Disturbing Implications of No-Knock Raids by Police

The Emergence of No-Knock Raids

The Fourth Amendment was founded on the premise that citizens have an inherent right against unreasonable search and seizures as well as an expectation of privacy. The police are required to obtain a warrant before entering a private home. Additionally, prior to the 1970’s and before the “war on drugs,” they were expected to knock, announce themselves, and wait a reasonable amount of time to give the person a chance to respond.

no-knock raid by policeThe police argued that some situations were dangerous enough to allow no-knock raids. Consequently, in the 1980’s, the federal government began to allow such raids and gave the police unfettered discretion. The police began to abuse the law and it was stuck down a couple years later. Since then, the courts have slowly allowed the practice to resume, but have supposedly added extra precautions that the police must follow when conducting a no-knock raid, including:

  • A determination that the situation is too dangerous to knock and announce their presence.
  • The suspect would have more time to dispose of a weapon or evidence of a crime.

However, it is not often that a judge denies a no-knock warrant (only about 3% of the time) and 10% of the time judges will issue a no-knock warrant, even if the police asked for a standard warrant. It is important to note that the police are not always required to obtain a special warrant. If they “reasonably believe” there is justification to enter the home without knocking, they are entitle to do so. Consequently, the line has blurred between a justified and unjustified no-knock raid. As such, many critics believe the practice continues to be abused, and again subject only to subjective police discretion.

How No-Knock Raids Have Changed 4th Amendment Protections

Most states have provisions in their laws allowing a homeowner to kill an intruder if they reasonably believe the intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death upon an occupant of the home. There are currently 26 states that go even further and allow “Stand-Your-Ground” laws, which permits a person to shoot outside the home if they feel threatened. An example that is widely known is the George Zimmerman case.

As controversial as these laws are, when an intruder breaks into a home, dressed in black, holding a weapon and screaming, many people will choose to shoot, with the intent to kill and will not be prosecuted. However, these laws will not protect a person if they mistakenly shoot a police officer who is breaking into a house as part of a SWAT operation, even if the homeowner reasonably believes the police officer is an armed intruder (especially if the homeowner has a record). Recently there have been instances of this scenario in the media, with over 20,000 no-knock raids in America each year. However, the outcome of attempted prosecution has varied, many blaming a bias based on race. Below are two such examples that are ripe with controversy.

Texas Cases with Drastically Different Outcomes

In 2013, in the pre-dawn hours, a SWAT team entered Henry Magee’s home through the door, without announcing their presence. Henry had previous arrests on possession of marijuana, as well as a DUI. It is important to note that the police did discover marijuana plants in the home. Magee shot and killed one of the officers and was charged with capital murder. However, he argued that he believed the intruders were entering his home and, in order to protect his pregnant girlfriend, he was entitled to shoot. Consequently, the charges never made it past a grand jury indictment and were dropped. Magee is Caucasian.

Five months later, Marvin Guy, who is black, also killed an officer in a no-knock raid, in almost the exact same circumstances. Although Guy had been convicted of more serious crimes than Magee (robbery and weapons charges), the police entered Guy’s home through a window and found nothing that suggested a crime had taken place. In fact, an ACLU study found that 36% of raids fail to produce evidence of a crime and, in 2003, 10% of 450 raids were wrong-door raids. This variation in circumstances from Magee seems to suggest that Guy was more justified in the shooting. However, the grand jury chose to indict and he now faces the death penalty.

Many argue that these raids, targeted to those suspected of a crime, actually endangers innocent persons within the home. Additionally, statistics show that there has been significant differences involving people of color.

The Consequences of No-Knock Raids

Unfortunately, there often times are no consequences for the police or the subsequent prosecution. The exclusionary rule is supposed to be designed to prevent police from using evidence that was obtained illegally. However, recently the courts have not applied this rule to evidence obtained in an unjustified no-knock raid, if that evidence could have been obtained with a standard warrant.

However, there are certainly consequences for the subject of a no-knock raid. Civilian deaths greatly outweigh police deaths in no-knock raids and, even if a police officer is killed, the suspect is very likely to face a charge of murder, despite a valid claim of self-defense.

Additionally, if an innocent civilian is killed in the raid, it is rare that the police are charged with murder, or even civilly liable. In 2010, a Detroit SWAT team killed 7 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones as she was sleeping as the bullet pierced her brain. In another case, police in Georgia, killed a 19-month-year-old when they threw a grenade into his crib. Neither officer was convicted of the deaths, mostly due to the argument that there was insufficient evidence the police knew the children were in this house. Compare this with Guy’s argument that he did not know that the police were the intruders.

