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shutterstock_85882270We start off our picks this week with a dog sniff case from the Supreme Court.  A side note that several opinions came down from the High Court this week – to check them all out go to Justia’s Supreme Court Center , or sign up for our USSC Summary Newsletter.

Florida v. Harris, US Supreme Court (2/19/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Officer Wheetley pulled Harris over for a routine traffic stop. Wheetley sought consent to search Harris’s truck, based on Harris’s nervousness and seeing an open beer can. When Harris refused, Wheetley executed a sniff test with his trained narcotics dog, Aldo, who alerted at the driver’s-side door, leading Wheetley to conclude that he had probable cause to search. The search turned up nothing Aldo was trained to detect, but did reveal ingredients for manufacturing methamphetamine. Harris was charged with illegal possession of those ingredients. In a subsequent stop while Harris was out on bail, Aldo again alerted on Harris’s truck but nothing of interest was found. The trial court denied a motion to suppress. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that if an officer failed to keep records of field performance, including how many times a dog falsely alerted, he could never have probable cause to think the dog a reliable indicator of drugs. The Supreme Court reversed. Training and testing records supported Aldo’s reliability in detecting drugs and Harris failed to undermine that evidence, so Wheetley had probable cause to search. Whether an officer has probable cause depends on the totality of the circumstances, not rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries. Requiring the state to introduce comprehensive documentation of a dog’s prior hits and misses in the field is the antithesis of a totality-of-the-circumstances approach. Field records may sometimes be relevant, but the court should evaluate all the evidence, and should not prescribe an inflexible set of requirements.

Read More:
Supreme Court Sides with Drug Sniffing Dog

And for Fun – Check out Jake the German Shepherd. The newest member of Justia’s Dog Pack! 🙂 Continue reading →

Caldwell v. Cablevision Sys. Corp., New York Court of Appeals (2/7/13)

dogAfter falling on the street and injuring her leg, Plaintiff commenced this negligence action against Communications Specialists, Inc. (CSI) for creating a hazardous condition in the road by failing to properly pave over a trench CSI cut to install high-speed fiber-optic cable underneath the street. To rebut Plaintiff’s testimony that a dip in the trench caused her to fall, CSI subpoenaed a physician who treated Plaintiff shortly after the accident and declared that Plaintiff “tripped over a dog.” CSI paid the doctor $10,000 for appearing at trial. Plaintiff’s counsel asked the court to charge the jury that, pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 8001, the doctor was entitled to a witness fee of $15 per day. The court gave the jury a general bias charge but made no specific reference to the payment the doctor received for appearing at trial. The jury found that CSI was negligent but that such negligence was not a substantial factor in bringing about the accident. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the trial court should have issued a bias charge specifically tailored to address the payment CSI made to the doctor; but (2) the court’s failure to issue such an instruction in this case was harmless.

Read More: Jurors Must Be Told of Well-Paid Witnesses

padlockTwo legislative crowdsourcing efforts came across my desk today: OpenPACER and Fork the Law. I love the idea of collective effort to make laws.

The government has tried this to some extent with There, you can sort, view, and comment on proposed regulations. An even better iteration of this is GovPulse, a site that was created in the private sector to categorize and search proposed regulations. GovPulse encourages users to comment and contact their representatives, but it’s not an official comment site.

OpenPACER and Fork the Law are something entirely new, however. They are created by citizens for citizens in order to change the law. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know about PACER and efforts underway to eliminate the paywall. The folks at RECAP (a PACER recycling tool) have started OpenPACER to solve this problem legislatively. You know that saying “There ought to be a law?” – well, OpenPACER is acting on that by proposing legislation to “provide free and open access to electronic federal court records.”

filing_cabinetsThe Judicial Council announced last week that they plan to expand a pilot program to push federal court opinions to FDSys. In theory, that means that all federal court opinions could be published and freely available in the FDSys database soon.

FDSys is the digital repository for federal publications. It is operated by the Government Printing Office. Last year, the Judicial Council announced that it would begin integrating some opinions from PACER into FDSys. It began with opinions from 28 courts (three circuit courts of appeal). In December, I checked up on that and saw that FDSys had slip opinions in it and that they were actually being indexed by Google. I noted that they were a little behind, and they were slip opinions, not the officially published opinion, but hey – better than nothing.

In the latest announcement, the Judicial Council tells us that  “the functionality to transfer opinions to FDsys is included in the latest release of CM/ECF which is now available to all courts. Twenty-nine courts participated in the original pilot, and now, all courts may opt to participate in the program.” If I am reading this correctly, federal courts may now opt in to have their opinions transferred to FDSys. It’s not automatic or mandatory. Continue reading →