Should RBG be replaced before the November election?

My thoughts on the Ruth Bader Ginsburg drama. There are 3 currently living retired Supreme Court justices: Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter. Each of these still-living former justices chose to retire, rather than to remain on the bench until death. RGB was perhaps the most left-wing partisan justice ever to serve on the Court, so understandably, she made the purposeful choice to stay on as long as possible. Therefore, it was her choice to politicize the vacancy which would be created by her death. In fact, her last words, as relayed by her granddaughter, were purportedly, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

[Podcast version (audio only) here (download for later or listen)]

First of all, presidents are elected – not installed – and secondly, the seat belongs to the American people. It never belonged to her. It’s not her seat; it’s not the Democrats’ seat; it’s not the left’s seat; it’s not the right’s seat; it’s the people’s seat. Assuming that RBG actually said that, she didn’t just say wait until after the election, but rather, she wants to wait until Donald Trump’s successor takes office. She’s therefore expressing her desire that Trump not replace her. If she said that, it wouldn’t be the first time that she’s knocked Trump, and it’s frankly sad to think that a man she disliked was the last thing on her mind in her final moments, rather than the granddaughter she was purportedly speaking to.

There can be no doubt that the Constitution provides the that the President is tasked with nominating someone new to fill the vacancy, subject to the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. The only issue is the timing.The Constitution doesn’t necessarily provide, or require, that federal judgeships last until “death,” per se. What does the Constitution say about this? Article III is the part of the Constitution which lays out the constitutional foundation of the judicial branch, which leaves the logistics to Congress:

Article 3, Section 1
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Thus, a justice serves “during good behavior.” So for life in general, but not necessarily. And it gives Congress the responsibility of organizing the federal judiciary. In fact, one of the first things Congress did in 1789 when it set up shop, is to set up the federal judiciary – including a Supreme Court, with then-6 justices. Of course, we now have 9, though Democrats have been threatening to increase the number (which RBG has gone on the record as opposing, even if done by Democrats).

The language about “holding offices during good behaviour” has been interpreted to mean that the only way federal judges can be removed from office is if the House of Representatives impeaches them, and the Senate convicts them, of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Only fifteen judges have ever been impeached (that is, formally accused by the House of Representatives) and only eight have been convicted and removed from office. For practical purposes, any judge who does not commit a crime (or do something equally bad) has “lifetime tenure” and will stay in office until he or she dies or voluntarily steps down. And, as the provision says, Congress and the President cannot retaliate against judges by cutting their salaries.

National Constitution Center, Article III, Section One, by Richard W. Garnett and David A. Strauss, https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/article-iii/clauses/45

Let’s look at the science behind it. There was a study done in 2010 on retirement vs. death-in-office of Supreme Court justices, noting that it was a “small but extremely important social group” which had not been previously studied in this way.

[S]ome observers have long asserted—and others have long denied—that the timing of justices’ resignations from the Court, and even the probability that they die in office, reflect a highly politicized process that, like their nominations, revolves around political compatibility between the individual jurist and the incumbent president of the United States as well as personal circumstances of justices, such as vitality (i.e., health, wellness), age, personal finances, and job tenure (i.e., length of service on the Court; see, e.g., French 2005). We call this assertion the politicized departure hypothesis.

The politicized departure hypothesis is based on (1) the observation that a justice’s retirement—particularly if it occurs early in a president’s term of office—allows the incumbent president to nominate the replacement for that justice, (2) the belief that justices tend to be loyal to the party of the president who appointed them to the Court, and (3) the conjecture that justices tend to display this loyalty by timing their resignations to give a president of that party the opportunity to appoint their judicial successor. Thus, the politicized departure hypothesis is as follows: (1) Other things equal, if the incumbent president is of the same party as the president who nominated the justice to the Court, and if the incumbent president is in the first two years of a four-year presidential term, then the justice is more likely to resign from the Court than at times when these two conditions are not met.

Retirement and Death in Office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, by ROSS M. STOLZENBERG and JAMES LINDGREN, May, 2010 (citations omitted).

The study found that history has shown that, despite the ability to generally stay until death, as end-of-life nears, with the existence of a pension, justices have tended to retire, rather than die in office. Those who have chosen to stay until death are dedicated politicos, as one of my college professors (Dr. Lanier) used to call them, acting not in their own personal best interests, but rather for pure politics. I think he used to say, “Don’t kid yourselves, these people are seasoned politicos.” Turning to the study at hand, the average service period of a SCOTUS justice over the course of the last 230 years of American jurisprudence has been about 25 years. According to the science, as the age of a justice advances, the expected annual odds of their retirement are about a 6% chance per additional year of life. Then comes the politics, which skews the numbers according to the political party of the president vs. the justice:

If the incumbent president is of the same party as the president who nominated the justice to the Court, and if the incumbent president is in the first two years of a four-year presidential term, then the justice has odds of resignation that are about 2.6 times higher than when these two conditions are not met.

