Freedom is Scary Ep. 6: Black Rifle Rights and the FBI Lawyer

Also the new 9th Circuit opinion, firearms history and I’ll show you an authentic Model 1866 Winchester Assault Rifle.

Duncan v. Becerra ruling 9th Circuit:

On Friday, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed (by a 2-1 vote) a federal district court’s ruling that so-called “large capacity” magazines are protected by the Second Amendment. In the live cast, I discussed the ruling and the great foundation it lays for inclusion and equal treatment of AR-15 style rifles in the context of the 2nd and 4th Amendments. I may be the first lawyer to have cited this language, since it came down the same day I filed the brief in the Walker case:

“That LCMs [large capacity magazines] are commonly used today for lawful purposes ends the inquiry into unusualness. But the record before us goes beyond what is necessary under Heller: Firearms or magazines holding more than ten rounds have been in existence — and owned by American citizens — for centuries. Firearms with greater than ten round capacities existed even before our nation’s founding, and the common use of LCMs for self-defense is apparent in our shared national history.

Semi-automatic and multi-shot firearms were not novel or unforeseen inventions to the Founders, as the first firearm that could fire more than ten rounds without reloading was invented around 1580. Rapid fire guns, like the famous Puckle Gun, were patented as early as 1718 in London. Moreover, British soldiers were issued magazine-fed repeaters as early as 1658. As a predecessor to modern revolvers, the Pepperbox pistol design pre-dates the American Revolution by nearly one hundred years, with common variants carrying five to seven shots at the ready and with several European variants able to shoot 18 or 24 shots before reloading individual cylinders. Similarly, breech-loading, repeating rifles were conceptualized as early as 1791.

After the American Revolution, the record shows that new firearm designs proliferated throughout the states and few restrictions were enacted on firing capacities. The Girandoni air rifle, developed in 1779, had a 22-round capacity and was famously carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1821, the Jennings multi-shot flintlock rifle could fire 12 shots without reloading. Around the late antebellum period, one variant of the Belgian Mariette Repeating Pepperbox could fire 18 shots without reloading. Pepperbox pistols maintained popularity over smaller- capacity revolvers for decades, despite the latter being of newer vintage. At this time, revolving rifles were also developed like the Hall rifle that held 15 shots.

The advent of repeating, cartridge-fed firearms occurred at the earliest in 1855 with the Volcanic Arms lever-action rifle that contained a 30-round tubular magazine, and at the latest in 1867, when Winchester created its Model 66, which was a full-size lever-action rifle capable of carrying 17 rounds. The carbine variant was able to hold 12 rounds. Repeating rifles could fire 18 rounds in half as many seconds, and over 170,000 were sold domestically. The Model 66 Winchester was succeeded by the Model 73 and Model 92, combined selling over 1.7 million total copies between 1873 and 1941.

The innovation of the self-contained cartridge along with stronger steel alloys also fostered development in handguns, making them smaller and increasing their capacities. Various revolver designs from France and Germany enabled up to 20 shots to be fired without reloading. A chain-fed variant, the French Guycot, allowed pistols to carry up to 32 shots and a rifle up to 100 shots. One American manufacturer experimented with a horizontally sliding “row of chambers” (an early stacked magazine) through a common frame, dubbed the Jarre “harmonica” pistol, holding ten rounds and patented in 1862. In 1896, Mauser developed what might be the first semi-automatic, recoil-operated pistol — the “Broomhandle” — with a detachable 20-round magazine. Luger’s semiautomatic pistol hit the market in 1899 and came with seven or eight round magazines, although a 32- round drum magazine was widely available.

In 1935, Browning developed the 13-round Hi-Power pistol which quickly achieved mass-market success. Since then, new semi-automatic pistol designs have replaced the revolver as the common, quintessential, self-defense weapon. Many of these pistol models have increased magazine capacities as a result of double-stacked magazines. One of the most popular handguns in America today is the Glock 17, which comes standard with a magazine able to hold 17 bullets.

