Toeing the Line Between Racist and Race-Savvy: A Post-Sterling Scandal Hits the NBA with Bruce Levenson’s Email By Michael Pepper

Toeing the Line Between Racist and Race-Savvy: A Post-Sterling Scandal Hits the NBA with Bruce Levenson’s Email

By Michael Pepper

            On the morning of September 7, 2014, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that yet another NBA owner was going down for racist comments.[1] In July, 2014, Bruce Levenson, majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, voluntarily revealed to NBA investigators an email he sent in 2012 that contained racist comments about his fan base.[2] This revelation occurred during the NBA’s investigation of the Donald Sterling scandal.[3] In the email, Levenson discusses his observations of the Hawks in-game fan base and ideas to increase ticket sales and diverse attendance.[4] Levenson says that the audience is predominately black and that arena practices are targeted towards black people, which in turn hurts ticket sales.[5] Notable quotes include: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” and, “I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.”[6] Levenson will sell his controlling interest in the team because of the email.[7]

            Obviously, another racist scandal in the wake of the Donald Sterling fiasco is the last thing the NBA needs. However, the similarities, differences, and proximity to the Sterling comments compel some observations and concerns. First, it is likely that the language of Levenson’s email will not lead it to be considered as offensive as the recorded rant of Sterling. Observations of the Hawks’ fan base, written as almost matters of fact, are likely not as enraging as Sterling’s words of “walking with black people” in “lousy f**ing Instagrams.”[8] Second, the contexts of the two owners’ statements are totally different. Sterling’s rant was recorded in private and served no other purpose for Sterling other than to express his racist distaste with his girlfriend associating herself with black people.[9] Levenson’s email, on the other hand, was sent to promote diversity in attendance.[10] Obviously, knowledge of your target market is key to success in business and Levenson could be seen as doing nothing more than noting the demographics of his market and making suggestions on how to expand the Hawks’ reach. Thirdly, Levenson’s revelation and pending sale comes just a month after the Los Angeles Clippers were sold for a record $2 billion.[11] Many are already suggesting that Levenson’s voluntary revelation is a ploy on his part to cash in on the value of scandal and sell high.

            Maybe if the Sterling scandal never happened, Levenson would not have revealed his email (by the way, Levenson publicly supported the forced ouster of Sterling).[12] Maybe without Sterling fresh in the public’s mind there would not be any consideration of whether Levenson’s statements are really that bad. Yet, here Levenson is, facing public scrutiny for racism just months after his contemporary shocked the world. No matter how offensive or inoffensive you find his comments, it should be downright maddening to NBA fans and Americans everywhere that two owners left a league of which 76.3% is comprised of black athletes for reasons relating to race.[13]

            Beyond that, the frustration with the Levenson situation grows more complicated. The history of civil rights in the United States illuminates a tension between being “colorblind” and taking race-conscious measures.[14] Responses typically find themselves in one of these camps as well.[15] There are two general propositions: Levenson was a savvy owner by being aware of the disparities in wealth between blacks and whites, or, 2) Levenson is racist for stereotyping black people.[16]  Regarding the first idea, Levenson’s comments, rather than being Sterling-esque or blatantly offensive to minorities, are race-conscious comments related to the state of his business. It would be naïve to assume that no other high-profile businessmen and women tailor their business to attract different racial demographics. Some might suggest it would also be naïve to not realize that Levenson is correct in suggesting that the black population of Atlanta could not support a profitable season ticket base.[17] The estimated median income for black households in Atlanta is $40,550 a year.[18] Assuming the observations Levenson discussed in his email to be true, it would be a valuable business move to try and bring in more white people to Hawks games.

            The second general response that Levenson’s comments are blatantly racist finds none of the preceding suggestions persuasive for multiple reasons. First, one can be race-savvy in making business decisions without assuming that black people scare off white people. The suggestion that a wealthy white NBA fan would not buy tickets just because they play hip-hop inside the arena or a black fan takes a half-court shot during halftime is so blatantly stereotypical and offensive that any business evidence cannot justify it. Second, Levenson assumes that the black fans are the problem, although he could make the opposite point: what is wrong with the white fans? State Senator Vincent Fort from Atlanta takes this position, and additionally says, “It is clear that [the email] was written by a guy imprisoned by his white male privilege.”[19] Third, for a leader to put the blame on black fans for his poor attendance, and do so in so much depth, reveals how quick he is to revert to racial stereotypes, rather than blame the attendance on any of the other factors that contribute to the relatively lacking NBA fervor in the south in general. If you’re an NBA team in the southeast, unless your team can contend for the championship or boast LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, you’re going to face an uphill battle in attendance for a multitude of reasons.[20] Finally, Levenson himself admits that the statements were “inappropriate and offensive” and “inflammatory nonsense,” which he revealed in response to the idea that “the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism.”[21] The Atlanta community seems to agree, as the Mayor said, “we will be clear and deliberate in denouncing and repudiating [the statements].”[22] The argument that Levenson is saying all the right things just to drive up the cost of his franchise after seeing Sterling’s go for $2 billion is possibly nonsensical because there is no way that a voluntary revelation of arguably not-as-bad-as-Sterling comments can compare with the recording that forced Sterling out.

            Maybe Levenson’s mindset is shared by many business owners of all races and relevant to the progress of growing a fan base. But maybe, as civil rights leader Charles Steele said, “This type of mindset is irrelative to the progress to which we are embarking on.”[23] The question that begs answering as public reaction grows in the near future is: which is more important?