In addition, political climate effects on death in office are consistent with the politicized departure hypothesis. When the incumbent president is of a different party than the president who appointed the justice, then the justice’s death-in-office odds are about tripled, compared with when the appointing president and the incumbent president are members of the same party.

Retirement and Death in Office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, by ROSS M. STOLZENBERG and JAMES LINDGREN, May, 2010.

That’s the category RBG fits into. The likelihood of RGB dying in office based purely on the politics of replacing her, was about 3 times higher than the likelihood of her having retired had Trump not won in 2016. That seems about right to me. She’s had cancer for some period of time. Had Hillary won in 2016, it seems rational to believe she would have voluntarily retired sometime after November of 2016. Still though, RGB’s choice bucks the trend. Looking at history, the trend seems to have been towards increasing voluntary retirement of Supreme Court justices, rather than through death, which was more pervasive in the 19th century:

The evidence shows that RGB was a diehard politico. She went against the grain in choosing not to retire, and instead to attempt to outlive a Trump presidency. Her anti-Trump politics were well-known.

Washington (CNN) Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s well-known candor was on display in her chambers late Monday, when she declined to retreat from her earlier criticism of Donald Trump and even elaborated on it.”He is a faker,” she said of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, going point by point, as if presenting a legal brief. “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.”

https://www.cnn.com/2016/07/12/politics/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-donald-trump-faker/index.html

There was more:

Ginsburg had told a Times reporter, “I can’t imagine what this place would be—I can’t imagine what the country would be—with Donald Trump as our president. For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be—I don’t even want to contemplate that.” 

https://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2016/07/14/ginsburg-on-trump-comments-i-m-sorry

Mind you, she made these comments about Trump before he was elected. They were made during the 2016 election – only months away from election day. Wisely, she publicly apologized:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg apologized Thursday for comments she made about Donald Trump in The New York Times over the weekend. “On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them,” she said in a statement. “Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2016/07/14/ginsburg-on-trump-comments-i-m-sorryhttps://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2016/07/14/ginsburg-on-trump-comments-i-m-sorry

I can agree with that sentiment. Particularly inappropriate was the fact that she said this not while Trump was President, but during the campaign. So she’s not criticizing the Executive Branch, she ‘s criticizing a candidate. That seems dangerous to me. By all accounts she was extremely smart, and was an effective proponent of her point of view. She certainly wasn’t afraid of having her own opinions. You may not know this, because the media probably hasn’t spoken of it much, but RBG also criticized Colin Kaepernick, calling his national anthem kneeling/protest “dumb” – though she later apologized for that too.

You may have seem memes about RBG in reference to advising Egypt away from copying the U.S. Constitution…. In a 2012 interview with an Arabic television station, RBG publicly reccomended that the Egyptians, after overthrowing their old government, NOT look to the U.S. Constitution as a model for their new government. This wasn’t taken out of context, either. Don’t just read the meme, or a biased “fact-check” article. Go ahead and read her full quote:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jan. 30, 2012: You should certainly be aided by all the constitution writing that has gone on since the end of World War II. I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa — that was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the U.S. Constitution, Canada has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. So, yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?

In her own words, as a sitting Supreme Court justice, she prefers the South African constitution, or the Canadian “Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” neither of which include any real right of the people to bear arms. South Africa itself is a hot-mess, and has a constitution which is full of problems, including the fact that it created a socialistic system of government control of over 700 businesses, as well as a disaster as far as racial relations goes. Canada’s ultra-leftwing charter is like taking the radical left’s social justice platform and turning it into constitutional law. It may be good from the left’s political perspective, but it would be antithetical to the governmental constraint and limited government required from the U.S. Constitution.

Clearly RGB knew it would be much easier for the left to impose their agenda on a populace without a constitution such as ours in place. That’s her opinion, which is likely the reason she chose to play politics until the very end. The beauty and the genius of the U.S. Constitution is that its can be amended at any time. Bad stuff can come out. Good stuff can go in. You just have to follow the process – which requires broad support by the people. It’s not something done by swamp creatures alone.