Rifle magazine development paralleled that of pistol magazines. In 1927, Auto Ordinance Company released its semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine. A decade and a half later, the M-1 carbine was invented for the “citizen soldier” of WWII. The M-1 remained a common and popular rifle for civilians after the war. In 1963, almost 250,000 M- 1s, capable of holding between 15 and 30 rounds, were sold at steeply discounted prices to law-abiding citizens by the federal government. The ultimate successor to the M-1 was the M-16, with a civilian version dubbed the Armalite Model 15, or AR-15. The AR-15 entered the civilian market in 1963 with a standard 20-round magazine and remains today the “most popular rifle in American history.” The AR- 15 was central to a 1994 Supreme Court case in which the Court noted that semiautomatic rifles capable of firing “only one shot with each pull of the trigger” “traditionally have been widely accepted as lawful possessions.” Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600, 602 n.1, 603, 612 (1994). By the early-1970s, the AR-15 had competition from other American rifle models, each sold with manufacturer- standard 20-round or greater magazines. By 1980, comparable European models with similar capacities entered the American market.

The point of our long march through the history of firearms is this: The record shows that firearms capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition have been available in the United States for well over two centuries.7 While the Supreme Court has ruled that arms need not have been common during the founding era to receive protection under the Second Amendment, the historical prevalence of firearms capable of holding more than ten bullets underscores the heritage of LCMs in our country’s history. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 582.”

Read the order here:

https://www.firearmspolicy.org/9th-circuit-holds-large-capacity-firearm-magazines-protected-2nd-amendment

Walker Case – the AR-15 Open Carry Case – Opening Brief is filed

Well, here’s our opening brief in the Walker v. Putnam County, et al. open carry case. This went from a relatively simple search and seizure Section 1983 civil lawsuit, to a battle over gun rights and whether or not the AR-15 is entitled to equal treatment under the law at the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the case where my client was stopped, harassed, and called a co@ksucker, twice, for trying to mind his own business and go coyote hunting. Just one nugget out of the video:

It is your fault! Because you co$ksuckers . . . start it.  I ask you for ID – when a law enforcement officer asks you for ID, it’s not “I don’t have to provide it,” it’s “here it is, sir,” because, by law, you fucking got to give it, when you are asked for it.  And if you think you don’t, [then] press the issue, we’ll find out; I’ll hook you, book you, jamb you in the jail; and then you can’t answer to a God damned judge.

At the urging of Putnam County (W. Va.), the Court ruled against us at the trial court level, and well, ruled against AR-15 style rifles as well:

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. 

(Read the ruling itself here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2020/03/02/federal-court-rules-against-us-in-the-walker-case-let-the-appeal-begin/)

Why might you care about these issues? If you live in the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit (WV, VA, MD, NC, SC), and in particular one of the open carry states therein (WV, VA, and NC) then the outcome of this case will affect your rights one way or the other. We’ve had a couple of really bad gun rights decisions handed down in the Fourth Circuit in 2017 (US v. Robinson and the Kolbe case). If we lose this one, our last vestige of gun freedoms, contained in the holding of US v. Black (2013) will be overturned.

Since AR-15 style rifles are completely legal to possess in West Virginia, including in the context of open carry, we had to appeal, and we had to cover a lot of ground in our opening brief. Mind you, there’s a page limit, and I spent hours deleting great arguments I had already written, as well as great quotes I wanted to include, in order to bring it under the page limit:

Here’s a live video I did on the case last night. The entire incident was recorded, and is shown/discussed at around the 12:00 mark. The original video’s still up on our channel as well.

Here’s the original video, if you haven’t seen it already:

WV Governor’s proposed Travel Ban is unconstitutional

Yesterday our Governor, Jim Justice, in one of his live-stream briefings, threatened to order a travel ban of sorts, where any West Virginia resident who leaves the state will be forcibly tested for COVID-19 and quarantined. Before I even get to the potential Fourth Amendment violations which he’s proposing, the restrictions on interstate travel – that is traveling between states – is about as clear-cut of a violation as you can get.

These are his words:

Mandatory testing and quarantining when residents return to the state from out of state travel “is on the table,” Justice said.

