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Can a No Trespassing Sign Keep Police Away?

Can No Trespassing Signs Prevent the Police from Entering Your Property for a Search and Seizure?

There are many misconceptions about a person’s right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures, especially when it concerns searches of private residences.

Can a No Trespassing Sign Keep the Cops Away?One common mistaken belief is that no-trespassing signs will keep the police off private property if they don’t have a warrant. Similarly, it is also a common belief that even if the police have a warrant, they must knock before entering a home or even announce themselves as the police. Surprisingly, none of these actions by the police are covered under the protections of the 4th amendment.

So What Does the 4th Amendment Protect Against?

The 4th amendment’s protection against search and seizure is the bedrock of all law concerning the search and seizure of a citizen’s person or property. It was the unfettered discretion and abuse of the police power that led to 4th amendment protection. It is important to be familiar with the exact phrasing, in order to appreciate the limitations of the police’s power to enter a home or search one’s property. The 4th amendment states that:

“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.”

However, over the last century, it has been the job of state and federal courts to interpret these words and create exceptions. As the challenges to searches make their way through the courts, such as the police entering property despite the presence of no-trespassing signs, the courts consistently rule against the suspect. Below is more explanation to this complicated area of law.

What Can Keep the Police from Searching My Property?

The law states that there is an intrinsic right of people to enjoy an “expectation of privacy.” This means that, generally speaking, the police are not permitted to enter one’s home without a warrant. If they have a proper warrant there is very little one can do to challenge a search.

When it comes to merely entering a person’s property to speak with a suspect, the courts have recently ruled that the police may enter without a warrant. The reasoning is that the general public has an implied license to knock on a door without actually entering and, therefore, the police can as well. Unfortunately, a no trespassing sign is not enough to revoke the right. However, there have been a few successful challenges to the “implied right” to enter the property. The suspect may be able to keep their right to privacy to keep the police from walking on the property at all by:

  • locked gate
  • call box or a sign with a telephone number directing the visitor to police to call first
  • Guard dogs if there is a sign announcing they are present

Finally, the police can actually enter a home or property without a warrant, if certain conditions exist. Exceptions to the 4th amendments warrant requirement include:

  • Open Fields Doctrine – any open or undeveloped property that is not intimately used for dwelling (including curtilage.) An example would be the suspicion that the suspect is growing marijuana in a wooded area. They can enter the area without a warrant.
  • Abandoned Propertywhen the owner does not maintain possession of the property
  • Consent – when the owner or person in possession of the property voluntarily gives their consent. The police do not need to inform the owner of this right. Also, recently the Supreme Court ruled that if a person is arrested and refuses to give their consent, they can ignore that consent and search if the remaining occupant gives consent.
  • Exigent Circumstances – immediate action is necessary. The time it will take to obtain a warrant could lead to the evidence will be destroyed, death or escape.
  • Plain View – the police can seize any item they have probable cause to believe is associated with criminal activity that he sees in plain view. This item can be seized even if it is not named in the warrant and will likely be added to the suspect’s charges.

Do I Need Legal Advice?

If your home has been searched and you feel that your expectation of privacy has been violated, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal law attorney. Even if the police try to use one of the exceptions to the requirement of valid warrant, an attorney will help ensure that you put forth the best defense possible.

Artists vs. Online Retailers: The reality of online copyright infringement

The term “sharing” has become a normal part of our 21st century lives, allowing us to engage with people around the world. By sharing, small time artists can promote their works on deviantART, Instagram, and Tumblr. Artists can even earn a living by selling their works on e-commerce sites like RedBubble, Etsy, Teefury, or Society6.

800px-UrbanOutfittersUnfortunately, being able to share your content with the world is a double-edged sword. As an artist you get to create, exhibit, and profit from your labor of love, but this also means your work can easily be stolen, reproduced, and sold without your knowledge.

Copyright protection laws give a copyright holder the right of reproduction and to create derivative works. A reproduction right means the copyright owner is the only one that can make copies of the original work. Derivative works are adaptations based on the original copyrighted work (e.g. a movie can be a derivative work of a book).