Therefore the question is not whether the President should nominate a new justice – it’s whether the President should delay doing so, just in case he loses the election, because political pressure from the opposition is demanding it. There is no constitutional basis for such a request – only politics. This, mind you, is coming from the same political opposition who impeached the President, in an election year. The President needs only to ask himself one question. What would the Democrats do? There’s his answer.

Lifestream Update 7/23 on the Suit Against the WV Governor over his COVID Tyranny

Also from 7/23/20, my appearance on the Tom Roton Show on WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia, discussing the COVID suit:

https://800wvhu.iheart.com/featured/the-tom-roten-morning-show/content/2020-07-23-wv-attorney-standing-against-unconstitutional-jim-justice-executive-orders/?fbclid=IwAR2hcAf3gXIUpx6CHv9EYKPGib2EtTBUEYdau3RhpwqZ20d8okZZh3qViLc

Fayette County Search Case was Settled

I’ve had several people ask me about an update on the Sizemore case, which was a search and seizure case out of Fayette County, West Virginia, involving a multi-jurisdictional drug task force who were found by a federal judge to have included false allegations in a search warrant application. The federal criminal charges were dropped after the evidence seized during the search was suppressed from evidence. Then the case was brought to me for a civil lawsuit. We filed in in September of 2019. We recently settled the case.

This was the case where the Charleston Gazette newspaper thought it was shocking that we filed a lawsuit over an illegal search where, despite the illegal warrant, drugs actually were found in my client’s house. I believe the headline was, “Officers found his $25k of heroin. He walked free, and now he’s suing police.”

In my December 2019 update, in response to the police officers’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, I reiterated that equal justice under the law should mean that even people found with drugs should be entitled to the equal application of law and posted our response brief, as well as their motion.

In my January 2020 update, I posted a copy of the federal court’s memorandum opinion and order denying the motion to dismiss, and denying the application of qualified immunity, ordering that the case proceed. You’ve been hearing a lot about qualified immunity lately. The order in this case denied qualified immunity to the officers:

As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157. 

As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).

Qualified immunity is actually pretty rare in excessive force lawsuits – at least where the plaintiff’s attorney knows what he or she is doing. Ideally, there is a dispute of facts, which requires a trial. But in search in seizure cases, it’s usually less of a factual dispute, and more of a legal dispute. The gist of qualified immunity is that courts give some leeway to police officers, who can’t be expected to automatically know each and every new case that comes out. Some courts expand it, unfortunately, but many don’t.

Here, the court equally applied the Fourth Amendment and justice was served. A police officer should not be allowed to lie in order to obtain a search warrant, even where they believe that the ends justifies the means. Here’s the full order, which was quoted above:

Petition for Rehearing En Banc Filed Yesterday with the Fourth Circuit in the Orem Search and Seizure Case

Yesterday we filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the Orem case. On May 11, 2020, the Fourth Circuit handed down a panel decision in the Orem v. Gillmore, et al., Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit, arising out of Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Here’s the background post on the initial filing of the lawsuit, in April of 2018. This is the case that made national headlines when a Republican nominee for Sheriff was arrested for allegedly overdosing in his home. He was arrested by a state trooper, who showed up at the scene of the medical emergency, and performed a warrantless search of a bathroom in the house. The trooper’s longtime secretary was the married to one of the candidate’s political opponents. During the arrest booking, a photograph was taken of the client while handcuffed inside a secure area of the state police detachment. It was uploaded to social media as a meme, and quickly went viral. Of course, the state police investigated themselves, and strangely were unable to find the culprit.

The damage was done, as far as the election is concerned. The prosecuting attorney determined that the arrest resulted from an illegal search of the bathroom, and evidently the court agreed. The criminal charges were dismissed. We filed a civil lawsuit in federal court. Unfortunately however, the Court granted the trooper qualified immunity on the search, and claimed that we missed the statute of limitations on the false arrest count. I argued up and down that the judge and the opposing lawyer were confused, and that false arrest has a 2 year SOL – not 1 year, as they claimed. Well, I was right. The Fourth Circuit overturned the ruling on the statute of limitations, holding that I was right about it being 2 years. But then they granted qualified immunity anyways.

Here’s the Petition for Rehearing:

Here’s the opinion, if you want to read it. Unfortunately, the opinion was pretty sparse – granting the defendant police officer qualified immunity, with pretty much no explanation whatsoever. They just said, it was “beyond debate.”

The expansion of qualified immunity to police officers who violate the most central tenant of the Fourth Amendment – a warrantless search of a home – is concerning. Qualified immunity is supposed to apply to the gray areas, where we can’t expect police officers to understand all the nuances and constant changes in case law. But the warrant requirement for searching a man’s home? The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that a police officer cannot be entitled to qualified immunity for the warrantless search of a home. Hopefully we get a rehearing on this and a new opinion, or else we very well may end up there.