[1] Adrian Wojnarowski (Sept. 7, 2014, 8:20 AM),

[2] Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Statement Regarding Atlanta Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson, (Sept. 7, 2014, 8:21 AM),

[3] Adi Joseph, Bruce Levenson Will Sell Atlanta Hawks After Releasing Racist E-Mail, USA TODAY Sports (Sept. 7, 2014),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Kevin Conlon, NBA Team Owner in Hot Water Over Racist Comments Attributed to Him, CNN (April 27, 2014),

[9] Id.

[10] Joseph, supra.

[11] Maury Brown, $2 Billion Sale Of Los Angeles Clippers To Steve Ballmer Now Official, Forbes (Aug. 12, 2014),

[12] Adi Joseph, Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson Would Approve Donald Sterling Ouster, USA TODAY Sports (April 29, 2014),

[13] Richard Lapchick, The 2013 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (June 25, 2013),

[14] See, e.g., Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (2d ed. 2006).

[15] Beth Sawicki, NBA, Reed React To Levenson’s Decision To Sell Hawks, 11Alive (Sept. 7, 2014),

[16] See id.

[17] Joseph, Bruce Levenson Will Sell, supra.

[18] Black Demographics,

[19] Michael Kanell and Ernie Suggs, Atlanta Leaders React To Hawks Owner’s Exit Over Email, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Sept. 7. 2014),

[20] See (Hawks, Hornets, Magic, Pelicans, Heat).

[21] Bruce Levenson, Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson Statement Regarding Team Sale, Atlanta Hawks (Sept. 7, 2014),

[22] Sawicki, supra.

[23] Karnell, supra.

Medical Care for Prisoners – A Brief Look at the Legal Standard and Current Litigation

Medical Care for Prisoners – A Brief Look at the Legal Standard and Current Litigation

 By Joel Schneider

            The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has had a particularly bad year in the news: a Federal investigation confirmed rampant sexual abuse and harassment at Tutwiler Correctional Facility,[i] a string of inmate murders at St. Clair Correctional Facility,[ii] occupancy rates of prisons around the state remain close to double their design capacity,[iii] and the few programs that are points of pride for the ADOC are struggling to maintain funding.[iv] Predictably, especially in light of the overcrowding issue, the ADOC has also failed to provide adequate medical care for its inmates and is now facing a class action law suit. Initially filed in June of this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of over forty plaintiffs representing the class, the complaint alleges the ADOC has violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” (among other constitutional violations) by “failing to provide constitutionally adequate medical care…[and] mental health care.”[v] And although the complaint and the facts alleged make for an intuitively strong case against the ADOC, the plaintiffs and the cause they further face real challenges in maintaining this suit.

The first and most daunting of these challenges is the fairly unforgiving legal standard the plaintiffs must meet in order to prove a violation of the 8th Amendment. The jumping off point is the case Estelle v. Gamble, wherein the Court upheld the logical conclusion that incarceration must include medical care for inmates, as the inmates have no ability to independently seek out medical care, and the denial of which would lead to the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” the 8th Amendment is designed to prevent.[vi] The Court went on to establish a constitutional floor of acceptable levels of medical care, stating that a “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of” a prisoner would violate the 8th Amendment.[vii] Essentially, the Estelle test is two-fold: the plaintiff must meet the objective requirement of a “serious medical need” and must also meet a subjective requirement by showing the defendant “acted with an attitude of ‘deliberate indifference’ to that…need.”[viii] The Court in Estelle was very clear, however, that the focus of this constitutional protection was not the quality of the medical care – neither mistake nor even medical negligence can form the basis of a claim of “medical mistreatment.”[ix]

The threshold question then for medical mistreatment claims is whether or not the medical need of the inmate is a serious one. A serious medical need, at least in the 11th Circuit, is defined as “one diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment” or a need that is “so obvious that a lay person” would recognize the need for treatment.[x] Furthermore, the ailment must present a “substantial risk of serious harm” if left unattended.[xi]  Case law has filled in the blanks of the definition with a discernible spectrum of what can and can not be a serious medical need, with broken bones and severe, symptomatic asthma on one end and shaving bumps on the other.[xii] The second prong of the Estelle test is noticeably more complicated. To meet the requirement of deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must satisfy three “components” by showing the defendant had a “subjective knowledge” of the “risk of serious harm,” that he disregarded that risk, and did so in a manner that exceeds negligence.[xiii] The court has held that a variety of scenarios satisfy the the deliberate indifference requirement: where the prison official flat out refuses to address an inmate’s serious medical need, delays the treatment, (although the court tempers this by noting the reason for the delay and extent of need are relevant), offers treatment “so grossly inadequate” or “cursory as to amount to no treatment at all,” or where the prison official chooses a “less efficacious” form of treatment.[xiv]

A brief look at the complaint filed by the SPLC yields the impression that the plaintiffs have satisfied the first prong of the Estelle test. Embedded in the formal language of the complaint are stories of inmates who are grossly under-treated or never treated at all. The subjective requirement, on the other hand, is likely to be the more intensely litigated issue in the SPLC suit. However, given the systemic nature of the ADOC’s failure to provide adequate medical care as alleged in the complaint, it seems, at the very least, plausible the SPLC could win on this issue as well.