Gov. Justice says mandatory testing and quarantining are ‘on the table’ for out of state travel after increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations

The Governor in Kentucky tried this and was shot-down in federal court. Kentucky attorney, Chris Weist, sued the Kentucky Governor in federal court in response to his “travel ban,” and the Court found it to be clearly unconstitutional. The Kentucky ban “limited the reasons that Kentucky residents could leave the state and required that any person who left the state without a valid reason be self-quarantined for 14-days after their return.”

As outlined in Beshear’s two executive orders, order 2020-206 and 2020-258, individuals were only permitted to leave the state for employment, to receive or provide health care, to obtain groceries or other needed supplies, and when they were required to do so by a court order. The orders also allowed a resident to travel outside the state to assist in caring for the elderly, a minor, dependants, or vulnerable or disabled persons.

Kentucky’s Covid-19 Travel Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky struck it down:

After careful review, the Court concludes that the Travel Ban does not pass constitutional muster. The restrictions infringe on the basic right of citizens to engage in interstate travel, and they carry with them criminal penalties.

The “‘constitutional right to travel from one State to another’ is firmly embedded in our jurisprudence.” Saenz v. Rose, 526 U.S. 489, 498 (1999) (quoting United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 757 (1966)). Indeed, the right is “virtually unconditional.”Id. (quoting Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 643 (1969)). See also United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 757 (1966) (“Theconstitutional right to travel from one State to another … occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established andrepeatedly recognized.”).

Roberts v. Neace, et al., Civil Action No. 2:20-cv-054, E.D. KY., May 4, 2020.

The federal court in Kentucky went on to say that it is possible that it might be constitutional if it were less restrictive. For instance, if it was a “request,” or “guidance,” rather than something that was going to be forcibly enforced. Or at least attempted to be enforced.

The key is that restriction on travel must be narrowly tailored so as to choose the least drastic means of achieving the objective. The federal court in Kentucky gave the following examples of individuals who would be unconstitutionally affected by the Kentucky ban:

  1. A person who lives or works in Covington would violate the order by taking a walk on the Suspension Bridge to the Ohio side and turning around and walking back, since the state border is several yards from the Ohio riverbank.
  2. A person who lives in Covington could visit a friend in Florence, Kentucky (roughly eight miles away) without violating the executive orders. But if she visited another friend in Milford, Ohio, about the same distance from Covington, she would violate the Executive Orders and have to be quarantined on return to Kentucky. Both these trips could be on an expressway and would involve the same negligible risk of contracting the virus.
  3. Family members, some of whom live in Northern Kentucky and some in Cincinnati less than a mile away, would be prohibited from visiting each other, even if social distancing and other regulations were observed.
  4. Check points would have to be set up at the entrances to the many bridges connecting Kentucky to other states. The I- 75 bridge connecting Kentucky to Ohio is one of the busiest bridges in the nation. Massive traffic jams would result. Quarantine facilities would have to be set up by the State to accommodate the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would have to be quarantined.
  5. People from states north of Kentucky would have to be quarantined if they stopped when passing through Kentucky on the way to Florida or other southern destinations.
  6. Who is going to provide the facilities to do all the quarantining?

Most, if not all, of the same examples would occur here in West Virginia, if the Governor had his way. There can be little doubt that a federal challenge would be successful. The question is, does he care?

ALSO, DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL. NO SPAM, JUST POST NOTIFICATIONS.

UPDATE: the Livecast:

Also, here’s the link to the 1969 law review article I discussed:

Constitutional Protection for Freedom of Movement: A Time for Decision by Sheldon Elliot Steinbach, Kentucky Law Journal, 1969

And here’s the quote and cite for the 1849 case I mentioned:

For all the great purposes for which the Federal Government was formed, we are one people, with one common country. We are all citizens of the United States; and, as members ofthe community, must have the right to pass and repass through every part of it without interruption, as freely as in our own States.

Smith v. Turner, 48 U.S. 7 283, 292 (1849).

UPDATE 8/18: the podcast audio from the live cast:

https://thejohnbryanpodcast.podbean.com/e/freedom-is-scary-episode-2-lawsuit-against-wv-governor/

ATV laws in West Virginia and McDowell County, W. Va.