New issues are presented on whether jail and prison inmates in (or from) West Virginia can/should be released due to COVID-19

We’ve been working hard in multiple cases to try to obtain the release of some non-violent jail and prison inmates who are currently stuck in their cells, having completed the bulk of their sentences for nonviolent offenses. Many of the facilities have stopped all academics and facility programming and just leaving people quarantined in their cells. (Update 4/30/20: Success! First one is out!)

Many of these same individuals have the ability to be self-sufficient in the outside world – even during this crises – rather than requiring prison staff to interact with them, feed them, and so on. Not to mention the requirement of we the taxpayers to fund the whole thing. Yet even with this global pandemic, West Virginia’s correctional facilities are still overcrowded, with more inmates incarcerated than there are “beds available.”

As of April 1, 2020, there were still 270 more prisoners incarcerated than available beds. Many of these prisoners, such as the ones we’ve been trying to help, are nonviolent offenders who’ve already served most of their sentence, who pose no real risk to public safety, and who could be assisting their own families at this time. Some of these individuals have underlying health issues which makes them especially vulnerable.

The West Virginia Division of Corrections has come up with a comprehensive plan to mitigate the likelihood of an outbreak in these facilities, but we’ve all heard about the issues at nursing homes in West Virginia, where our outbreak first started. Vulnerable individuals in institutions such as these are at “grave risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19,” and this includes vulnerable prisoners. See Joe Severino, Charleston Gazette-Mail, A WV Nursing Home Had 29 COVID-19 Cases. Here’s How they Contained the Spread (Mar. 31, 2020).

West Virginia recently passed legislation which was intended to address overcrowding, but which also would be perfectly suited to the COVID-19 threat. However, it doesn’t go in effect until June 5, 2020. In that legislation, the DOC is authorized to develop and approve home plans for certain qualifying inmates. This would help, but June is still some time away. In the meantime, inmates are most likely required to go back to their sentencing judge in the court/county in which they were sentenced. That’s what we’ve been doing.

In federal court, there’s a provision for an inmate to petition for what’s called a “compassionate release,” which would apply well to prisoners with an underlying health vulnerability. However, there’s a problem there as well. By law, they’re required to make an administrative request to the federal Bureau of Prisons first, prior to going to the sentencing judge.

Unfortunately, West Virginia doesn’t have an option for “compassionate release” just yet. But something needs to be done. So far, we’ve filed motions for reconsideration of a sentence under Rule 35(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure. There’s a time limit of 120 days generally to file this, so most inmates are going to be beyond this number. However, there is an exception which allows a sentencing judge to waive the time limitation so long as it doesn’t “usurp the role of the parole board,” whatever that means. See, e.g., State v. Head, 198 W. Va. 298, 480 S.E.2d 507 (1996). 

We finally have our first hearing coming up this week on a Rule 35 COVID motion. We do know that certain sentencing judges around the state have allowed some of their inmates an early release on bond or home confinement due to COVID-19, but at this point it’s entirely up to the discretion of the court, which means that everything is on a case-by-case basis.

In the federal system, there is a mechanism for release, and there’s a number of set factors for the court to address – also a case by case analysis. But again, there’s that requirement to exhaust administrative remedies from within the BOP first before filing.

So far the ACLU and Mountain State Justice have tried to take action on a multi-client basis and have been denied. Again, these are case-by-case fact-heavy situations which require going to the sentencing judge. In New Jersey, there’s already been a case up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on a “compassionate release” petition. (USA v. Raia) However, because they didn’t make the petition to the sentencing judge, and also because the inmate didn’t ask the BOP administratively first, it got sent back with no real decision.

On its own, the West Virginia DOC has already released about 70 parolees who were serving short terms for parole-related violations, and about 70 other work-release inmates on “extended furlough.” Who knows where we go from here, but as they say, “no asky, no gety….”

If you need help with an inmate who you believe is vulnerable medically, or who is a nonviolent offender who has served a substantial portion of their sentence, we would be happy to help. Give us a call. (304) 772-4999. We’re still working, though we’re having all consults via telephone or teleconference.

Family Court Judge Searches Home


I just uploaded this yesterday afternoon and it’s already over 12k views on Youtube. Probably because most people can relate with having been before a Family Court judge before, whereas they may not be able to automatically relate to someone involved in the criminal justice process.