Independent online artists will often create an image, design, or comic and they usually reproduce their images on products like shirts, postcards, bags, phone cases, or other products. Derivative works, in this context, are usually merchandise created for other copyrightable works like web comic series.

The right of reproduction is the most infringed upon right for artists. Usually, an artist will upload an image and another person will take it and reprint that image on posters or tee shirts. This problem is common, even on sites like Etsy.

Although most online retail websites, including Etsy, have copyright infringement policies, enforcement and getting results can be difficult for artists. Common problems are:

  • The infringing party is in another country.
  • The websites themselves fail to take down the infringing products or images.

Besides having another person steal your work, some artists even fall victim to large retail stores like Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters has been accused, on multiple occasions, for copyright infringement and some artists accept this as part of the norm.

So what is an artist to do when engaging with online retail stores? Refuse to use these sites? Ignore the problem altogether?

Artists and designers take copyright infringement seriously and end up policing their own communities. Often, they will notify each other about the infringing party or will take an active role and reverse search their own images.

Reverse searching an image allows artists to see where their copyrighted works are being used on the web. Popular search engines are:

This may not be the ideal for independent online artists, but it’s the most proactive approach when dealing with infringers. The best thing to do is to know the copyright policies on whatever website you use to promote your work, and actively reverse search your images to stop copyright infringers from profiting off your work.

Should Islamic Laws Be Allowed in US Courts?

Sharia Law’s Impact on the United States

A few years ago, voters were outraged when they heard that a judge had denied a woman a protective order after her husband had raped her because the husband was a Muslim who claimed that marital rape was legal under Islamic, or Sharia law. The decision was overturned on appeal, but anti-Sharia laws have popped up over the country since that case.

Sharia Islam Law In AmericaConflicts between Sharia law and American law largely arise in family law, typically when couples from countries that recognize Sharia law migrant to the United States. These couples file for divorce and will argue over domestic violence and/or property distribution. One of the spouses, usually the husband, will use belief in Islam as a justification for a legal conclusion that favors the spouse.

Alternatively, that same spouse, usually the husband, will argue that the prenuptial agreement signed in the original country was recognized under Sharia law, and the agreement should thus be recognized in the United States.

Sharia law also comes up in contract disputes and religious arbitrations involving Muslims.

Why We Should Discuss This Issue

Although conflicts between Sharia law and American law have existed since the 1970s, if not earlier, the idea of American courts applying Sharia law didn’t become explosive until the September 11 attacks. Seven states, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, have enacted anti-Sharia laws. Alabama will vote on the issue this November.

Anti-Sharia laws have not gone unopposed. Oklahoma’s constitution amendment banning Sharia law was ruled unconstitutional because it was considered discriminatory. Missouri’s anti-Sharia bill was vetoed by Missouri’s governor because it would make international adoptions too difficult.

Many legal experts have dismissed the efforts to ban Sharia law as solutions in search of a problem. Ironically, they are making the same mistake as the hotheads who enact these anti-Sharia laws: they are dismissing the issue without giving the matter much thought. The issues with Sharia law are small, but we should examine rather than trivialize such cases. My cursory research into Sharia law in the United States has drawn me to these observations:

  1. Family cases involving Sharia law are limited to the facts. It would be difficult for Sharia law to “creep” into American case law because most of the cases involving Sharia law are distinguishable based on facts which don’t often arise outside of the Islamic community. In cases where American judges acted consistently with Sharia law, the parties were citizens from Pakistan, India, Israel, or other countries which use Sharia law. Our judges aren’t allowing Sharia law to supersede American law. Instead, our judges are recognizing the legitimacy of courts outside of the United States when the nationals of those other countries are involved.
  2. Cases involving Sharia law would reach the same outcome even if Islam wasn’t involved. In some cases, there is no conflict between Sharia law and our law. For instance, Sharia law demands that Islamic courts apply a “child’s best interest” standard when deciding child custody. Coincidentally, our legal system uses the same standard. Obviously, cultures will differ on what exactly is in a child’s best interests. Islamic courts believe that children who grow up in an Islamic society are better off than children who do not. That belief seems wrong, but let’s not forget that our own courts used to overvalue Christianity when they awarded the custody of Native American children to white parents. In other cases, our judges have decided to stay out of the case. For example, our judges cannot decide employment disputes between Imams and mosques. That is an internal religious dispute and our federal constitution forbids courts from meddling with the free exercise of religion. This would be true even if the conflict involved a minister and a church, so in these few cases there would be no difference in the outcome.