So a few days ago, I represented a guy down in McDowell County, West Virginia, on a misdemeanor charge of driving on a two-lane road in an ATV/UTV/side-by-side. West Virginia law allows you to do this. But apparently there is confusion, or ignorance, in the local sheriff’s department and/or prosecutor’s office. We were forced to have a trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict. Here’s the actual criminal complaint charging my client with the non-crime of operating an ATV on a two-lane road in West Virginia:

Clearly this police officer was wrong about the law.

W. Va. Code Section 17F-1-1 allows ATVS to:

  1. Operate on any single lane road (most roadways in rural West Virginia).
  2. Operate on a two-lane road for a distance of 10 miles or less, so long as the ATV it is either on the shoulder of the road, or as far to the right on the pavement as possible if there is insufficient shoulder to ride on, and at a speed of 25 mph or less, in order to travel between “a residence or lodging and off-road trails, fields and areas of operation, including stops for food, fuel, supplies and restrooms.” If operated at night, an ATV must be equipped with headlights and taillights, which must be turned on – obviously. Read it for yourself, here: https://www.wvlegislature.gov/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=17f&art=1

So, slightly confusing and a few grey areas, but if you’ve been around the Hatfield & McCoy Trails, you know that it’s necessary to use a two-lane road at times to get where you need to go on an ATV. And in other counties, where there are no Hatfield & McCoy Trails, we still need to go down two-lanes at times to get from one place we’re allowed to ride, to another (whether farms/fields/one-lanes/gas stations, etc.)

Me negotiating down a black diamond trail in the Hatfield & McCoy Trail system. Pocahontas Section, I believe.

Unfortunately however, when we arrived to court on this particular case, the prosecutor looked at me in amazement when I told her that the client hadn’t committed a crime, even assuming all the allegations in the criminal complaint are true. She said dismissively that the client could plead guilty and pay the fines. Of course, I said, “no way, Jose.”

So we had a trial. During the trial, the charging police officer testified that no ATVs are ever allowed to be on a two-lane road, and that his supervisor instructed him, in accordance with this, to “clear” ATVs from the roads, because the Hatfield & McCoy system was closed by the Governor due to COVID-19.

But that has nothing to do with the statute. The Governor can’t change the ATV laws by executive order; nor did he attempt to. Accessing the H&M trails isn’t the only reason ATVs are used in West Virginia. The officer cited 17F-1-1 as his legal authority to “clear the roads.” But in reality, the law still says what it says. Therefore, the magistrate judge correctly found my client not guilty.

There had been no allegations of unsafe or improper operation of the ATV – just that he was on a double yellow line. The officer testified that he didn’t know where the client was coming from – nor where he was going. He had no evidence that my client had been illegally operating on the H&M trail system. The complaint itself corroborates this. It didn’t mention anything other than the fact that he caught him on a two-lane.

However, there were facts pertaining to the officer’s conduct. He got angry and took the citation back, after the mayor of the town where this occurred – Northfork – apparently said that ATVs were welcome and allowed in her ATV-friendly town. Muttering the “F word,” the officer left the city hall, confiscated citation in hand. The testimony at trial was that about an hour later, the officer showed up at my client’s residence – the client wasn’t even home at the time – and threw the citation inside the empty, parked ATV in the driveway. That wasn’t the reason for the not guilty verdict, just a bizarre way to re-issue a ticket. But in any event, it was a non-crime, so the verdict was rightly “not guilty.”

Following the trial, I posted on Facebook that my client had been found not guilty, and that the Governor’s tyrannical executive orders had no effect on the state’s ATV laws, and expressed disbelief that the local sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office would hassle ATV riders, when that’s really the only thing the local economy has going for it at this point. Did I bash a county by saying this? No, facts are facts. I said nothing about the county, unless you’re referring to the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office prosecuting an innocent man for a non-crime.

Let’s look at the facts though…..

To argue that McDowell County doesn’t have a crisis economy is to stick your head in the sand. Pointing this out is not bashing, nor exploiting, the county. Anyone who makes such an accusation, is either ignorant, or a willing propagandist. Hell, in 1963 – I’ll repeat: 1963 – President John F. Kennedy said:

I don’t think any American can be satisfied to find in McDowell County, West Virginia, 20 or 25 percent of the people of that county out of work, not for 6 weeks or 12 weeks, but for a year, 2, 3, or 4 years.