This is video footage from our client, Matt Gibson, a federal law enforcement officer who had his home searched by a Family Court judge over a year after his divorce was finalized.  This just happened on March 4, 2020. I’ve never seen anything like this before, so needless to say, I’m still researching the mountain of issues here.

 

This isn’t the first viral video showing a West Virginia Family Court judge on a rampage.  Remember Chip Watkins in good ‘ole Putnam County? Man that guy was something else.

 

The Family Court involved in our video is Raleigh County, West Virginia, Judge Louise Goldston. If you know of this happening in other cases, please let me know as I continue to look into this.

UPDATE 3/11/20: Voicemail received by my client from the opposing attorney the evening prior to the hearing, which he himself scheduled. In the recording he says that the Court asked him to call him to convey a settlement offer (which sounds like he’s admitting to an ex parte communication with the judge, meaning without the other party having the opportunity to participate, which is a big no-no) and he demands $5,000.00 to stop the “hearing” which would take place the next day:

UPDATE 3/13/20: TV news segment:

 

Federal Court Rules Against us in the Walker Case. Let the appeal begin….

So we just received the Court’s ruling in the Walker v. Putnam County open carry AR-15 case, pending in federal court in Huntington, West Virginia, and as suspected would happen, the Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, which dismisses lawsuit, subject to our right to appeal to the Fourth Circuit. We absolutely are going to appeal.

Perhaps the most important part of the ruling, in my mind, was this:

In determining whether reasonable suspicion existed, the Court is mindful of the Fourth Circuit’s instruction that “where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention.” Black, 707 F.3d at 540.

What qualifies as something “more” is a developing area of law as courts face the expansion of open carry, which can arouse suspicion in combination with other innocent facts. See U.S. v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277–78 (2002) (holding that factors “susceptible of innocent explanation” may “form a particularized and objective basis” for reasonable suspicion when considered together).

The parties here only dispute whether the uncontested facts of the encounter constitute the something “more” required for reasonable suspicion to stop Walker as he openly carried his semi- automatic rifle. After considering the issue, the Court concludes reasonable suspicion existed.

Here, in my opinion, this logic is sort of like saying, “You’re not allowed to stop people open carrying a firearm in an open-carry state in order to  investigate whether they are legally allowed to possess a firearm, but . . . I’m going to allow it because police officers should be allowed to do so under certain circumstances, for the following reasons . . . .” Whereas, US v. Black provided for no exception to its bright-line rule protecting people open-carrying firearms, now exceptions are being sought for AR-15 style rifles, as well as for the proximity to a school, or a school shooting.

Of course, “innocent facts” can, combined with “more,” equal reasonable suspicion to stop an individual open-carrying a firearm in an open-carry state. But what has been ignored here, is that the only suspected crime was either 1) Michael openly carrying an AR-15, which is not a crime in West Virginia; or 2) being a prohibited person from possessing a firearm, which falls squarely within the holding of U.S. v. Black: you cannot stop and ID an open-carrier in an open carry state (without reasonable suspicion of some other crime). In other words, the mere presence of the firearm cannot be the suspected crime.

The other flawed premise of this opinion is that, even though Deputy Donahoe clearly only suspected Michael Walker of being a prohibited person (which violates Black) as illustrated by the video, and even though Donahoe showed no indication of suspicion of Michael being a school shooter at the time of the encounter, that because the standard is a subjective one, we can ignore everything Donahoe actually said/did, and focus on far-flung theories cooked up by lawyers after-the-fact.

This is the supposed reasonable suspicion justifying the stop: 1) the type of weapon Michael possessed; 2) the encounter’s proximity to a school; and 3) the encounter’s proximity to the Parkland School Shooting.  None of these facts, other than the rifle being an AR-15 style rifle, are present in the underlying facts of the case. More troubling, even if they were present in the facts of this actual encounter, we still have the same constitutional dilemma: none of the allegations are illegal. AR-15 style rifles are perfectly legal. Michael’s location, i.e., proximity to the nearest school, was completely legal; and possessing a firearm in proximity to a school shooting 900 or so miles away is certainly not illegal. Moreover, none of these facts are individualized to the encounter.

The objective standard cannot be used to mean, can we think up some hypothetical justification for a stop, after-the-fact, in order to justify the stop?  No, we can’t. The objective facts must be analyzed using the actual facts present, which is evidenced by the subjective testimony of those involved. Just because Donahoe is wrong about everything, doesn’t mean that we can throw out his testimony, and the video, and use non-individualized general data, such as weapon types and school proximities to justify searches and seizures.