Overall, no-knock raids are a concern across party lines, eliciting outrage from conservatives, libertarians and liberals alike. SWAT raids affect people of color at a staggering 71%. However, studies have shown that Caucasians are often involved in crimes that are more serious, such as hostage situations. Inevitably, the debate will continue to dominate the media when considering constitutional rights, racial bias and the abuse of police power.


Florida School Fakes Shooting as a Drill – Why This Is a Terrible Idea

It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. You’re at work when you suddenly get a text message from your child. Your child’s message is only one line, but it sends a chill down your spine: “I thought he was going to shoot me.”

school shooting drillYou immediately leave your office. You get to the car and race down to the school. You run a couple of red lights along the way. There are dozens of other parents in the parking lot. Police have their weapons drawn. Nobody knows what is going on. Your heart is pounding. Despite police warnings, you go inside the school and find your child hudled in a corner with a few other classmates. As you take your child out of the school, an announcement comes over the school announcement system. The “shooting” was only a drill.

This “active shooter” drill took place at Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. On November 13, the school principal announced the school was going into lockdown. Police burst into classrooms with guns drawn, including an AR-15 rifle. The weapons were unloaded, but nobody informed the children. Actually, the school principal and the Winter Haven Police Department neglected to inform parents or even teachers. Parents only found out about the drill through an email after the drill was over.

Winter Haven police have attempted to defend their drill. Officers claim their weapons were unloaded and pointed at the ground. The drill was supposed to simulate the surprise that children, teachers, and parents felt had there been a real shooting. However, the Winter Haven police did acknowledge that feedback was mixed and promised that officers would not use weapons in future drills.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, many states, including Florida, New Jersey, Colorado Tennessee and Missouri have enacted “active shooter drills.” Some of these drills have included volunteers to play hostages and victims. Other drills were more like Winter Haven, where children, parents and teachers were scared senseless. In many drills, an officer acts a gunman and takes “hostages.” Some schools go so far as to use fake blood.

One Terrible Idea

The Winter Haven “drill” is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. What if a parent or a teacher heard that there was a shooter and decided that now was the time to use their gun? The hypothetical fire fight that police and school principals were practicing for might become real. Given that many people believe arming teachers is the solution, that’s a very real possibility. The opposite result could also occur. Fire drills have become so common that people often take them for granted. It would be extremely ironic if schools had so many drills that when a real shooter shows up some people might not realize it before the shooter starts killing people.

Winter Haven police claim that they didn’t inform the community about their drill because they wanted to create the surprise that comes from a shooting. We have plenty of fire or earthquake drills and nobody proposes that we should heat or shake buildings to replicate the terror of a fire or earthquake. Indeed, some elderly individuals or young children might have heart conditions that could be triggered if the “drills” go so far as to terrify them.

In California, we conduct earthquake drills because earthquakes are a likely possibility that could occur and we have little in the way of a warning system. In the mid-west, we practice tornado drills because tornados will arise and we can’t stop tornados. We prepare for natural disasters with drills because there’s little else we can do about those disasters.

School shootings are very different. School shootings appear to be becoming more common, but they are far from natural. We cannot do anything to prevent earthquakes, but we can do far more to address school shootings. Arming teachers is a possibility. Treating more mentally ill people is another option. Creating or expanding insurance for depression and mental health is a good alternative. My point is that school shootings don’t have to be common and they don’t have to be unpreventable forces of nature. School shootings are the results of sick individuals in what some call a sick society. It’s a bad idea to equalize human actions with acts of god.

These drills concede that we cannot stop shootings. These drills treat shooters like faceless natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, or tornados. The problem is that the shooters are human. Potential shooters can be treated so that they don’t become the unstoppable beasts of destruction that the drills will treat them as. If we mischaracterize the nature of these shootings, we will only bring more harm upon our children.

5 Reasons to Never Talk about Work on Social Media

If you spend a fair amount of time online, you probably consider yourself an expert in social media. For all practical purposes, you probably are an expert. However, if we’re all so great at using social media, why do so many people get into so much trouble over it?

social media at workThe problem is that we tend to use social media for its most obvious purpose–interacting with our friends—without considering that everything we put out there also affects other parts of our lives, such as our interactions with employers. The following five reasons illuminate an important rule we should all embrace: never talk about work on social media.