This possible outcome introduces the second, more puzzling challenge the class of plaintiffs (and any interested Alabamian) must face: even if the lawsuit is won, will the relief be effectual? The SPLC complaint states the plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. It has been roughly forty years since a class of Alabama prisoners has sought the same relief on the same grounds in Newman v. State of Ala., a case in which the plaintiffs did prevail.[xv] The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s grant of injunctive relief and extensive decree aimed at remedying the constitutional violation,[xvi] and that injunction remained in effect for a decade.[xvii] Nevertheless, a generation later, the prisoners of the State of Alabama are again required to turn to the courts in an effort to secure their right to adequate medical care. If the court awards an injunction in the current lawsuit, what will stop the Alabama Department of Corrections from returning to its unconstitutional ways?

[i]     Kim Severson, Troubles at Women’s Prison Test Alabama, The New York Times (March 1, 2014),

[ii]                  Casey Toner, Prison reform group calls for new St. Clair warden, citing third inmate homicide in 10 months, (June 12, 2014),

[iii]   The Research and Planning Div., Monthly Statistical Report for June 2014, Alabama Department of Corrections (June 6, 2014),

[iv]   Dan Carsen, Budget Cuts Threaten a Unique Alabama Prison Program, NPR (August 23, 2014),

[v]    First Amended Complaint at 2, Joshua Dunn, et al. v. Kim Thomas, et al, Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-00601-WKW-TFM, available at

[vi]                 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)

[vii]  Id.

[viii] Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003)

[ix]   429 U.S. 97 at 105-106.

[x]    Farrow, 320 F.3d at 1243

[xi]   Id.

[xii]  Id. at n.14.

[xiii] McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999)

[xiv] Id.

[xv]  Newman v. State of Ala., 349 F. Supp. 278, 286 (M.D. Ala. 1972) vacated in part, 522 F.2d 71 (5th Cir. 1975) and aff’d in part, 503 F.2d 1320 (5th Cir. 1974)

[xvi] Newman v. State of Ala., 522 F.2d 71 (5th Cir. 1975)

[xvii]         Sterling v. Riley, 2:10-CV-117-TMH, 2010 WL 921067 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 11, 2010)

A Mere Gesture: Expedited Due Process For Recent Immigrants

A Mere Gesture: Expedited Due Process For Recent Immigrants

By Kelly Burke

            Due process is a valued right in the American legal system, that denies the deprivation of “life, liberty, or property” at the hands of the government.[1] Over the past few months, the news media has directed Americans’ attention to an influx of immigration of women and children from countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.[2] The dramatic increase in immigration from these countries can be attributed to a fear of violence in the immigrants’ home countries, places affected by total gang domination or severe political unrest.[3] Meanwhile, this influx has caused the government to respond in dramatic fashion, utilizing an expedited removal process in the hopes of quickly dealing with the large population entering the country.[4] However, this expedited process crosses into a grey area of due process rights, leaving many individuals that need protection vulnerable to a hardnosed American legal system. The expedited due process needs to be altered to safe guard immigrants, allowing them more access to legal counsel and a right to a court appointed attorney.

After making entry into the United States, an immigrant is entitled to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.[5] Among these due process rights afforded to immigrants is the right to an interview before removal if an individual expresses fear in returning to his or her home country.[6] The expedited removal process begins first with the determination of an immigrant’s admissibility into the United States.[7] During this preliminary questioning, an immigration officer determines if an individual intends to apply for asylum or expresses any fear of returning to their home country.[8] If there is any expression of fear, the individual is entitled to an interview with an asylum officer. [9] To stay in the country the immigrant must express “credible fear” of returning to their country.[10] However during these interviews, immigrants do not have the right to counsel appointed by the court.[11] Instead, an immigrant may only obtain counsel themselves and are only given a “reasonable opportunity” to obtain counsel.[12]

In a complaint lodged with the United States District Court of the District of Columbia, plaintiffs allege various facts that portray their due process rights on shaky grounds.[13] In the complaint the plaintiffs point out that the Artesia detention center is isolated, far away from access to legal counsel.[14] Furthermore, access to the telephone is limited to a phone call once a day that only last a few minutes.[15] People brought into the Artesia detention center are only told of their right to obtain their own counsel upon entering the detention facility, after a long day of processing and transportation.[16] Personal visits between attorneys and clients are hardly private or confidential and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents stand within earshot of what should be privileged conversations.[17] Mothers are also required to keep their children close when speaking about their fears of physical violence or sexual assaults to their attorneys because there is no one else available to watch their children during these meetings.[18] Furthermore, children are not entitled to a separate interview from their parent and therefore not allowed to give their own reasons for fearing to return to their home countries.[19]

In Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank, Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “A process which is a mere gesture is not due process.”[20] The expedited due process afforded to immigrants is a mere gesture in the guise of affording immigrants their due process rights. These immigrants now subject to the confusing system of United States law should be entitled to greater protection against deportation. One of the greatest protections that should be afforded to these individuals is the right to a court appointed attorney. While this option may cause many American taxpayers to cringe, detention and removal are serious impingements on an individual’s liberty. Being forced to return to a country that could present certain death to an individual deserves to be given more weight than it is currently treated with in the American legal system. In these immigration cases, it is undeniably harder for foreign and non-English speaking to understand their procedural rights and how to respond in interviews. These individuals that usually only have the barest understanding of the American legal system and are the most vulnerable to misunderstanding are require attorneys the most.