The situation has only worsened there. McDowell County has been classified as a “food desert” by the USDA. In 2017, there were two full-sized grocery stores serving the county’s 535 square miles. The only Walmart super center in the county closed in 2016 Coyne, Caity (April 7, 2018). “In McDowell County ‘food desert,’ concerns about the future”Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved January 19, 2020. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another closed Walmart anywhere in the country.

Vacant Walmart building in Kimble, W.Va.
CREDIT ROXY TODD/ WVPB; https://www.wvpublic.org/post/what-happens-when-walmart-closes-one-coal-community#stream/0

State officials estimate that there are between 5,000 to 8,000 abandoned homes and buildings in McDowell County alone that need to come down. Legislation was introduced this year to fund the removal of many of these “blight” areas. See https://www.register-herald.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-removing-blight-swope-s-measure-important-to-west-virginia/article_6d4359cf-8b21-5430-9769-2f874e8fee9b.html They’ve been working on this for years. From a newspaper article from 2015:

WELCH — For years, it has been difficult for McDowell County officials to recognize the obvious fact that deserted and dilapidated structures countywide represent a negative image for visitors to the county.

“U.S. Route 52 is the gateway to our county,” Harold McBride, president of the McDowell County Commission said during a press conference Friday morning at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch. “It looks like a Third World country,” he said and added that most of the dilapidated buildings are owned by people who live outside the state and “think they have something.”

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/officials-and-coal-operators-work-to-remove-blighted-structures/article_e4961188-00f9-11e5-86d4-4b27287a4886.html?mode=jqm

From the Charleston Gazette in 2013:

There were 100,000 people in McDowell County in 1950. Today, there are about 22,000 residents,” Altizer said.From 2000 to 2010, McDowell County’s population dropped by nearly 20 percent, from 27,329 people to 22,064 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”It is so sad we are losing so much population. Half of our homes are on homestead exemption, which lowers property taxes for people who are over 65 or disabled,” Altizer said during a recent interview in the McDowell County Courthouse.Today, Altizer said, most income to county residents come from coal and natural gas jobs, or from checks retired people receive — Social Security, black lung, the Veterans Administration and United Mine Workers.”The monthly West Virginia Economic Survey prepared by Workforce West Virginia recently reported there were about 6,000 people working in the county, many of them with government jobs or fast-food jobs. We have an older population today. And there are not new jobs here,” Altizer said.”Coal and gas are keeping us going. 

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/business/mcdowell-county-fighting-long-term-decline/article_cb381937-e129-59fd-8d7d-f1fb88dbe6a1.html

Here’s an interesting article, with photos from an actual photographer, rather than the few I snapped with my obsolete iPhone. Take a look for yourself and determine if the few pictures I snapped were somehow misleading about the blight in the county:

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

From the article:

This decline in work lead to the creation of modern era food stamps. The Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Paynesville, McDowell County were the first recipients of modern day food stamps in America. Their household included 15 people. The city of Welch, and crowds of reporters watched as Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman delivered $95 of federal food stamps to Mr. and Mrs. Muncy on May 29, 1961. This was an important moment in history, as it was the first issuance of federal food stamps under the Kennedy Administration. This federal assistance program continued to expand for years to come, and is commonly used across the United States today.

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

Fortunately for the county, in 2018, the state opened two new trail connections in McDowell County. From a May, 2018 newspaper article:

WELCH — Two new ATV trail connections opening today in McDowell County will give visitors direct access to the city of Welch and the town of Kimball, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority’s executive director said Tuesday.

“As of in the morning (today), we’ll have the town of Kimball and the city of Welch will be connected to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in the Indian Ridge system,” Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk said. “This will allow riders of the trails to go into those communities to get food and fuel and to stay. These are two new towns that weren’t on the system. Up until today, the only two towns that were connected were Northfork and Keystone….

The new Warrior Trail will connect with Gary and Welch. ATV riders will be able to travel from the town of Bramwell to the town of War starting on Labor Day, he added. More lodging opportunities are needed to help McDowell County’s communities benefit from the increase ATV tourism traffic.

