FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

Recently in Law Enforcement Category

How does an apparently routine traffic stop turn into an $85,000 settlement? When an arresting officer allegedly forcibly removes a Muslim woman's hijab, requiring her to have her head exposed overnight in a jail cell, in plain view of other male officers and dozens of inmates, and have her publicly available booking photo taken without her head covered.

"I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience, it was horrible," Kirsty Powell said when she filed her lawsuit against the city of Long Beach, Police Chief Robert Luna, and six Long Beach Police officers. "I want my Muslim sisters to always feel comfortable and safe wearing a hijab and to stand up for what's right. We are all human, we all deserve justice."

In the wake of mass demonstrations during the 2016 Republican National Convention, we prepared a little primer on protest related laws. And after the tragic and horrifying events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, we thought it might be time to round up some more questions, answers, and tips for keeping your protest activities legal.

So here are five more legal aspects to protests and public demonstrations to consider before taking it to the streets.

A new confidential policy of the U.S. armed forces permits consumer and commercially operated drones to be shot down if they enter or approach a no-fly zone. This policy appears to have been recently rolled out, but it does correspond to the warning the FAA issued to consumers earlier this year about flying near military bases. While the details of the policy remain confidential, releasing some info about it will go a long way to help educate the public as well as provide an easy to find answer through Google when a drone operator searches: "My drone got shot down above X military base."

After all, as the number of commercial and hobbyist drone operators continues to increase, the risk of a drone flying into a no-fly zone also increases. Though it may seem like common sense to not fly a drone near an airport or military base, in the excitement of RC aviation, it's not too farfetched that a person might forget, or not actually know what they're flying over. Only Maverick can get away with buzzing the tower.

There's no doubt that the opioid crisis has hit epidemic levels. By some estimates, the powerful prescription painkillers are claiming more lives in the U.S. than car accidents. The only question is how best to respond. Local law enforcement has attempted to crack down on illegal possession and sale, but it can be tricky when the drug itself is legal with a prescription. Some jurisdictions have created specialized opiate courts and some states are suing drug manufacturers for drowning their citizens in prescription pills, but both are after-the-fact remedies.

And now the Justice Department has announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will be focused on "investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes."

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has seen his fair share of lawsuits. The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" was sued by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations, and found to have routinely engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. He was sued by a newspaper for arresting its owners following some unfavorable coverage. He was sued again for discrimination and was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos on immigration patrols. Most recently, he was charged with contempt for disobeying a court order barring those immigration enforcement patrols.

(Arpaio also lost his bid for reelection last year, ostensibly losing his favored moniker as well.)

Last week, the former sheriff was found guilty of contempt for violating that court order and could be facing serious jail time.

The Department of Justice just reinstated their policy to assist local law enforcement in civil asset seizures. What does this mean? Well, it means that law enforcement will now have more incentive to just take your stuff, even your home and cold hard cash, if they suspect any of it was purchased with illegally-earned money.

Civil asset forfeiture is real, and incredibly frightening. If police suspect your property is involved in a crime, or is the proceeds of a crime, then law enforcement can seize it. What makes this so controversial is that your property can be taken without even criminal charges being filed. The property owner is forced to go through an administrative process, and potentially even a court filing, in order to get their property returned. Fortunately, the Supreme Court recently limited the government's authority to seize assets, but their ruling may not provide much relief at all.

In a hearing last April, Arkansas Department of Correction Deputy Director Rory Griffin admitted he deliberately avoided a paper trail when he ordered vecuronium bromide -- one of three drugs in the state's lethal injection cocktail -- from McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. That could be because he knew McKesson didn't want the drug used for executions.

While Griffin says he didn't keep the text messages he exchanged with McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins, Jenkins did, and he testified that Griffin never told him the drug would be used for lethal injections. McKesson is suing Arkansas to block the state from using the drug in future executions, and the state is now appealing a judge's ruling to allow the lawsuit to go forward.

In these modern times of planes, trains, and automobiles, crossing the border has never been easier. The U.S. border is crossed millions of times per year. However, the alarming new trend of customs and border agents demanding to search the contents of travelers' smartphones, has left many concerned about their privacy rights.

While the courts have ruled that border agents do not need a warrant to search a traveler's phone, there have been limits placed on the extent of the search. Another such limit was formally announced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, when it explained that only locally stored data, and not cloud data, is subject to search at the border.

Technically, if you film police while they are performing their duties out in public, an officer could potentially be justified in taking your cell phone. However, that would be limited to situations where either you were personally being arrested for a crime, or where your video captured another person's crime. Fortunately, courts have consistently ruled that recording police performing their duties in public is completely legal, so long as you don't get in their way.

When investigating a crime, at the time of arrest, and immediately after an arrest, officers can seize evidence found at the scene. If your cell phone contains a video of an individual committing a crime, that video, and your cell phone, could very well be evidence. Barring these limited scenarios, and often in these scenarios, an officer cannot legally take your phone. Unfortunately, refusing to comply can be dangerous and result in arrest.

In six major airports across the country, a futuristic security feature is being rolled out for international travelers courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security: biometric face scanning. Simply put, this security feature digitally scans a person's face and can compare the live scan to official pictures, such as a passport photo, to ensure individuals are who they say they are.

Fortunately, the biometric face scan doesn't require you to do anything different. There's no dark hole you have to stick your face into or anything like that. The biometric scanner works pretty much like a camera. It captures an image of your face, but then uses special software to analyze your facial features, such as cheekbone height or pupillary distance, and compares your real life face to the photo for your official government identification. It can also check your scan against state and federal databases.