The Threat Which Is Not Threatening

Currently, these anti-Sharia laws are naïve experiments. Laws which specifically target Sharia specifically targets Muslims and are thus unconstitutional. Some states tried to “fix” that problem by making them broad. Instead of banning Sharia law, states like Oklahoma are banning “foreign law.” Alabama has taken this a step further and is prohibiting the application of laws which conflict with Alabama’s own policies.

Making the ant-Sharia laws broader only creates more problems. Banning foreign laws makes it next to impossible to attract international contracts since companies in other countries won’t do business if they don’t think their contracts will be honored. Alabama’s proposed law is even more extreme. I can’t see states like Alabama ignoring the United States Supreme Court merely because the Supreme Court decides cases contrary to Alabama law.

So if states are worried that their courts will decide cases which legitimize wife beating or marital rape based on Islam, what can these states do? Instead of having states enact unconstitutional and overbroad anti-Sharia laws, Congress should strengthen our refugee laws. Most of the women being victimized by Sharia law came to the United States to escape unjust marital arrangements and abusive husbands. If we make it easier for women from Islamic countries to obtain political refugee status, we would do more good than the symbolic, but empty, anti-Sharia laws that states are currently trying to enact.

NFL Domestic Violence Sparks Review of Union Policy

In the wake of a string of instances of alleged domestic violence, it’s clear the NFL has an inconsistent policy for when a player may or may not be disqualified. One player may be suspended for a season, another for several months, another may be suspended for two games, and another may not be suspended at all.

NFL Domestic ViolenceBy contrast, players that have been caught for drinking and driving, or possession of drugs like marijuana, have received specific and occasionally stiffer penalties.

The NFL’s inconsistent response to domestic violence issues hasn’t been very popular among the general public, and understandably so: if a player is suspended for one year due to a legal issue with controlled substances, but a player who is facing domestic violence charges is only suspended for two games, it communicates that domestic violence is inherently less awful than drug abuse offenses.

The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goddell seeks to change the league’s policy on suspension. However, doing so may be problematic. As it stands, the league wields the unilateral power over punishment and appeals.

The biggest hurdle may negotiations with the players unions. For example, policy decisions generally cannot just be made on a whim. The NFL and player’s union has been negotiating for years concerning the leagues drug policies; there is a general concern that similar negotiations may be conducted concerning a new domestic violence policy. This would mean it could be years before an actual policy is in effect.

Which raises one of the biggest questions regarding these unions: what’s the point? When unions were created, they served a purpose of protecting the rights of factory workers and other laborers who may not have had a voice on their own, but found strength in numbers.

These days, and specifically with respect to individuals who are typically making at least six figures, with the prominence of consumer protection and worker’s rights laws, it’s odd to imagine how collective bargaining and unionization protects their rights, as opposed to simply acting as an unnecessary step in an already complicated process.

Behind Texas Court’s Decision to Strike Down “Upskirt” Photography Ban

The recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling regarding “upskirt” photography – pictures taken covertly under women’s skirts in public and without their consent – has understandably drawn much outrage. The case has been widely described as ruling that it is legal to take these kinds of photos, which has generated a great deal of shock and anger.

texas court upskirt photo banThe court’s ruling did strike down a statute that would have outlawed this practice under the First Amendment’s Free Speech protection. However, a closer examination of the court’s decision and the statute in question demonstrates that this outcome was, more than anything, the result of extremely poor statutory drafting on the part of the legislature.

