Justices take up Fourth Modification case

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Justices add seven new cases to docket, including major voting-rights dispute

Posted Mon on Oct 19th 2020 12:22 pm by Amy Howe

The Supreme Court issued further orders at last week's private conference of judges on Monday and added three new cases to its term of earnings record. In addition to the census-related cases (added on Friday) and two cases related to the Trump administration's efforts to curb immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, the judges announced that they were reviewing the scope of the warranty of the fourth amendment. The judges denied review in another case of the Fourth Amendment, which resulted in a statement from Judge Neil Gorsuch, while Judge Clarence Thomas opposed the denial of review in a case involving India's Gambling Regulation Act.

The fourth amendment generally requires that police officers get an arrest warrant before entering a home. The Supreme Court has recognized an exception to this rule for emergencies, such as when the police are following a suspect. In Lange v California, judges agreed to determine whether this exception applies when police are pursuing a suspect they believe has committed a crime.

The question comes in court in the case of Arthur Lange, a man from Northern California who was followed to his house by a California patrolman because he believed that Lange had violated traffic laws by listening to loud music a few times and blowing his horn. After Lange drove into his garage, the officer who had turned on his overhead lights but did not use his siren as Lange approached his house entered the garage by putting his foot under the garage door to prevent it from closing. When speaking to Lange, the officer said he could smell alcohol on his breath and Lange was charged with driving under the driver's influence.

In his trial, Lange argued that the officer’s entry into his garage without an arrest warrant violated the fourth amendment, so the evidence obtained in the garage should be discarded. The court rejected this argument and a state appeals court upheld the verdict and ultimately its conviction. The California Court of Appeals also upheld his conviction and dismissed Lange's claim that the warranty exemption for “following” a suspect should only apply in real emergencies, not when the police are investigating minor crimes. Instead, according to the appeals court, the illegal entry did not violate the constitution, as the officer was persecuting Lange, who he was likely to be arrested for of a misdemeanor.

Lange went to the Supreme Court and asked the judges to review the state court's decision. The lower courts are "sharply divided" on the question of whether prosecutions for offenses justify legal entry, Lange told the judges. And the California court rule, he added, would "allow officials investigating petty crimes to invade the privacy of anyone in a home, even if there is no emergency preventing them from obtaining an arrest warrant."

California agreed with Lange that federal and state courts had drawn different conclusions regarding the fourth amendment question submitted by its case, but told judges that Lange's case is not appropriate to answer that question because Lange's DUI- Conviction should exist regardless of the outcome of this trial. However, the state went on to say that if the court should grant a review, California Lange agrees that prosecuting offenses does not always warrant lawful entry. Instead, the state said, the courts should decide on a case-by-case basis whether there is a real emergency.

The case is expected to be open for discussion in February 2021 or later.

The judges denied the Bovat v Vermont review on another issue related to the Fourth Amendment's warranty requirement: whether the police can enter the "semi-private" areas – such as driveways, sidewalks, and steps – within the area immediately around a house, which is referred to as a Curtilage, without an investigation warrant. The question came to court after game rangers in Vermont went to Clyde Bovat's home to investigate a possible “deer robbery” – the illegal night killing of a deer. When the guards couldn't see Bovat's truck in the driveway, they went to the garage window. Through the window they saw a truck with what appeared to be animal hair and blood.

When Bovat's wife denied the guards' application for permission to enter the garage, the guards electronically requested a search warrant and cited the animal hair and blood they saw on the truck as evidence of the need for the warrant. They received the arrest warrant and Bovat was charged with violating the state's hunting laws. Both the trial and the Vermont Supreme Court rejected Bovat's argument that the evidence could not be used against him, so Bovat went to the Supreme Court and asked the judges to consider whether the guards could enter the driveway without it Arrest warrant violated the constitution.

The judges denied Bovat's appeal, but Gorsuch – along with Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – filed a statement on the decision. Gorsuch expressed surprise that the Vermont Supreme Court ruled the case against Jardines without reference to Florida. The 2013 Supreme Court decision found that the Curtilage is protected by the fourth amendment. Jardines, Gorsuch suggested, "almost certainly required a different result." But even if the court chose not to grant a review, Gorsuch continued, the state court's mistake "remains to be highlighted to ensure it doesn't recur".

In Rogers County's Board of Tax Roll Corrections v. Video Gaming Technologies, judges were asked to determine whether Congress in India's Gaming Regulatory Act intended to exempt non-US, non-state companies that supply gaming equipment from general state property taxes. In a case where Oklahoma sought to tax gaming machines owned by a non-state corporation and rented to a tribe for use in casino operations, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that IGRA trumps state tax, but the Supreme Court refused weigh this, however.

In his objection to the denial of review, Thomas referred to the July Judges' decision in McGirt v Oklahoma in which the court ruled that northeast Oklahoma land remains a reservation for purposes of federal law that allows the federal government to make serious Attempts to undertake crimes committed by Native Americans there. Quoting the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts in McGirt, Thomas said the decision had "deeply destabilized governance in eastern Oklahoma." "The least we can do now," suggested Thomas, "is to alleviate some of this uncertainty" by granting a review.

The judges also challenged the acting US attorney general in PricewaterhouseCoopers against Laurent, a case involving the interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The acting attorney general has no time to respond.

The next conference of judges is scheduled for Friday October 30th.

This post was originally published on Howe on the Court.

Posted in Bovat v Vermont, Lange v California, Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Corrections v Video Gaming Technologies Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP v Laurent, Featured, Cases in the Pipeline

Recommended citation:
Amy Howe,
The judges take up the case of the fourth amendment.
SCOTUSblog (October 19, 2020, 12:22 p.m.),
https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/10/justices-take-up-fourth-amgement-case/