U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

May 2015 Archives

6th Cir. Creates Split in Private Searches on Computers

What are the limits of the "private search doctrine" when it comes to a computer? The Sixth Circuit answered that question last week in a case that is sure to make it to the Supreme Court.

Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. His girlfriend, wondering why she was never allowed to use his computer, hacked into it and found images of child pornography. She notified the authorities, police obtained a warrant to search the computer, which led to more pornography. The Sixth Circuit, however, suppressed all this evidence as the product of an unconstitutional search.

Prosecutors impermissibly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in their prosecution of an Ohio police lieutenant for the death of his wife. Thomas Barton was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after he allegedly hired a man to "scare" his wife by staging a robbery, only for the plan to go wrong and Barton's wife to end up dead.

Barton appealed, arguing that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence -- mainly that the sole witness against Barton may not have had the "burglar for hire" history that the state claimed. The Second Circuit agreed, finding that the evidence could have helped Barton's defense.

Police Can't Arrest Gun Owner Just for Open Carry Gun: 6th Cir

What good is a law allowing the open carrying of handguns when the police are just going to arrest you for it? Shawn and Denise Northrup of Toledo, Ohio were just walking their dog one evening when a motorcyclist saw them and yelled, "You can't walk around with a gun like that!"

For, you see, Shawn was walking the dog while armed with a semiautomatic handgun. The motorcyclist, Alan Rose, called the police, who confirmed that it was legal to carry openly in Ohio, but nevertheless sent an officer out to investigate.

Lawyers Collecting State Debts Not 'Officers'; Subject to FDCPA

Allowing debt collectors to use state prosecutors' letterhead is a controversial practice. It nets counties money (debt collectors essentially rent out the letterhead), but the ABA and other legal organizations say it's deceptive because a county prosecutor isn't actually charging the debtor with a crime.

To that end, the Sixth Circuit addressed two kinks in the issue: Whether the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to law firms tasked with collecting state debts, and whether their use of the Ohio Attorney General's letterhead violated the FDCPA.

After Leslie Ashmore, a convicted felon, was found in possession of firearms, he was tried for violating federal law and sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal however, he earned a new trial, since the court had improperly introduced evidence that was obtained through the use of a two step Miranda technique meant to undermine the effectiveness of Ashmore's Miranda rights.

One October night, police found Ashmore passed out in his vehicle, alongside drug paraphernalia. A search of the car revealed two firearms, safely tucked away in a lock box for which Ashmore had the key. Two weeks later, a team of 10 to 20 officers, including the city's SWAT time, was deployed to arrest Ashmore. Special Agent Jamie Jenkins questioned Ashmore as to whether there were any guns in the car he was arrested in -- before he received his Miranda warnings.