However, in the case that a court attorney cannot be appointed, then the court must ensure that individuals in detention centers have adequate information and access to Pro Bono attorneys. Individuals in the detention facility need to meet with their attorneys for more than a few minutes and decide adequate legal courses of action. Their conversation should truly be in private and subject to privilege between an attorney and client. The most basic due process rights need to be afforded to these individuals to give them an adequate opportunity to understand the questioning process and what is expected of them through the process.

Immigrants in this expedited system are facing the horrors of violence in returning to their own countries without adequate safeguards to protect those with legitimate fears from being returned to extremely dangerous environments. While court appointed attorneys may cost the American taxpayers a little more, immigration due process rights should change to include the right to a court appointed lawyer before removal is decided. At the very least, individuals in the detention centers deserve to have adequate opportunities and time to meet with their attorneys in private settings.

[1] U.S. Const. amend. V.

[2] Leigh Caldwell, Influx of Immigrant Children Expected to Last Through the Summer, Cable News Network (June 10, 2014),

[3] Id.

[4] Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief at 11, M.S.P.C. v. Sec. of the Dep’t. of Homeland Def. , No. 1:14-cv-01437 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 22, 2014).

[5] 8 C.F.R. § 1240.3.

[6] 8 C.F.R. § 1225

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] See Id.

[12] Id.

[13]See generally Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief, M.S.P.C., No. 1:14-cv-01437.

[14] Id. at 3.

[15] Id. at 97.

[16] Id. at 105.

[17] Id. at 121.

[18] Id. at 125.

[19] Id. at 149.

[20] 339 U.S. 306, 315 (1950)

A Second Chance

A Second Chance

by Erika Rucker

  • Introduction

A new Alabama law effective July 6, 2014 allows criminal offenders to petition to have their record expunged under limited circumstances. Under Code of Ala. § 15-27-1, a person can file a petition to have their criminal record expunged.[1] An expungement order is “the erasure of a person’s criminal record.” The term often refers to the complete destruction of a physical record and deletion of an electronic record.[2]

Prior to the enactment of what is being referred to as Alabama’s “expunging law”, the legislature was inconsistent at best on what powers the courts had to expunge a criminal’s record. Prior to the current law, the statute provided that an offender that was subsequently released without any charges or if the offender was cleared of the offense through the judicial system, then the agency involved would make a report to the central record-keeping agency. After such report, the offender’s information relating to the offense would be expunged or eliminated. The authority granting such power, however, provided an inconsistent approach to the expunging of records.[3] The new expunging law, however, explicitly grants the circuit court such authority.[4]

  • Overview of the Expunging Law

An offender can petition to have their criminal record expunged under four limited circumstances.[5] First, if the charge was dismissed with prejudice.[6] Second, if the grand jury determined that the offender should not be indicted on the charges due to insufficiency of evidence.[7] Third, if the person was found not guilty of the charge.[8] Last, if the charge was dismissed without prejudice over two years ago, has not been refiled, and the petitioner has not been convicted of any other criminal violation within the prior two years.[9] The law allows the offender to petition to expunge a wide range of violations from traffic violations to non-violent felony offenses.[10]

The offender must meet the expungement requirements and file a petition in the circuit court where the offender was charged with the offense. Additionally, the petitioner must pay a $300 filing fee (plus any related court costs) and provide the court with a case action summary or certified copy of the arrest and disposition of the case.[11] The district attorney and the victims involved in the offense have 45 days to file a petition opposing the expungement. If, however, no one objects to the record expungement, the court will review the petition to determine whether or not to grant the expungement of the petitioner’s criminal record.

If the court approves the petitioner’s request for the expungement of the record, the information relating to the offense, including an arrest record, is considered erased. However, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center will keep an archived record in a protected file.[12] This enables law enforcement and judicial officers access to a person’s criminal record.

  • Effect of the Law

Although offenders may embrace the new expunging law, others worry that this new law can create serious risks to public safety. In addition to fears of public safety, members of the community are also divided over whether the county or the city should be in charge of handling the petitions for expungement. Lastly, concerns over the relevance of the law in today’s age of technology are also raised.

Those in opposition of the law express concerns over whether the law will implicate public safety issues concerning complete access to an offender’s criminal records. The information relating to an offender’s criminal record allows the public to obtain information relating to a particular person’s prior criminal history and this law in effect erases the availability of this information. Margaret Love, former chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Standards Committee Task Force on Collateral Sanctions, wrote in a 2003 law journal article that the policies underlying expungement of records “requires a certain willingness to ‘rewrite history’ that is hard to square with a legal system founded on the search for truth.”[13]

Supporters of the law counter the opposing argument by emphasizing that the information is only unavailable to the public, but can be made available to law enforcement and judicial officers. Additionally, the law excludes the expunging of violent felony charges including: capital murder, murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, robbery, burglary, arson, stalking, sexual abuse and domestic violence 1 and 2.[14] This limits the scope of the law to extend only to misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses.

In its current form, the expunging law grants the circuit court in the county where the petitioner was charged exclusive jurisdiction. The effect of granting the circuit court exclusive jurisdiction gives the county where the offense occurred all court costs and other proceeds associated with the petition for expungement. Even if the offense was adjudicated through the municipal or city courts, the circuit court will have sole jurisdiction over the expungement. Some municipal court systems had hoped the expungement process would be an additional avenue for local courts to raise revenue. However, supporters of granting the circuit court exclusive jurisdiction argue that the city does not have time or resources to handle petitions for expungement.