“We’re opening the Warrior Trail System up on Labor Day Weekend,” Lusk said. “We’re in desperate need of places to stay in War, Gary and Welch come Labor Day Weekend.

Tourism traffic continues to grow on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail’s overall system, Lusk stated. Last year, overall permit sales were up by 15.1 percent, and both Mercer and McDowell Counties had the highest growth in sales. 

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/new-trail-links-opening-on-hatfield-mccoy/article_6d82ce36-5e22-11e8-a13b-a3912708cd04.html

Being an ATV rider myself, I know first hand how the community benefits from the ATV economy. Local entrepreneurs now have opportunities to open ATV resorts, restaurants, and other businesses, which cater to ATV riders. ATV riders bring money. These new ATVs are 15-30k vehicles, each, when it comes to the side-by-sides, and not far off from that for the individual four wheelers. Watch them drive in. They’re driving 70k trucks, pulling 10k trailers, in many instances. They’ve invested heavily in the hobby. They spend money, not only on their equipment, but on food, lodging, gas, and so on. And they come from all over. I’ve even seen guys who drove all the way from Mexico to ride these trails.

Riding somewhere down there….

Some of them even invest in local real estate, such as the client I represented in this case, who loved the community so much, he bought his own place. But go on and attack me for daring to “bash” McDowell County…. So let’s continue with some facts, instead of knee-jerk emotion.

What are some of the side effects of the economic problems?

Of 3,142 counties in the U.S. in 2013, McDowell County, West Virginia ranked 3,142 in the life expectancy of both male and female residents. See http://www.healthdata.org/sites/default/files/files/county_profiles/US/2015/County_Report_McDowell_County_West_Virginia.pdf,; see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDowell_County,_West_Virginia

 Males in McDowell County lived an average of 63.5 years and females lived an average of 71.5 years compared to the national average for life expectancy of 76.5 for males and 81.2 for females. Moreover, the average life expectancy in McDowell County declined by 3.2 years for males and 4.1 years for females between 1985 and 2013 compared to a national average for the same period of an increased life span of 5.5 years for men and 3.1 years for women…..

Then there’s the drug problem. In 2015, McDowell County had the highest rate of drug-induced deaths of any county in the U.S., with 141 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate for the U.S. as a whole is only 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (Same citation).

So back to my original point. There’s 99 problems there, and ATVs ain’t one of them. So why hassle ATV riders when they’re bringing money, jobs and fun into the local economy?

Again, ATVs are allowed on single lane roads in West Virginia, and are also allowed on two-lane roads, to get from one place they’re allowed to operate, to another place they’re allowed to operate, so long as it’s a distance of 10 miles or less, and so long as they operate on the shoulder, or as far as the right as possible, and under the speed of 25 mph. Counties and cities in West Virginia are granted the authority by the legislature to increase ATV freedoms. Other than interstate highways, they can authorize ATVs to use two lanes within their jurisdictions with no restrictions whatsoever. That would be what signage would refer to as being “ATV Friendly.”

That’s the law anyways. Whether or not law enforcement and prosecutors in any particular county care or not…. well that’s a different issue.

Update regarding the new Senate Bill 690:

Senate Bill 690 is now in effect in West Virginia. ATVs, side by sides, UTVs, can now be made “street legal” in West Virginia. They are calling this group of vehicles with confusing names, “Special Purpose Vehicles.”

SPVs can now be turned into “street legal SPVs.” The following requirements must be met:

(1) One or more headlamps;

(2) One or more tail lamps;

(3) One or more brake lamps;

(4) A tail lamp or other lamp constructed and placed to illuminate the registration plate with a white light;

(5) One or more red reflectors on the rear;

(6) Amber electric turn system, one on each side of the front;

(7) Amber or red electric turn signals;

(8) A braking system, other than a parking brake;

(9) A horn or other warning device;

(10) A muffler and, if required by an applicable federal statute or rule, an emission control system;

(11) Rearview mirrors on the right and left side of the driver;

(12) A windshield, unless the operator wears eye protection while operating the vehicle;

(13) A speedometer, illuminated for nighttime operation;

(14) For vehicles designed by the manufacturer for carrying one or more passengers, a seat designed for passengers; and 

(15) Tires that have at least 2/32 inches or greater tire tread.