In any event, as I suspected, the language I quoted above is where we’re heading. When we take this up on appeal, will the Fourth Circuit castrate U.S. v. Black so that any police officer can stop, ID, background check, and Terry Search, anyone openly carrying firearms in open carry states? After all, any good prosecutor or civil defense lawyer could think up some legal theory, based on proximity to some sensitive location: school, courthouse, post office, government building, whatever.

Once you have “reasonable suspicion,” police can then perform a Terry Search, period. There’s no uncoupling Terry Searches from investigatory detentions. An officer can choose to just run an ID and not do a Terry Search. But he will be justified under the law in doing both, should he choose to do so. The old slippery slope of civil rights.  It never goes up – only down.

The opinion also included some of the false information on AR-15 style rifles, which I had been hoping to avoid:

Here, Walker’s possession of an AR-15-style rifle under these circumstances was unusual and alarming. Whereas possessing an AR-15 at a shooting range or on one’s own property would not raise an eyebrow, there was no obvious reason for the rifle’s possession here.

Unlike a holstered handgun, like that at issue in U.S. v. Black, AR-15s are not commonly carried for self-defense. 707 F.3d at 535. Nor are they traditionally used for hunting. Seeing Walker at 6:00 p.m. in February in an urban area would further diminish an inference that Walker possessed the rifle for hunting because the sun would soon set and hunting after dark is generally prohibited.

The rifle being uncased, ready to fire at a moment’s notice, and Walker’s camouflage pants also contributed to an unusual presentation of the firearm. See Embody, 695 F.3d at 581 (finding an openly carrying man’s military-style camouflage clothing contributed to reasonable suspicion); Deffert, 111 F. Supp. 3d at 809, 810 (holding the same).

The sight was unusual and startling enough to prompt a concerned citizen to dial 9-1-1 and for Donahoe, based on his practical experience, to investigate Walker’s destination. See Deffert, 111 F. Supp. 3d at 809 (holding an officer responding to a 9-1- 1 call about a man carrying a firearm, as opposed to randomly stopping the man, supports finding reasonable suspicion); Smiscik, 49 F. Supp. 3d at 499 (holding the same).

Together, these facts would form a particularized and objective basis for an investigatory stop.

I had attempted to rebut some of this, as it came up during oral arguments on the motion. But post-argument briefing was not allowed. There was no evidence about AR-15s in general involved in the underlying case, whatsoever, except the after-the-fact testimony by the deputy that he was allegedly afraid of scary black rifles, even though he said nothing about it at the time, according to the video.

AR-15 style rifles are today the most popular firearm in America, and are widely used by people hunting. Coyote hunting takes place at dusk and at night. The video clearly shows Michael’s rifle slung over his shoulder, with muzzle pointed down.  Even Deputy Donahoe admitted that Michael was safely carrying the rifle, with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and that he even had a backpack on top of the rifle. And then there’s the fact that the Second Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with hunting…. But unfortunately, the SCOTUS hasn’t recognized a Second Amendment right outside of one’s home, as of yet.

The ruling which came down today:

The video, in case you missed it:

 

The Walker Open Carry Case Turns Into a Fight Over the “AR-15”

UPDATE 2/5/20: Here’s our reply to the defense theory of Anti-AR-15:

Central to the Reply is newly discovered evidence. The defendant police officers argued to the Court that even though there’s no indication of it from the video, they actually weren’t checking to see if Michael Walker was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, but rather that he was a potential school shooter, because it was “morning,” and a school some undetermined distance down that road was “in session.”

Well, the video was originally broadcasted on Facebook Live. Somebody was able to go back and screenshot it, and as it turns out – oops – it was actually 6:00 p.m…. I guess that explains the crickets around the 2:50 mark on the video.

WalkerLiveShot2:21:18.JPG


So, here’s the response we received from Putnam County in response to our pretrial motion asking the Court to stop the Putnam County deputies from presenting anti-AR-15 propaganda and irrelevant media reports of mass shootings at the jury trial in the Michael Walker Open Carry case.

Here was my last update, wherein I posted our motion to exclude the unrelated matters from trial, if you haven’t been following along.

This response is an outrageous attack on the Second Amendment, which ironically was filed by lawyers for West Virginia’s first so-called “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county – Putnam County.  Yesterday we all appeared at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia, for the pretrial hearing on various motions, including this one.

It was almost surreal to hear the other side argue to the Court that by virtue of the fact that Michael was safely carrying a completely legal AR-15 style rifle, in a non-threatening manner, that police should be able to search and seize him just because the AR is the “preferred weapon of mass shooters,” and so on.  Citing news media reports about the Parkland shooting.  They actually argued in court, that it would not have been suspicious if he had a shotgun, or a handgun.  It was mentioned that AR-15s aren’t used for hunting in West Virginia.  Which is of course completely false, and besides the point.