Finally, concerns over the relevance of the expunging law in the ever-developing age of technology surface as the law’s effective date nears. The effect of the internet emphasizes that once something goes viral, it never truly disappears. During the most advanced age of technology, it is difficult to understand how information can actually disappear without a trace. If the purpose of the law is to clear a person’s record, the question remains of how effective such law can be when information is never really lost once it has gone viral. Although a criminal record may be expunged by the state, other unofficial records and information relating to the offense will not be erased. The potential irrelevancy of the expunging law begs the question of whether the law is enacted to serve the public or whether it is more of a cash cow scheme for the government.

While there are valid concerns and supporting arguments for the new expunging law, the true effects of the law will be unknown until the law becomes effective July 6, 2014.


[1] Code of Ala. § 15-27-1.

[2] 19 CommLaw Conspectus 123, 124.

[3] 35 Cumb. L. Rev. 385, 386.

[4] Code of Ala. § 15-27-1.

[5] Code of Ala. § 15-27-1.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Code of Ala. § 15-27-2.

[11] Code of Ala. § 15-27-1.

[12] Brian Lawson, Alabama Legislature approves measure to expunge criminal records,, April 3, 2014,

[13] 19 CommLaw Conspectus 123, 124.

[14] Code of Ala. § 12-25-32.

Donald Sterling’s Views on Race May Not be the Most Disturbing Thing About the Recent Clippers Scandal

Donald Sterling’s Views on Race May Not be the Most Disturbing Thing About the Recent Clippers Scandal

 By Jack O’Dowd

            In late April reports surfaced that Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, had been taped making disparaging remarks about black people. The tape reflects a conversation had by Sterling and his girlfriend V. Stiviano. During the conversation Sterling relates to his girlfriend that he is upset that she is posting pictures of herself with black people onto her Instragram account. He says, “In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people.”[1] The black person who was the subject of the remark was none other than NBA great Magic Johnson.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Stiviano continued to goad Sterling into making more objectionable comments about Johnson. Stiviano told Sterling that Magic Johnson was someone she admired. Sterling responded “I think the fact that you admire [Magic] — I’ve known him well, and he should be admired — and I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately. And during your entire f***ing, your whole life, admire him — bring him here, feed him, f**k him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”[2]  Stiviano was apparently the subject of a lawsuit filed by Sterling’s wife, and she vowed revenge.[3] Regardless of Stiviano’s motivations, it is shocking that an owner in a league comprised almost entirely of black athletes could have these views about blacks.

In the wake of the statements numerous players voiced their strong disapproval of Sterling and his comments. For instance, LeBron James, probably the most famous current player in the NBA, said he may not have played had his team’s owner made those remarks and that “There’s no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA — there is no room for him.”[4] The players on Sterling’s Clippers team staged a silent protest by wearing their warm-up uniforms inside-out so that the Clippers logo was not visible.[5] Similar acts showing disapproval were made by other teams around the league.

The league took drastic measures against Sterling, strongly condemning his remarks. The league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, empowered by a provision in the league’s constitution giving the commissioner nearly unbridled authority, handed down a harsh punishment. The specific provision reads “Where a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Commissioner shall have the authority to make such decision, including the imposition of a penalty, as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association.” Pursuant to this, Silver banned the embattled owner from the league, stripping Sterling of any authority or management relationship with his team and barring him from going to games. Further, Silver imposed a $2,500,000 fine, the maximum authorized by the NBA constitution.

Sterling, who still owns the team despite not being able to associate with the league in any way, may also be stripped of his ownership interest in the Clippers. Silver said he would urge the other owners to force a sale of the Clippers. The league’s constitution provides for such a sale if three-fourths of the other owners vote to kick out an owner.[6] More specifically, the NBA constitution provides that an owner may be forced to sell his team for engaging in conduct such as gambling on games, fixing games, and the like. Another provision says an ouster may result should an owner “fail or refuse to fulfill its contractual obligations . . . in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.” [7] Thus, it does not appear that the NBA’s constitution directly provides for a forced sale in this situation.

Because the NBA’s constitution, a contract between owners, does not seem to provide for a forced sale in this instance, I would be troubled should Sterling be forced to sell this sizable asset. What I really find troubling is that private conversations made in confidence to his girlfriend could be the reason that he would lose his basketball team. I am not alone in this view. Another NBA great Kareem Adbul-Jabbar wrote in an op-ed in Time Magazine, “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?”[8]

Further, regardless of whether he is forced to sell, I am troubled by the “mob-rule” mentality that characterizes the opposition to Sterling ownership. As mentioned earlier, notable NBA players, cultural figures, and even President Barack Obama have condemned Sterling, and many have called for him to divest his ownership interest in the Clippers. However, public outcry should not be enough to force someone to sell his property. If people want to boycott Clippers games, so be it. But forcing a sale of a multi-million dollar basketball team based on private comments coaxed out of an old man by his spiteful young girlfriend is bad policy. Sterling should reserve the right to “go down with his ship” and hold onto his team regardless of the financial consequences. The loss should be his to bear.

Finally, I think it would be unwise for owners to force a sale here. Who knows what skeletons they may have in their own closets? Who knows what future technologies may make those skeletons known to the public? It may be a dangerous precedent for the owners to decide that private statements, no matter how hateful or moronic, should be used against an owner to force him to sell his team. Rather, the owner should be free to hang onto the team and bear the financial cost. While I don’t think any owner would actually hold onto a team that is being boycotted, I believe he should at least have the right to.