Senate Bill 690

Golf carts are being excluded:

(uu) “Low-speed vehicle” means a four-wheeled motor vehicle whose attainable speed in one mile on a paved level surface is more than twenty miles per hour but not more than twenty-five miles per hour.

WV Code §17A-1-1(uu)

A “Special Purpose Vehicle” is defined as:

“Special purpose vehicle” includes all-terrain vehicles, utility terrain vehicles, mini-trucks, pneumatic-tired military vehicles, and full-size special purpose-built vehicles, including those self-constructed or built by the original equipment manufacturer and those that have been modified.

There is a 20 mile limit on the travel on a two-lane road. Controlled-access highways are excluded. That would be interstates and four lanes where there are dedicated access points (on ramps, off ramps, and the like).

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.

Case Updates from The Fort

Update on various cases from within the safe confines of our fort headquarters:

Family Court Search Case:

On Monday, Matt Gibson filed a formal complaint with the Judicial Investigation Commission, as well as a written Motion to Disqualify the judge from the video. We will let those take their course and see what happens. I’m told that they may have already been involved prior to the complaint. I still haven’t seen any other cases where this has happened anywhere else in the state, nor anywhere else in the country.  Right now I’ve been informed of multiple instances of this happening – only in this particular county.

Walker Open Carry Case:

We field Notice of Appeal, and it has now been transferred to the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Soon we will receive a scheduling order and proceed with the briefing process.

Correctional Officer Traffic Stop Case:

The officer from the video, who was more specifically a parole officer for the WV Division of Corrections has since resigned. I’m told there’s a pending criminal investigation. I have reached out to the DOC’s counsel and requested negotiations with their insurance adjustor. If they don’t make Shawn a fair settlement offer, we’ll file suit.

Putnam County Search Cases:

Right now we are prepared to proceed on six separate search cases out of Putnam County, all related to the same unit of individuals. Although there was an “internal investigation” which we assisted in, there has been no information provided; no outcome whatsoever. At least one of the officers is still arresting people, according to information I’ve received.  So it sounds like nothing has happened.  We issued additional FOIA requests, and only one of the cases we’re investigating, so far, has returned any documentation or paperwork whatsoever.

 

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:

 

Can a police officer handcuff a 6 year old child?

You may have seen this video footage going around the internet.  There was a 2018 Fourth Circuit (WV, VA, NC, SC, MD) case finding the handcuffing of a 10 year old boy, who was compliant, unconstitutional.

So what about a 6 year old who was allegedly non-compliant?

In E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172 (4th Cir. 2018), the Fourth Circuit looked at a claim of excessive force by an officer, against a student. Excessive force questions generally also fall under the Fourth Amendment, except in cases of pretrial detainees (arrestees) and prisoners. In E.W., a ten year old was questioned in school by a police officer, about a fight on the bus with other students, which had occurred three days earlier. The officer viewed the footage, and then had a closed door meeting with the child and two school administrators. During the meeting, the police officer handcuffed the 4’4”, 95 pound child, supposedly for his own safety, and that of the other administrators. The officer himself was 5’5” and 155 pounds. After being handcuffed for about 2 minutes, the child cried and apologized. Subsequently the child’s family filed suit.

(ETA: My video:)

The Court then went through the usual excessive force analysis, which are commonly known as the “Graham Factors.” These are the same factors which are analyzed in every Fourth Amendment excessive force case involving people who are not pretrial detainees. So basically, anyone on the street, or who is “being” arrested. At some point following an arrest, an arrestee becomes a “pretrial detainee,” in which case the analysis changes somewhat. 

There are  three factors to the “Graham Factors”:

1. “the severity of the crime at issue;

2. whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, 

3. and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” 

Graham, 490 U.S. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865. 

But these factors are not “exclusive,” and we may identify other “objective circumstances potentially relevant to a determination of excessive force.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2466 2473, 192 L.Ed.2d 416 (2015). Here, we believe it prudent to consider also the suspect’s age and the school context. The ultimate “question [is] whether the totality of the circumstances justified a particular sort of … seizure.” Jones , 325 F.3d at 527–28.

