed under arrest and the officers seized his “smart phone.” At this point, the officer searched the contents and discovered numerous contacts preceded by the initials “CK” (members of a criminal gang commonly known as “Bloods” or “Crip Killers).”  Another officer viewed the photos on the cell phone at the police station and noticed one in which Riley was standing next to a vehicle that he believed was involved in a prior gang related shooting.

 

Riley was accused of attempted murder among other charges, and under California law the DA also included a gang enhancement that increased the length of his sentence.

His lawyer sought to exclude the evidence on the basis of a warrantless search without exigent circumstances (that otherwise could justify the search) and, therefore, violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Riley was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life whereas it would have been a maximum of 7 years without the gang enhancement.

 

The Supreme Court is likely to decide whether cell phones should receive special treatment as Courts have been divided and have reached inconsistent results, and because they store “virtually limitless” personal and private information, including access to the internet and even digital copies of private medical records. In the event it rules in favor of Riley, he could be retried with the evidence and contents of the cellphone being excluded.

People v. Jones

In a nine to zero opinion entitled UNITED STATES v. JONES, No. 10-1259, the U.S. Supreme Court, on January 23, 2012, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf affirmed the U.S. Court of Appeals decision that reversed the U.S. District Court criminal conviction of drug trafficking and conspiracy charges. The Supreme Court confirmed the police conducted a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it attached and monitored a GPS device to a vehicle. Although there was a warrant issued to the Government, it required the tracking device to be installed within 10 days, but it was actually installed on the 11th day. Therefore, it was deemed a warrantless search in violation of the reasonable expectation of privacy, and the District Court should have suppressed the evidence. As a result of the Supreme Court granting certiorari (after the DC Circuit Court previously denied a petition for a rehearing by the Government), the U.S. District Court sentence to life imprisonment that was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals was affirmed. It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court did not decide whether installing a GPS device requires a warrant, and if not, whether monitoring a GPS device over a very brief period of time, such as a couple days, requires a warrant.