[1] Kevin Conlon, NBA Team Owner in Hot Water Over Racist Comments Attributed to Him, CNN (April 27, 2014),

[2] Id.

[3] V. Stiviano, Rochelle Sterling legal battle at heart of scandal, LA Times (April 29, 2014),

[4] Shaundel Richardson, LeBron on Donald Sterling: “There’s no room for him” Sun Sentinel (April 27, 2014),

[5] Bruce Golding, Clippers stage silent protest over Donald Sterling’s racist rant, New York Post (April 28, 2014)

[6] Jeff Zilgitt, Can Donald Sterling best thorough NBA constitution?USA Today (May 2, 2014)

[7] Id.

[8] Melissa Rohlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offers a different perspective on Donald Sterling, LA Times (May 1, 2014),

Warrantless Cellphone Searches: Ripe for Review

Warrantless Cellphone Searches: Ripe for Review

 By Robert Peel

I. Introduction          

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”[i] While courts have generally held that the Fourth Amendment protects privacy rights when an individual is in a situation that he would legitimately have an expectation of privacy,[ii] recent events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, technological advances, and the failure of the United States’ laws and the judicial system have contributed to the erosion of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.[iii]

Before 9/11, a legitimate expectation of privacy was defined when a person genuinely believed a place to be private and if a reasonable person would expect the same location under the same circumstances to be private as well.[iv] However, a person in a public space would have a reduced expectation of privacy, even when visiting a person in a jail, if the purpose of the monitoring of the conversation was reasonably related to prison security.[v] Although the same privacy rules still nominally apply today, The USA PATRIOT Act and several United States Supreme Court decisions such as Clapper v. Amnesty International have dramatically reduced the expectation of privacy of individual citizens in the United States.[vi] More recently, the revelations by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, have cast doubts on the realistic expectation of privacy in today’s world. [vii]

II. An Overview of the History of Electronic Surveillance

Two main types of electronic surveillance exist, wiretapping and electronic surveillance.[viii] The first type of electronic surveillance is the traditional wiretap, where a wire line of communication such as a phone line or cable is “tapped” and a voice transmission is captured.[ix] The second type, the broader electronic surveillance, is when data, information, or sounds are transferred electronically from one device to another and are intercepted, including communications such as emails.[x] Law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant under the Fourth Amendment because of the similarity of electronic surveillance and wiretaps to search and seizures.[xi] Congress has attempted to keep pace with the electronic surveillance by passing several laws that grant law enforcement authorities the power to enter homes to “bug” them while also trying to protect the right of individuals.[xii] One such law is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which was later updated with an addition called The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 2006.[xiii]

In June 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been collecting phone records and Internet records of American citizens as well as allied foreign leaders, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[xiv],[xv] Also alarming for privacy advocates was the fact that major Internet and telecommunications companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Verizon, and AT&T were complicit in collecting this information for the NSA.[xvi] As recently as January 17, 2014, President Obama sought to alleviate the fears of the American people with a speech outlining new restrictions on the use and collection of phone and Internet records by the NSA, but generally defended the practice.[xvii] Both critics and proponents of the NSA program like to point out that only a few arrests have been made as result of the surveillance with proponents of the surveillance claiming that this shows that the information is not being abused, with critics of the program saying that since the surveillance is not even very useful it should be discontinued.[xviii]

Additionally, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which lowered the evidentiary threshold needed for surveillance for foreign intelligence gathering, as well as Americans accused of spying.[xix] After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, which greatly broadened the authority of law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism, but also limited the privacy rights of individuals in the United States.[xx] In 2005, news organizations reported that the National Security Agency began intercepting phone calls and Internet communications of American citizens without warrants in 2001 following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.[xxi]

III. Circuit Court Decisions on Privacy of Electronic Surveillance

While federal courts have continually expanded the tools available to law enforcement agencies for catching criminals (including some that are arguably illegal),[xxii] there have been some noticeable victories for privacy advocates.[xxiii] In U.S. v. Wurie, the defendant was accused and convicted of trying to sell cocaine, in part from electronic data seized from his cell phone after he was lawfully arrested.[xxiv] After he was arrested, the defendant’s phone kept ringing with the same contact showing on the screen.[xxv] After going through the call log, the police officers found the address associated with the phone number, went to the address, and found a large amount of cocaine, large enough for distribution which allowed the defendant to be convicted for a higher crime.[xxvi] Though the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the police officers had the right to seize the cell phone, the court in a split decision held that the police did not have the right to search the cell phone without a warrant.[xxvii] The First Circuit’s analysis stems largely from the fact that a modern cell phone is essentially like a computer today because of the large storage capacity and multifunctional uses.[xxviii]

While First Circuit agreed that “search-incident-to-arrest” is a valid doctrine for specific limited searches, because of the breadth of data on a cell phone, the Fourth Amendment precludes such a search because the it would be a general search.[xxix] Additionally, any exception, such as the need to preserve evidence that the defendant could destroy is irrelevant in a case where the police seize a cell phone, because the police would have time to obtain a warrant to search the item before the defendant could access the seized item and destroy the evidence.[xxx] The court also did not fear the “remote wipe” technology as they had mentioned technology that could easily prevent, or at least alleviate the problems caused by “remote wipe” apps including solutions as easy as turning off the phone until the warrant could be obtained and the memory copied.[xxxi]

