A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Fourth Amendment

Taking it to the Street

Street Law Logo

By Drew Carroll

Yankee Stadium comes into view out the window of a Bronx bound 4 train and I feel a tinge of excitement.

I’m not going to a game, though.  Instead, I get off at the next stop, from where I head for my weekly visit to a seventh grade classroom inside Jordan L. Mott Middle School.

My mission: To teach the class of minority students – mostly black and Latino—about the Constitution.  Lately, the lessons have had real world practicalities for these kids.

Trayvon Martin’s shooting in Florida has sparked a nationwide discussion about that state’s “Stand Your Ground Law.” People in New York City are also talking about the New York Police Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy, which is said to apply disproportionately to minorities.

The statistics bear out such suspicions: of the 684,330 stops last year, 87 percent were either black or Hispanic. The NYPD says that this is not due to racial profiling, but because more cops are assigned to high crime (mostly minority) urban areas.

Though some lawmakers are trying to craft legislation to curb the racial profiling inherent in the city’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy, it’s the law for now, and one that these seventh graders are familiar with, from their parents, siblings, or even from personal experience – though they are only 13.

My visit to the school is coordinated through Street Law, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides information to underprivileged communities about law. The program was created in honor of the slain Robert F. Kennedy, and in the 40 years since it was created, Street Law has expanded into a million dollar operation bringing legal education to the underserved across the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. Over 100 law schools participate, offering practical legal lessons in their communities.

New York Law School’s Street Law program is designed specifically to meet the challenges presented to minority communities by the city’s Stop-and-Frisk policy. For ten Fridays in the spring, New York Law School students travel to the South Bronx, lesson plans in hand. With the fourth amendment as the focal point, middle school students learn about the law governing police stops, frisks, searches, and arrests, read Supreme Court cases about their rights as students, and then argue both sides of the issues. It may be hard to imagine a group of middle school students sitting around talking about a Supreme Court case, but that is the beauty of Street Law. As one student recently told me, “I need to talk about this,” and with Street Law, she gets that chance.   (more…)

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Is That A Gun In Your Pocket?

Gun in pocket

 

By Katherine Lazarow

Detective Herlihy, father of three, surprised his wife with a bracelet on Valentine’s Day and went off to work. A few hours later, he was caught in a deadly shootout in a crowded subway station.

Michael McBride, 52, was wanted for the Monday shooting of his girlfriend’s daughter. According to witnesses, he’d concealed his .22-caliber revolver in a folded copy of the NYDaily News. When street detectives recognized him and called out for him to stop, he raced into the station, where the gun battle ensued.

At least 17 shots were fired at West 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, scattering commuters and killing Mr. McBride.

Det. Herlihy was wounded but survived. Many other officers are not so lucky.

“Isn’t there a way of getting handguns out of the hands of potential criminals” ? That’s the question the media and the public ask each time an incident like this occurs.  The NYPD believes it may have the answer.

Welcome to the new world of crime prevention envisioned by Terahertz Imaging Detection, a new technology that measures energy coming off of a person’s body, and detects anything that’s blocking that energy, such as a gun. Currently being tested by the NYPD, it consists of a portable scanner placed on police cars that can be aimed at a particular person to reveal any concealed weapons. Terahertz rays (also called T-rays) are similar to x-rays but less powerful; they can penetrate fabrics and plastic, but can’t pass through metal or water.

The T-ray scanner could be a valuable tool in the battle to reduce the crime rate and prevent gun violence. But at what cost? If the police use the scanners to check every person walking down a particular street for concealed weapons, are they violating these citizens’ right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment? What if the T-ray scanners are used only after a person has been stopped by the police due to suspicious behavior?

The media didn’t carefully examine these questions.  We will.   (more…)

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Cell Phone Freedom for Californians

police-search-cell-phone

By LASIS Staff

In February, LASIS reporter Russell Smith wrote a scathing opinion piece criticizing a California Supreme Court decision which permitted police to warrantlessly search the cell phone of anyone placed under arrest. It appears that his persuasive reasoning has convinced California lawmakers to effectively overrule that decision. (Okay, the vast public outcry may have helped too.)

This week the California State Assembly passed a law banning warrantless search incidents to arrest for all portable devices that can transmit messages. That means that everything from cell phones to iPads to beepers (they still exist, right?) cannot be scrolled through by nosy police officers unless a judge authorizes them to do so.

In all, a resounding victory for personal privacy, the Fourth Amendment and sexters.

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