A law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment when it is overly broad. That is, even if the law aims to achieve a permissible purpose, if the language used encompasses substantially more conduct than intended, the law is unconstitutional.

The portion of Texas Penal Code Section 21.15 (the “improper photography or visual recording” statute) that was called into question was subsection (b)(1), which stated photographing or electronically recording a person is a crime if the photo or recording “is made without that person’s consent” and “made with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”

The State Attorney argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the statute did not target the “speech” (the photograph), but rather the “act” (the taking of the photograph). The State Attorney further argued that, even if the First Amendment did apply, the statute was limited by the consent requirement and, thus, not overly broad.

Under the State Attorney’s interpretation, if the photograph is of an area that is not exposed to the public, (such as a photograph taken up a woman’s skirt) the improper-photography statute criminalizes the behavior, if done with the requisite intent (to arouse or gratify sexual desire). However, if the photograph is of an area that was exposed to the public, (such as a photo of a woman wearing a swimsuit) the statute does not apply.

The State Attorney is bending over backwards to make this statute work, essentially asking the court to approve of an entirely different version of the statute than what is “on the books.” The argument that the act of photography (as opposed to the photo itself) is not a form of speech that invokes the First Amendment is nonsensical; and the State’s interpretation of the term “consent” is extremely broad.

The Defendant argued that, while the legislature has a legitimate interest in prohibiting “upskirt” photography, the statutory language used “fails to distinguish those situations from merely photographing a girl in a skirt walking down the street.” The court seemed to agree.

It is possible for a court to “save” an overly broad statute by utilizing a narrow interpretation. However, the Texas court felt that the “narrow interpretation” offered by the State Attorney – narrowing the statute, ironically, by using a broad definition of “consent” – was not possible in this case.

The court had previously construed “consent” as meaning “an actual or real agreement after thoughtful consideration,” and felt that the idea that a person consents to be photographed by merely appearing in a public place ran completely counter to this definition.

The court was concerned that imposing a definition of consent as broad as the one proposed by the State Attorney, when no such definition was provided in the statute, invaded the legislative domain and diminished the incentive for the legislature to draft narrowly tailored statutes in the first place. The court was also concerned that a very broad definition of “consent” might be a dangerous concept that, if utilized in this case, might be expanded to apply in other scenarios.

The court concluded by agreeing that a person being photographed in an area not exposed to the public, such as up a skirt, did violate the State’s legitimate interest in privacy, but pointed out that the statute in question was overly broad and did not even contain language addressing privacy concerns.

The court used the next subsection of the statute – Section 21.15(b)(2) – as an example of a provision narrowly tailored to address privacy interests: It is a crime to photograph or record a person in a bathroom or private dressing room. The court also offered some examples of ways that the legislature could have tailored the statute to make it less broad; such as requiring a person’s privacy interest to be invaded or prohibiting specific activities, such as “upskirt” photography.

These suggestions raise the question: Why did the legislature choose to focus on the sexual gratification of the perpetrator, rather than the privacy interest of the victim? What if the intent of the photography was not sexual gratification, but instead to mock or humiliate the victim? Should that victim be entitled to any less legal protection?

The court repeatedly refers to the statute as “protecting an individual from being the subject of someone else’s sexual desires,” stating that this is an unattainable goal. In fact, the statute was actually intended to protect individuals from dissemination of invasive photographs of their body parts by strangers. Clearly, the “sexual gratification” language in the statute confuses this purpose.

Thus, after a closer look, this case seems to illustrate the importance of a carefully drawn statute more than it does the ambivalence of the court towards privacy. It does not appear that the court is declaring “upskirt” photography legal or in any way condoning the behavior. The problem is that the legislature drafted a statute that was overly broad, while simultaneously failing to encompass situations in which personal privacy is invaded with non-sexual motives.

What is needed is a statute that encompass the entirety of the behavior the legislature is seeking to prevent, without also encompassing a wide variety of other behaviors.