While the government only used the cell phone to search the call logs, the government admitted in their case that they would be able to commit a more general search, and further that they could search any seized mobile device including tablets, iPads®, and laptops.[xxxii] This overly broad general search requires search warrant pursuant to the Fourth Amendment because cell phones contain so much information, including personal information, “photographs, videos, written and audio (text, email, and voicemail), contacts, calendar appointments, web search and browsing history, purchases, and financial and medical records.”[xxxiii] Furthermore, the court reasoned, a phone search could even conceivably become a house search with the various phone applications and programs that allow a person to view home security cameras through their mobile phone screen.[xxxiv]

The First Circuit seemed to fear in its ruling that even cracking the door for even minor infractions of privacy would lead to a deluge of information which would infringe upon the rights of individuals.[xxxv] The First Circuit was prepared to err on the side of individual liberty at the expense of law enforcement.[xxxvi] Additionally, the court believed that the amount of data obtainable from a phone is far greater than the amount of data that one could store in a wallet, briefcase, or address book, which are the traditional containers that the government has been able to invoke in the search-incident-to arrest doctrine.[xxxvii]

Despite the apparent gains for privacy advocates for electronic surveillance with the First Circuit’s ruling, the First Circuit’s ruling appears to be the minority position with the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits, all allowing warrantless cellphone searches in several unanimous opinions.[xxxviii] In Judge Posner’s opinion for the Seventh Circuit in U.S. v. Flores-Lopez, he analogized the looking through a seized cell phone to the opening of a diary to verify its owner’s name and address which has been shown to be a valid use of the warrantless search-incident-to-arrest doctrine.[xxxix] In Flores-Lopez, the defendant was convicted for large-scale crimes involving methamphetamine, and part of the evidence that was used for the conviction came from when the police officer searched a cell phone from the defendant to discover the defendant’s cell phone number so that law enforcement could subpoena telephone records to find more evidence from the crime.[xl]

IV. The Supreme Court is currently deliberating on the issue

            Given the circuit split and the uproar over warrantless surveillance in general, the Supreme Court has wisely decided that the issue is ripe for review.[xli] Many have argued that the founding fathers would have never considered such an expansive view of the Fourth Amendment.[xlii] Several of the conservative Justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, seemed to wonder what the value of the obtaining a warrant would be since the warrant would likely be granted. Despite the need for a fast response for law officials, it is scary to think that the Chief Justice may not believe that a warrant is needed to search such an expansive item. However, the liberal justices, including Sonia Sotamayor, seemed to be more willing to protect the public from such unreasonable searches.[xliii] Interestingly, Antonin Scalia, usually a bastion of the right, seemed to be willing to at least search for a moderate ground in the cell phone searches.[xliv]  He may be the one who actually casts the deciding vote, instead of the usual Anthony Kennedy, and the Supreme Court will likely make its decision some time in early June.  However, despite the oral arguments, it is often wise not to read too much into what the Justices ask during the oral portion of the case, as that does not necessarily predict how they will vote. Hopefully, when the Supreme Court decides the outcome, the Justices will choose to protect the right of American citizens from unreasonable searches of potentially intimate property as was guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.



[i] U.S. Const. amend. IV

[ii] Electronic Surveillance, Legal Information Institute (Oct. 21, 2013, 3:30 PM),

[iii]Hina Hamshi, Alex Abdo, Privacy and Surveillance Post-9/11, American Bar Association (Oct. 21, 2013, 4:00 PM),

[iv]Electronic Surveillance, supra note 2


[vi]Hamshi, supra note 3

[vii]Doyle Murphy, Edward Snowden says NSA spying worse than Orwell’s ‘1984’ in his ‘Alternative Christmas Message’, New York Daily News, Dec. 25, 2013, available at

[viii]Electronic Surveillance, supra note 2






[xiv]The NSA Files, The Guardian (Dec. 20, 2013, 1:00 PM),

[xv]Paul Owen, NSA files – Edward Snowden’s letter to Angela Merkel, The Guardian, Nov. 1, 2013, available at

[xvi]Kevin Bankston, Bad Connection, Slate, Nov. 21, 2013, available at

[xvii]Transcript of President Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on NSA reforms, The Washington Post, Jan. 17, 2014, available at

[xviii]Ed Pilkington, Nicholas Watt, NSA surveillance played little role in foiling terror plots, experts say, The Guardian, Jun. 12, 2013, available at

[xix] Electronic Surveillance, supra note 2

[xx] Id.; Hamshi, supra note 3

[xxi] NSA Spying on Americans, Electronic Frontier Foundation (Dec. 20, 2013, 1:30 PM),

[xxii]See Hamshi, supra note 3

[xxiii]United States v. Wurie, 728 F.3d 1, 1-2 (1st. Cir. 2013)

[xxiv] Id.



[xxvii]Id. at 14.

[xxviii]Id. at 7-8.

[xxix]Id. at 8-9, 13.

[xxx]Id. at 11-12


[xxxii]Id. at 8-9, 13.




[xxxvi] See generally id.

[xxxvii]Id. at 9.

[xxxviii]Id. at 16.

[xxxix]United States v. Flores-Lopez, 670 F.3d 803, 805 (7th Cir. 2012)

[xl]Id. at 803-804

[xli] See Nina Totenberg, Supreme Court Considers Limits on Warrantless Cellphone Searches, NPR (Apr. 29, 2014, 4:03 PM),

[xlii] Id.

[xliii] Id.

[xliv] Id.