In E.W., the Court wasn’t happy with the decision to handcuff a compliant 10 year old:

In Brown v. Gilmore , we stated that “a standard procedure such as handcuffing would rarely constitute excessive force where the officers were justified … in effecting the underlying arrest.” 278 F.3d 362, 369 (4th Cir. 2002). There, the plaintiff brought an excessive force claim based on allegations that a police officer had handcuffed her, causing her wrists to swell, dragged her to the police cruiser, and then pulled her into the vehicle. Id. at 365–66, 369. We found that the circumstances justified the “minimal level of force applied” because, as the officer approached a crowded scene on the street, he attempted to arrest the plaintiff for failure to follow another officer’s orders to move her car. Id. at 369. We stated that it was not “unreasonable for the officers to believe that a suspect who had already disobeyed one direct order would balk at being arrested. Handcuffing [the plaintiff] and escorting her to a police vehicle was thus reasonable under the circumstances.” Id. 

….

The circumstances in this case are markedly different from those in Brown . We are not considering the typical arrest of an adult (or even a teenager) or the arrest of an uncooperative person engaged in or believed to be engaged in criminal activity. Rather, we have a calm, compliant ten-year-old being handcuffed on school grounds because she hit another student during a fight several days prior. These considerations, evaluated under the Graham framework, demonstrate that Dolgos’s decision to handcuff E.W. was unreasonable.

E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172, 180 (4th Cir. 2018).

The Court supported its conclusion by pointing to other courts around the country, who have recognized that youth is an important consideration when deciding to use handcuffs during an arrest. 

The Ninth Circuit, applying the Graham factors, held that officers who handcuffed an eleven-year-old child used excessive force. Tekle v. United States , 511 F.3d 839, 846 (9th Cir. 2007) (“He was cooperative and unarmed and, most importantly, he was eleven years old.”); see also Ikerd v. Blair , 101 F.3d 430, 435 (5th Cir. 1996) (holding that officer used excessive force against ten-year-old girl under Graham analysis). In addition, the Eleventh Circuit has held that “handcuffing was excessively intrusive given [the arrestee’s] young age.” Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic , 458 F.3d 1295, 1300–01, 1306 (11th Cir. 2006) (denying qualified immunity to SRO who handcuffed nine-year-old student for five minutes). Several district courts have similarly held that young age is a “uniquely” or “highly relevant” consideration under Graham . See Kenton II , 2017 WL 4545231, at *9 (holding that handcuffing eight-year-old child violated constitution); Hoskins v. Cumberland Cty. Bd. of Educ., No. 13-15, 2014 WL 7238621, at *7, 11 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 17, 2014) (noting that eight-year-old student “was a startlingly young child to be handcuffed”); see also James v. Frederick Cty. Pub. Sch., 441 F.Supp.2d 755, 757, 759 (D. Md. 2006) (concluding that handcuffing eight-year-old child suggested excessive force). Here, E.W. was only ten years old at the time of the arrest. She therefore falls squarely within the tender age range for which the use of handcuffs is excessive absent exceptional circumstances.

 E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172 , 182 (4th Cir. 2018).

Even though the Fourth Circuit found an excessive force civil rights violation under the facts presented in E.W. v. Dolgos, given that none of the lawyers or judges involved found prior legal precedent sufficiently similar to the conduct involved, the Court granted qualified immunity to the police officer, but warned that “our excessive force holding is clearly established for any future qualified immunity cases involving similar circumstances. Id., 884 F.3d at 187. 

What that means, is that all police officers in the Fourth Circuit are now “on notice” that if they handcuff a small child without reasonable cause, they will not be granted immunity from civil damages. This handcuffing, however, occurred in Florida, and not in the Fourth Circuit.  Florida is a member of the Eleventh Circuit, based out of Atlanta. One of the cases cited by the Fourth Circuit in E.W. was an Eleventh Circuit case: Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic , 458 F.3d 1295, 1300–01, 1306 (11th Cir. 2006) (denying qualified immunity to SRO who handcuffed nine-year-old student for five minutes).

Somebody involved in that situation probably ought to go read that case now . . . .