1. You can usually be legally fired for social media posts. Most employees have at-will contracts and can be terminated for almost any reason—including social media activities. There are a few exceptions. For example, you can’t be legally terminated for social media posts that engage in concerted activity.

The case of Shea Allen, an investigative reporter WAAY TV, is an example of a case where an employee is not protected and can legally be fired for social media posts.

Shea posted a list of “confessions” on her personal blog called “Shea Allen Says…”. She wrote harmless posts like “Happy, fluffy, rainbow stories about good things make me depressed”, to posts that discredited Allen as a reporter. Such as, “If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I’ll stop recording but let you think otherwise.” Posts of this nature got fired.

Moral of the story: Don’t post about your work on social media.

2. What you post online is there forever. What you consider to be a harmless post could be cause for termination by your employer’s standards. Even if you think you deleted an embarrassing picture or a questionable Tweet, someone could save it and share it on the Internet.

Ashley Payne, a former high school teacher of Apalachee High School in Georgia, was fired over a Facebook photo of her holding a glass of wine in one hand, and a mug of beer in the other.

Good cause for termination or not, this is an example of an innocent post resulting in the loss of a job.

3. Potential employers are watching. Employers check applicant’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to help determine if they should be hired. If a potential employer sees a post from you about your current or old job, whether the post is good or bad, it could affect the employer’s decision to hire you.

For example, there is the recent story where a frustrated Lacoste employee posted a picture of his paycheck to Instagram to express his frustration with the amount he was earning.  He was in turn fired, because he was not engaging in a concerted activity. If he posted the paycheck with the goal of raising all employee wages, this is protected. But since the post was just a complaint, he was in turn terminated.

If future employers got wind of this story, likely they would take this into consideration during the hiring process.

4. Evidence of questionable employee contact. It’s always nice to add a bit of humor and lightheartedness to the workplace, but posting or showing a picture of it online could be consequential.

Facebook created a page for the “Lying Down Game,” which features employees taking pictures of themselves lying down on the job. Innocent, right? Well not for some employees…

At Swindon’s Great Western Hospital, seven nurses and doctors were at risk for firing after posting pictures of themselves playing the lying down game. The photos showed them lying down on resuscitation trollies, ward floors, and the hospital helicopter pad. The Hospital commented saying they violated the health code, and the NHS code of conduct. What seemed like a fun game, turned into the potential loss of high paying jobs.

It does not matter whether you work at Starbucks or are a doctor, the same rules apply to everyone: if you post something about your work, you could get fired.

5. You could put your company at risk. Depending on what company you work for, sharing information—like a new product or plans to merge with another company—could put the employer or company at risk. Competing companies could gain an upper hand, and the company could suffer losses.

In the case Sasqua Group v. Courtney, the Sasqua Group sued its former employee, “Courtney”, for allegedly stealing confidential lists of clients and customers. Courtney took this list and proceeded to build her own consulting business based off of the client list. Courtney defended her actions, pointing out these lists were available to the public on LinkedIn through Sasqua’s account. The court ruled in Courtney’s favor; since the lists were available online through Sasqua’s LinkedIn account, it was not considered a trade secret and was legal.

Sasqua lost clients to a competing company because they were available online.

It is vital to protect your job by screening what you post on social media. If there’s any hesitation, it is better to keep it off the Internet. The Golden Rule to stick to: don’t ever post about work online.

Progressive Ballot Measures Passed in 2014

Significant Results of the Mid-Term Elections & State Ballot Measures of 2014

The mid-term elections of 2014 were a massacre against the Democratic Party. Not since World War II have the republicans controlled the majority of the House by a margin so large. They also currently control the Senate.

2014 election ballot measuresAs a result of the republican’s newfound control, Congress will be on the offensive to repeal many of the advances made to provide the country with better health care and equal rights. Democrats will respond by filibustering and the country will be at a stand-still.

However, hope is not lost for the progressive movement. The following is a summary of the progressive state ballot measures that passed in the mid-term elections:

Alaska: Marijuana was decriminalized, minimum wage was set to one of the highest in the country, and salmon were protected from mining projects.

Arkansas: Minimum wage increased to $8.50 and limits were set on campaign donations and gifts from big business.

California: $7 billion in funding was approved for the state’s water system and most nonviolent crimes were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Colorado: Open school board meetings are now required when bargaining with public employee unions and race-track gambling was not extended to fund schools.

Florida: Although the passage of legalizing medical marijuana failed, 58% voted yes. The measure required a 60% threshold.