This is a reality check for people who value the Second Amendment, as well as the Fourth Amendment.  If you live in the Fourth Circuit: West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, or South Carolina, unless there’s a SCOTUS opinion on point, your constitutional interpretation/law comes from the Fourth Circuit. We’re on the edge….

Right now U.S. v. Black (2013), written by a federal appellate judge who is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, Judge Gregory, whom I’ve had the honor of arguing in front of, protects citizens who open carry firearms in open carry states.  The police cannot harass you, detain you, search you, seize you, just by virtue of the fact you have a firearm. As we know from the past, that was the original purpose of gun control measures in many of the southern states, such as North Carolina (which is where US v. Black came out of).

Black was narrowed by US v. Robinson in 2017, which said that anyone in a vehicle lawfully stopped for whatever traffic violation, or pre textual reason whatsoever, can be disarmed and searched, because firearm possession automatically makes you dangerous.   Judge Gregory wrote an amazing dissent in that en banc opinion, which specifically mentions this scenario as it pertains to West-by-God-Virginia. However, that wasn’t extended to open carriers who are not already legitimately subjected to a forced encounter with police.  Well, they’re now trying to extend this to open carriers through anti-AR-15 propaganda.

If they succeed, guess what can happen next time thousands of open carriers bring their ARs to the state capitol in peaceful protest and free speech?  It’s game on if law enforcement wants to disarm you, run your background checks, search your pockets, etc. As Judge Gregory warned in the Robinson case dissent:

In my view, states have every right to address these pressing safety concerns with generally applicable and evenhanded laws imposing modest burdens on all citizens who choose to arm themselves in public. For instance, many states—though not West Virginia— seek to reconcile police safety and a right to public carry through “duty to inform” laws, requiring any individual carrying a weapon to so inform the police whenever he or she is stopped,4 or in response to police queries.5 And if a person fails to disclose a suspected weapon to the police as required by state law, then that failure itself may give rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, justifying a protective frisk.

West Virginia, however, has taken a different approach, permitting concealed carry without the need for disclosure or temporary disarmament during traffic stops. For the reasons described above, I do not believe we may deem inherently “dangerous” any West Virginia citizen stopped for a routine traffic violation, on the sole ground that he is thought to have availed himself fully of those state-law rights to gun possession. Nor, in my view, does the Fourth Amendment allow for a regime in which the safety risks of a policy like West Virginia’s are mitigated by selective and discretionary police spot-checks and frisks of certain legally armed citizens, by way of pretextual stops or otherwise. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) (invalidating discretionary spot-checks of drivers for licenses and registrations in furtherance of roadway safety). Absent some “specific, articulable suspicion of danger” in a particular case, see United States v. Sakyi, 160 F.3d 164, 168–69 (4th Cir. 1998), West Virginia’s citizens, including its police officers, must trust their state’s considered judgment that the benefits of its approach to public gun possession outweigh the risks. See Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1133.

. . .

That is particularly so given that West Virginia does not require that people carrying firearms inform the police of their guns during traffic or other stops, even if asked. See supra at 50. Where a state has decided that gun owners have a right to carry concealed weapons without so informing the police, gun owners should not be subjected to frisks because they stand on their rights. Cf. Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1132 (“impropriety” of officer’s demand to see permit for gun being brandished in public is “particularly acute” where state has not only legalized open carry of firearms but also “does not require gun owners to produce or even carry their licenses for inquiring officers”). Under a different legal regime, different inferences could be drawn from a failure to answer an officer’s question about a gun. See supra at 50–11. But I do not think we may presume dangerousness from a failure to waive—quickly enough—a state-conferred right to conceal a weapon during a police encounter.

Again, I recognize that expanded rights to openly carry or conceal guns in public will engender genuine safety concerns on the part of police officers, as well as other citizens, who more often will find themselves confronting individuals who may be armed.

But where a sovereign state has made the judgment that its citizens safely may arm themselves in public, I do not believe we may presume that public gun possession gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, no matter what the neighborhood. And because the rest of the circumstances surrounding this otherwise unremarkable traffic stop do not add appreciably to the reasonable suspicion calculus, I must conclude that the police were without authority to frisk Robinson under Terry’s “armed and dangerous” standard.

Accordingly, I dissent.

United States v. Robinson, 846 F.3d 694, 714, 716 (2017).

