Case update: Does Your Right to PrivacyExtend to Preventing the Police From Watching You Use The Restroom?
Imagine being at home when the police show up to execute a search warrant for your home, looking for documents, computer records, and electronic information storage devices. …And you’ve got to use the restroom. Should a same-gender officer be able to insist on coming into the bathroom with you to watch you relieve yourself, all under the guise of ensuring you don’t destroy or hide evidence while you’re in there? Thankfully, the court said no.
In Ioane v. Hodges,the IRS suspected Mr. Ioane criminal fraud. The IRS sought, and was granted, a search warrant, allowing them to access the Ioane home, looking for documents, computer records, and electronic information storage devices that could be evidence of that fraud. The Ioanes were told then were free to leave, but would not be allowed back into the house if they chose to leave. So they stayed, waiting patiently in the kitchen. At some point during the search, Mrs. Ioane informed the Agents that she needed to use the bathroom. A female agent accompanied her to the bathroom, told Mrs. Ioane to remove her clothing, and then told Mrs. Ioane to hold up her dress while she relieved herself. Feeling rightfully violated, Mrs. Ioane filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
First, the court decided that Mrs. Ioane was able to file suit as the female officer was not entitled to qualified immunity from civil liability, after balancing Mrs. Ioane’s right “to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly” with the government’s “need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Generally, the law defaults to finding that the government is entitled to qualified immunity unless the facts demonstrate that the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right, andthe right was clearly established at the time of the asserted violation. Because this case revolved around the 4thAmendment, and the 4thAmendment always begs in inquiry into the reasonableness of the government’s actions, the court was, in short, asking if the female agent’s demand to actually watch Mrs. Ioane relieve herself was reasonable under the circumstances of that case, specially looking at “(1) the scope of the particular intrusion, (2) the manner in which it is conducted, (3) the justification for initiating it, and (4) the place in which it is conducted.”
So let’s walk through each of these factors. First, as us reasonable minds would expect, the court had no trouble announcing that it isa violation of one’s right to bodily privacy to require that person to expose him- or herself to an officer. Because the Court logically reasoned that the “naked body” is the most “basic subject of privacy,” it found that “the scope of the intrusion into [the wife’s] bodily privacy here was significant.” Second, the court found it was important that Mrs. Ioane was not detainedat the time of this intrusion, and thus was entitled to more freedom from the scrutiny of the agent. This was especially so as there was no reason to believe that Mrs. Ioane was in possession of any weapons or evidence at the time she requested to use the bathroom. Lastly, it was noted this intrusion occurred in the Ioane home, and a person’s home has always been held to be a place in which we can expect to heightened level, of privacy.
Thus, the court held that forcing a person who has not been detained to expose him- or herself to a law enforcement officer, is a Fourth Amendment violation unless the officer has reasonable articulable suspicion that the person be armed, or probable cause to believe he or she is secreting evidence.
(9th Cir. Sept. 10, 2018) 903 F.3rd929.
Let’s say you’re a passenger in your friend’s car when your friend gets pulled over for speeding. Assuming the police have no reason to believeyou’vedone anything illegal, can the officer demand youridentification? Nope!
In United States v. Landeros, the court heard the case of a defendant who was told he was required to give the officer his ID under circumstances similar to those above. In that particular case, the officer felt his demand was justified as he felt it was “standard for (law enforcement) to identify everybody in the vehicle.” When the defendant refused twice, the officer called in backup, told the passenger he was not being “compliant,” and ordered the passenger to get out of the car. After his exit from the car, unfortunately, the police found evidence which led them to believe that the passenger had, indeed, violated the law.
The 9thCircuit heard the case, and began its analysis stating the well-settled rule that “[a]n officer . . . may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But . . . he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.”An officer canask about other unrelated criminal activity during the traffic stop, but should confine these unrelated inquiries to within the time it takes to accomplish their original task: addressing the potential traffic violation and whether the driver is licensed and insurance, whether the vehicle is properly registered. Anything the officer does that exceeds the time it would have taken to accomplish those tasks is likely to be held to be illegal. And as we have discussed hon this blog before, any evidence unearthed during an “unlawfully prolonged traffic stop” is subject to suppression. The court, therefore, determined that the officer was NOT acting within the confines of the law when he extended the traffic stop by asking for the passenger’s ID, and even went so far as to state that the passenger’s refusal did NOT “providereasonable suspicion of the additional offenses of failure to provide identification and failure to comply with law enforcement orders,” (which is a violation of Arizona law, where this case took place.)
To be clear, a person is not required to identify him- or herself to law enforcement unless law enforcement has a reasonable suspicion the person is involved in criminal activity.
(9th Cir. Jan. 11, 2019) 913 F.3rd862
Rodriguez v. United States (2015) [135 S.Ct.1609]
See Kolender v. Lawson (1983) 461 U.S. 352.
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