Monday, August 16, 2010

Amen and amen!

Chief Judge Kozinzki from the Ninth Circuit, dissenting from denial of a motion for en banc hearing in United States v. Pineda-Moreno, No. 08-30385 (9th Cir. 2010), nicely articulates the gap between a lot of judges in our country and the real world:

The panel authorizes police to do not only what invited strangers could, but also uninvited children—in this case crawl under the car to retrieve a ball and tinker with the undercarriage. But there’s no limit to what neighborhood kids will do, given half a chance: They’ll jump the fence, crawl under the porch, pick fruit from the trees, set fire to the cat and micturate on the azaleas. To say that the police may do on your property what urchins might do spells the end of Fourth Amendment protections for most people’s curtilage.

The very rich will still be able to protect their privacy with the aid of electric gates, tall fences, security booths, remote cameras, motion sensors and roving patrols, but the vast majority of the 60 million people living in the Ninth Circuit will see their privacy materially diminished by the panel’s ruling. Open driveways, unenclosed porches, basement doors left unlocked, back doors left ajar, yard gates left unlatched, garage doors that don’t quite close, ladders propped up under an open window will all be considered invitations for police to sneak in on the theory that a neighborhood child might, in which case, the homeowner “would have no grounds to complain.”

There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist: No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter. Judges, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex, are selected from the class of people who don’t live in trailers or urban ghettos. The everyday problems of people who live in poverty are not close to our hearts and minds because that’s not how we and our friends live. Yet poor people are entitled to privacy, even if they can’t afford all the gadgets of the wealthy for ensuring it. Whatever else one may say about Pineda-Moreno, it’s perfectly clear that he did not expect—and certainly did not consent—to have strangers prowl his property in the middle of the night and attach electronic tracking devices to the underside of his car. No one does.

When you glide your BMW into your underground garage or behind an electric gate, you don’t need to worry that somebody might attach a tracking device to it while you sleep. But the Constitution doesn’t prefer the rich over the poor; the man who parks his car next to his trailer is entitled to the same privacy and peace of mind as the man whose urban fortress is guarded by the Bel Air Patrol. The panel’s breezy opinion is troubling on a number of grounds, not least among them its unselfconscious cultural elitism.
I've recently had this same type of thought with regard to a lot of the recent federal and state jurisprudence on the right to counsel, the right to silence, and the right to protection under the Fourth Amendment. Courts rationalize that, if you aren't smart enough or educated enough or rich enough to enforce your own rights, too bad. But the Rule of Law (including the Constitution), should protect everybody, not just the rich (who can afford and understand the importance of a lawyer) and the educated.

"Micturate on the azaleas?" Ah, thank you Chief Judge Alex "Vocabulary Word of the Day" Kozinzki.

Hat tip to FourthAmendment.com.

No comments: