News from Tallahassee for 8/20/14

SCOTUS rules warrants needed for cell phone search posted on 6/25/14


The Supreme Court struck a major blow in favor of digital privacy Wednesday by ruled that police generally need a warrant before searching the cell phone or personal electronic device of a person arrested.

Writing for a nearly unanimous court Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts said searches of digital devices for information are not comparable to searches law enforcement officers often conduct for contraband after making an arrest.

He acknowledged that the court’s decision would make it harder for police to fight crime, but said that did not justify excusing them from getting a warrant before conducting searches of cellphones and smartphones.

“We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” Roberts wrote for the court. “Cell phones have become important tools … among members of criminal enterprises and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.”

All the justices except for Justice Samuel Alito joined Roberts’s majority opinion. Alito agreed with the court’s basic holding but said he’d give legislatures more leeway to set rules limiting the warrant requirement in certain circumstances.

The ruling in a pair of related cases is the latest effort of the highest court to grapple with the way advancing technology has outgrown the legal framework developed decades ago about what law enforcement is allowed to look at when arresting an individual.

The ruling gives guidance to law enforcement across the country, where federal and state courts have split on the question of whether a warrant is needed to look through a suspect’s cellphone at arrest, and how far they can go.

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Suspects in Florida Tracked by Cellphone 'Stingray' Tool posted on 6/23/14

by JOE PALAZZOLO | Wall Street Journal

At the insistence of federal law enforcement officials, Florida police concealed their use of a device that can track suspected criminals' cellphones, according to emails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 2009 email chain, which the civil rights group received in response to a public-records request, sheds light on the government's efforts to keep the details of a surveillance tool known as a "stingray" out of the public eye.

The tool works by mimicking a cellphone tower, allowing it to connect with cellphones and determine their location and is key to law enforcement in tracking fugitives.

A law-enforcement official said in the emails that secrecy was needed to prevent criminals from learning how to circumvent the device, but privacy advocates say the government is also evading legal challenges to the tool, which is often used without a search warrant.

"The effect of what they're doing is to affirmatively mislead judges and criminal defense attorneys and to eliminate defendants' abilities to bring constitutional challenges to unlawful surveillance practices," said ACLU lawyer Nathan Freed Wessler.

"The U.S. Marshals Service will not discuss or disclose investigative techniques," a spokesman said, adding that the agency abides by all state and federal laws.

No federal appeals court has reviewed the legality of stingrays. The appeals courts are divided on whether police need a warrant to get records from a carrier when a suspect's cellphone connects to a tower.

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Gun-Related Measures, Voucher Expansion Bill Among Latest Signed Into Law posted on 6/23/14

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

FL Gov Rick Scott bill signingGovernor Rick Scott has signed close to 70 bills into law this week—most of them Friday. They include a slew of gun-related measures, a controversial voucher expansion bill, and a bill dealing with medical marijuana.

Charlotte's Web

Among the high profile bills the Governor has already signed includes a bill that would legalize a low strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” to help treat seizures.

“I met with some of the individuals that believe this is going to help them. I want to make sure it’s safe for our children, and that’s why I signed the bill,” said Scott.

Still he affirmed his position on the amendment—legalizing medical marijuana as a whole—expected to appear on the November ballot...

Gun Bills

Scott also approved several gun-related measures, including a bill banning insurers from discriminating against gun owners and another allowing tax collectors to help the state process gun applications to meet a growing demand for concealed weapon permits.

Scott also gave his stamp of approval to the so-called “Warning Shot” bill, a measure that would allow someone to threaten the use of force or fire a warning shot without fear of prosecution. It was inspired by Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who fired a warning shot during an alleged domestic dispute and received a lengthy prison term. Though, Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) says he’s unsure whether the new law will help her.

“Well, it depends upon the situation or the case itself, but it would have given another line of defense to protect folks that actually discharge a weapon that could be used in a court of law to see that these folks would not be charged with criminal activity,” said Evers.

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Rick Scott: Let Voters Decide on Conservation Amendment posted on 6/18/14


Gov. Rick Scott said it was "the right thing to do" for the Cabinet on Tuesday to approve the sale of four closed jails and three other sites to raise money for future land preservation.

However, when asked after the Cabinet meeting whether he would support or oppose an amendment in November that would cement funding for land conservation into Florida's Constitution, Scott avoided directly answering the question.

"All the amendments, the public has the opportunity to vote, just like I do," Scott replied. "So we'll see how it comes out."

For some conservationists, the stance by Scott isn't necessarily bad.

Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director, said he'd prefer Scott to remain "ambivalent" on the issue. An alternative is to join the chorus of legislators who have already criticized the amendment as an improper constraint on the budget.

"That's a winning message for us, let the voters decide," Draper said.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has argued that "legislating via constitutional amendments" doesn't work. And Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contends the amendment will shift too much land into state control.

The proposed amendment, backed by a group called "Florida's Water and Land Legacy Inc.," seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state's documentary stamp tax revenues -- fees paid when real estate is sold -- for 20 years to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

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Scott Names New Interim DJJ Head, Signs Juvenile Justice Law Rewrite posted on 6/18/14

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

FL Dept. of Juvenile JusticeGovernor Rick Scott has approved a measure reforming Florida’s juvenile justice system. He signed the bill into law on the same day he bid farewell to the outgoing Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary and named her temporary replacement.

Before presenting her with a resolution during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Scott said a few words about Wansley Walters, his state Department head of Juvenile Justice, who’s slated to end her role in a few weeks.

“So, Wansley has served the state of Florida for 35 years when she was like two,” Scott said to laughter. “Most recently as Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, throughout her service, she’s helped many of Florida’s at-risk and delinquent children and their families. While at DJJ, she led the agency in innovative juvenile justice reform efforts, which resulted in significant declines in all major categories of juvenile delinquency.”

And, Walters appeared surprised.

“I am in shock…I thought this was a little strange…But, my gosh, this is such an honor, and it’s been a great three and half years here, and I’m very grateful for everything, Governor, that you have done to allow us to change this system because I absolutely believe that this system is a better system today than it used to be and it’s getting better every single day, and it’s not going to stop,” said Walters.

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