Court Studies Privacy Rights in Drug Case!

Court Studies Privacy Rights in Drug Case!
Posted by FoM on January 13, 1999 at 06:19:52 PT

WASHINGTON - Most people who temporarily visit someone else's home should not be protected against police searches without a warrant, the Supreme Court was told Tuesday by a prosecutor in a Minnesota drug case. 
In particular, such protection doesn't extend to two men arrested after a policeman peeked through a gap in window blinds and saw them packaging a white powdery substance, prosecutor James C. Backstrom told the high court. "Criminal activity is not the kind of activity normally associated with the privacy of a dwelling," Backstrom said. But attorney Bradford Carter, representing the two men, said that in many cases short-term guests in a home should have the same protection against unreasonable searches as the Constitution's Fourth Amendment gives to homeowners. But both lawyers and the justices themselves struggled over which house visitors - whether involved in legal or illegal activity - are entitled to privacy protection. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there was no doubt homeowners were entitled to constitutional protection. But he added, "Why do we want to protect the pizza man?" The Avon lady should not expect her activities to be more private if invited indoors than if she made her sales pitch on the front step, suggested Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, "Would it be any different ... if they had gathered to play a game of poker rather than put together coke?" Backstrom said most short-term guests do not have an expectation of privacy, but a frequent visitor might have a stronger argument. "If they play (poker) five time a week they get standing, but if they play once they don't?" asked Justice David H. Souter. The justices are expected to issue a ruling by July. Minnesota's highest court threw out the drug convictions of Wayne Thomas Carter and Melvin Johns. The Clinton administration supported the state's appeal of that ruling. Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey A. Lamken argued that it is not a search when a police officer sees something that is exposed to outside view. The high court ruled in 1990 that an overnight guest in a private home has the same privacy rights as the homeowner. The justices have not given such protection to someone who visits but does not stay overnight. Courts also have denied privacy protection for activities that are easily observable by the public. Carter and Johns were arrested in Eagan, Minn., in May 1994 after a police officer acting on a tip looked in an apartment window and saw Carter, Johns and another person putting white powder into plastic bags. To see inside, the officer walked behind some bushes and looked through gaps in the closed window blinds. The men were arrested when they left the apartment and tried to drive away. A pouch containing cocaine was found in the car. Carter and Johns were convicted of conspiracy to commit a drug crime and aiding the commission of a drug crime. They appealed, saying the drug evidence was unlawfully gained without a search warrant. Lower courts ruled against them, but the Minnesota Supreme Court threw out their convictions. Carter and Johns had legal standing to challenge the officer's actions even though they were only guests in the apartment, the court said. The state's top court also said the officer took "extraordinary measures" to look into the apartment, and therefore his actions amounted to a search requiring a warrant. By The Associated Press 
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