Georgia: The maximum state income-tax rate will not be raised.

Illinois: Coverage of prescription birth control was approved, the minimum wage increased, and a millionaire tax was approved to fund schools. Unfortunately, with the exception of the minimum wage increase, the laws are not quite in effect, as they were only an advisory to gauge public opinion.

Massachusetts: No automatic increase in the gas tax will occur and extended paid sick time will be mandatory if a company has more than 11 employees.

Nebraska: Minimum wage increase to $9 an hour.

New Jersey: Lower-risk defendants who are unable to afford bail will be released.

New York: A commission was established to redraw political districts for state and congressional seats. Also the state legislature now has the ability to veto the commission’s maps with two public votes.

North Dakota: A measure was rejected that presumed life begins at conception and a restriction was set on non-pharmacists owning a pharmacy.

Oregon: Marijuana was legalized and equal rights are guaranteed with no regard to gender.

South Dakota: Minimum wage was increased to $8.50.

Virginia: When a member of the military is killed in action, the place of residence owned by their spouse will be exempt from taxation.

Washington: A new law mandates background checks on all gun sales and transfers, “including at gun shows and online,” and exempts “weapons transferred within families and for the purchase of antique guns.”

In review, progressives have made leeway in gun control, raising the state minimum wage, rejecting anti- abortion laws, providing paid sick leave, expanding environmental protections, and legalizing marijuana.

LegalMatch.com provides blogs, forums, and thousands of articles dedicated to keeping up with the trends in the law. Also, check out our LinkedIn site for additional resources.

Ebola Scare in the US: Destroying Liberty through Forced Quarantine

Ebola and the Police State

Americans coming back from Africa have contracted a deadly virus that spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. The nation is gripped with fear as public officials seek to quarantine those infected. The year is 1982 and the virus is HIV.

ebola nurse in the USThirty-two years later, another virus strikes fear in Americans. On October 24, 2014, nurse Kaci Hickox returned to Newark Liberty International Airport after treating Ebola patients in Africa. New Jersey officials sent Hickox to University Hospital almost immediately. The Hospital locked Hickox into a tent, but she showed no symptoms. After Hickox threatened to sue the Hospital, doctors discharged Hickox on October 27.

Hickox returned home to Maine, but her home state wasn’t ready to receive her with open arms. Despite testing negative for Ebola two times, Maine officials insisted on imposing another quarantine on Hickox. Although the quarantine was only expected to be 21 days, Hickox brought the case into court. The judge ruled in Hickox’s favor. Maine and Hickox came to an arrangement whereby Hickox would be free, but she would be monitored for symptoms until November 10. Now that the deadline has passed without incident, Hickox plans to move out of her home state and away from the publicity that had afflicted her life.

Security in Name Only

Benjamin Franklin once said that “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” It’s difficult to believe this is the same America where Franklin once lived. Americans have become very willing to sell their freedom for little scraps of security. Whether it’s TSA airport inspections, NSA surveillance, and the militarization of local and state police departments, the United States is oversaturated with government restrictions on movement and privacy.

The question is whether Ebola quarantines are a continuation of this shift in American politics. Hickox has been called selfish for endangering others. The quarantine period is only 21 days; Hickox would be inconvenienced for less than a month. It’s hardly a loss of freedom if one is free before Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, it seems that Hickox is incapable of even infecting others with Ebola. First, Ebola only spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. Being in the same elevator or bus with Hickox, or anyone else with Ebola for that matter, won’t spread Ebola. Second, Hickox was discharged from one hospital without a single symptom. Moreover, Hickox had been tested for Ebola twice, and both times the tests had come back negative. It’s doubtful whether Hickox ever had Ebola. So if she doesn’t have Ebola, we shouldn’t be trying to imprison the woman for any length of time.

Today, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or potential employees because they have HIV or AIDS. States and the federal government did the right thing by passing laws to protect vulnerable patients from fear mongering. However, using equal protection was not the solution. Today, Ebola plays on the fears of Americans and equal protection is insufficient to protect those patients even though there is already protection for a similar disease.

Instead of using equality, the law should give patients due process protection, perhaps due process protection on the same level as criminal due process. Some Ebola or HIV patients might protest being compared to criminals. And yet, when Hickox decided to violate an unreasonable isolation order, many Americans shunned her as a criminal. If Ebola patients are worthy of that type of scorn, they should also be worthy of the same legal protections we give to actual wrongdoers.