Don’t forget that Heller, i.e., the Second Amendment, has not yet been extended outside one’s home. It hasn’t been applied to open carry yet, or anywhere outside the home in the Fourth Circuit – nor by SCOTUS. See United States v. Masciandaro, 638 F.3d 458, 475 (4th Cir. 2011), other courts are divided on the question, compare Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 936 (7th Cir. 2012) (recognizing that the “right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense … implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”); Palmer v. Dist. of Columbia, 59 F.Supp.3d 173, 181–82 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that Second Amendment right recognized in Heller extends beyond home), with Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 940 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he Second Amendment does not protect the right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.” (emphasis added)); Young v. Hawaii, 911 F.Supp.2d 972, 990 (D. Haw. 2012) (“[L]imitations on carrying weapons in public do[ ] not implicate activity protected by the Second Amendment.”); Williams v. State, 417 Md. 479, 10 A.3d 1167, 1178 (Md. 2011) (holding that regulations on carrying firearms outside the home are “outside of the scope of the Second Amendment, as articulated in Heller and McDonald“).

So, are Montani Semper Liberi, or not? It remains to be seen. Right now, definitely not in Putnam County. And if they get their way, neither here, nor our neighbors in Virginia, and below…..

Update on the Walker Case (Fourth Amendment Open Carry Lawsuit)

In case you’re following along with the Walker v. Donahoe, et al. Fourth Amendment open carry civil rights lawsuit, we have a jury trial scheduled for February 19, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia. As of right now it’s still on.  Both sides have asked the court for summary judgment, which basically means that both sides claim to have the law completely on their side.  The court has not ruled as of yet. Pretrial documents have been submitted, including motions in limine, which are trial issues anticipated by the parties, which are best argued prior to the start of the trial.  If you haven’t seen the video of the incident in dispute, here it is:

The defendants are seeking to exclude portions of this video showing the “investigatory detention” of Michael Walker by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.  Not surprisingly, they want the part of the video where the police officer calls Michael a “co*ksucker,” repeatedly, among other things to be kept away from the jury.  Here’s their argument:

Also not surprisingly, we strongly disagree.  Here’s our response.  The judge will decide at some point, and generally has the broad discretion to control the flow of what the jury gets to see, and what they don’t:

We also filed a few motions in limine of our own, including our attempt at stopping the defendants from bringing up the Parkland school shooting, which they have announced is their attention, and which has absolutely nothing to do with the case.  They are also seeking to make the case that because Michael had an AR-15 style rifle, that a reasonable officer could suspect him of being a potential school shooter, or something to that effect.  Which is of course highly offensive, and antithetical to both the Fourth Amendment and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

In case you’re curious about the current status of laws pertaining to the open carrying of firearms in West Virginia, check out the last post I did on it.  It should still be the same. Of course, this case could change that if it doesn’t go our way…..

Update on the Drug Task Force Civil Rights Lawsuit out from Fayette County, W. Va.

Here’s an update on the Fourth Amendment civil rights lawsuit we filed in the Sizemore case, which involved a federal criminal prosecution which was dismissed following a federal judge making a finding that officers in the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force made false statements to a magistrate in order to illegally procure a search warrant. We filed suit to establish civil liability for a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which specifically requires probable cause and a search warrant.

Well, we made it past the defendants’ motions to dismiss, and now we are proceeding to the discovery stage, which is essentially the exchange of information and the questioning of witnesses via depositions. The federal court denied the motions, and has ruled that we get to proceed.

You can look back at my last update to read their argument, as well as our response.  As I predicted then, it didn’t turn out as they expected.

From the order:

First, I must note this Court is at a loss to understand Defendants’ assertion that because this case involves “a search warrant, rather than an arrest warrant,” it therefore “does not require a showing of probable cause.” Defs.’ Mem. Mot. Dismiss [ECF Nos. 6, 9]. More confusing, Defendants cite favorably to Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), a case which describes the standard for probable cause in a search warrant. Though puzzling that this is necessary to explain to a member of the bar, “the Fourth Amendment requires that no search warrant shall issue without probable cause.” United States v. Daughtery, 215 F. App’x 314, 316 (4th Cir. 2007).

Indeed, the text of the Fourth Amendment, which has been in place since the adoption of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, states that individuals have the right to be protected “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” 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.” U.S. Const. amend. IV (emphasis added). And a search and seizure without probable cause is unreasonable. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627. This is especially true for searches of the home, which “is first among equals” regarding the Fourth Amendment. Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 434, 464–65 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013)).

Yep. It says “probable cause” in the Constitution. Hard to get around that…..

 

As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157.

As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).