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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Due Process

Law Enforcement Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

Posted on in Due Process

by Meghan Jones, ACLU-NC Legal Fellow, and Chris Brook, ACLU-NC Legal Director

Can a police officer’s mistaken interpretation of the law justify a traffic stop?  On Monday, October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument on that question in the case of Heien v. North Carolina.

In 2009, Nicholas Heien was the passenger in a vehicle that had only one operating brake light.  An officer pulled the car over, wrongly believing the vehicle was in violation of the law.  North Carolina plainly requires only one rear brake light, as the North Carolina Court of Appeals recognized in 2011.  That conclusion was so obvious that attorneys for the State did not dispute it before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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Getting It Dead Wrong for 30 Years

Posted on in Death Penalty
By Cassandra Stubbs, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Henry Lee McCollum deserved to die for the brutal rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. There's just one problem, and a frequent one in death penalty cases: Henry Lee McCollum didn't do it.

Instead of tracking down the true killer, police and prosecutors went after Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled and innocent teenagers. While his mother wept in the hallway, not allowed to see her son, officers interrogated McCollum for five hours, ultimately coercing him to sign a confession they had written. In a trial without forensic evidence and plagued by racial bias, these two half-brothers with IQs in the 50s and 60s were sent to death row. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, whose sentence was later reduced to life in prison, have been behind bars for the last 30 years.

Last week, they were finally exonerated in another disturbing example of how deeply flawed the death penalty is, particularly for African-American men in the South.

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RALEIGH – After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including North Carolina, and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. ”Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”

The majority (79 percent) of deployments the ACLU studied were for the purpose of executing a search warrant, most commonly in drug investigations. Only 7 percent were for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios. The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a North Carolina case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this fall that asks whether a traffic stop based on a police officer’s mistaken understanding of traffic laws violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ACLU's amicus brief, submitted with ACLU of North Carolina, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Cato Institute, argues that a mistake of law can never supply the reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing that the Fourth Amendment requires in order to justify a traffic stop.

“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for motorists, and it shouldn’t be an excuse for the police, either,” said ACLU-NC Legal Director Chris Brook.

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