Lights, Camera, Arrest!: Police Officers’ Ability to Stop and Arrest Citizens from Video Recording Under the Qualified Immunity Doctrine

Lights, Camera, Arrest!: Police Officers’ Ability to Stop and Arrest

Citizens from Video Recording Under the Qualified Immunity Doctrine

By: Clay Comley

             As the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”[1] While the range of rights protected by the First Amendment is anything but a straightforward list governed by a bright-line rule, the 1st Amendment is generally understood as protecting two classes of rights: Freedom of religion rights under the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses and freedom of speech rights under the freedom of expression clause.[2] Furthermore, the Freedom of Expression clause encompasses numerous types of citizens’ rights including freedom to express oneself without government interference and freedom to peacefully assemble.[3] However, the component of the First Amendment at issue in this paper is the freedom of press. Despite this right’s title, the Supreme Court has recognized that “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information . . .” available to the public.[4] In other words, the protections afforded to the freedom of press through the First Amendment do not give members of the press or media any special rights over ordinary citizens.[5] The First Amendment allows all citizens to record matters of public interest and express themselves through dissemination of this information.[6] Because case law clearly indicates that the Freedom of Press protects ordinary citizens from gathering information “from any source by means within the law,” courts have reasoned that the filming of public officials engaged in their duties in public spaces is a protected facet of freedom of press.[7] However, because public officials deal with varying situations in their official capacities, courts have also reasoned that such officials must be allowed some immunity against claims from members of the public.[8]

As a result of countless claims against public officials acting in their official capacity, courts created the legal doctrine of Qualified Immunity to protect these individuals from personal liability.[9] Instead of sending officials out into the public with no sense of what they could be held liable for, Qualified Immunity seeks to provide these officials with the ability to reasonably anticipate when actions will open them up to personal legal liability.[10] As a result, in theory, if a public official acts in a way reasonably believed to be lawful, they are shielded from liability for that action.[11]

Under the Qualified Immunity doctrine, governmental actors performing discretionary functions are entitled to Qualified Immunity from suits as long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”[12] Thus, Qualified Immunity acts as a rebuttable presumption for public officials if they allege that they acted reasonably when performing the allegedly violative behavior.[13]

As aforementioned, in order to overcome the rebuttable presumption of Qualified Immunity, a plaintiff must show that a constitutional right was both violated and “clearly established” at the time of the violation.[14] While some rights such as the right to speak in a public forum and publish and distribute literature are undoubtedly established and detailed in precedent case law, whether video recording police officers’ conduct is a “clearly established” right is still strongly debated among the federal courts throughout the United States.

Since video recording technology has been made readily available to the general public, people have been recording the conduct of law enforcement officers.[15] However, just like the federal courts involved in the circuit split at issue here, there are parties that argue for both sides. Advocates of citizens’ right to record police activities often point to flagrant instances of injustice and brutality, such as the infamous Rodney King beating in 1991.[16] For example, the independent investigative LAPD team stated “. . . without the . . . videotape the complaint might have been adjudged to be ‘not sustained,’ because the officers’ version conflicted with the account by King and his two passengers.”[17] While this instance has become the flagship for civil rights activists speaking against police brutality, it also illustrates the dangers of individuals’ testimony without concrete recorded evidence. Without the availability of 1st-hand recordings, many crimes and torts would be dismissed from our legal system and some would never even come to light.[18]

Despite this evidential concern, opposing parties argue that recording police can negatively affect how they perform their official duties.[19] For example, if an officer is recorded and subsequently reprimanded by his department or the public despite no wrongdoing being found, that officer may be deterred from effectively using force against citizens in the future.[20] Furthermore, in some circumstances, the party responsible for the recording can inhibit a police officer’s duty to work effectively. In Ortiz, while recording the police officer, the plaintiff placed his camera “as close as one foot” from the officer’s face.[21] Such drastic actions not only decrease a law enforcement officer’s privacy as an American citizen, but may debatably teeter on the edge of assault in the right circumstances.[22] As a result, 11 states still enforce some form of an Eavesdropping law or wiretapping statute against citizens who record police activities.[23] Under these laws, without the officer’s permission, he or she may not be recorded in any way. Furthermore, if unauthorized recording occurs, the recording individual may then be subject to criminal discipline.[24] Regardless of which side one takes in this debate, the recent cases comprising the circuit split indicate that there are advocates for both sides


Jurisdictions Holding Police Officers have Qualified Immunity

The Third and Fourth Circuits have both held that video recording police officers is not a “clearly established” right, which affords Qualified Immunity to police officers who stop citizens from recording their behavior.[25] It is important to note that although these courts afford Qualified Immunity to police officers in these circumstances, they concede that video recording police activity may be a right protected by the First Amendment. Despite this concession, citizens who have this right violated by police officers are unable to successfully obtain civil judgments against them. It is also important to note that each case from these circuits have varying facts, which as a result, may have affected the court’s opinion.

According to the Third Circuit, video recording police activities during traffic stops is not a “clearly established” right because the U.S. Supreme Court has held that traffic stops are inherently dangerous situations for police officers.[26] In Kelly, the plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over for minor traffic violations including speeding and a “bumper height restriction.”[27] Plaintiff, a passenger in the vehicle, secretly began recording the defendant without his knowledge. When the officer realized this, he confiscated the camera and arrested the plaintiff. The police officer claimed he had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff due to Pennsylvania’s wiretap statute and his lack of consent to his activities being recorded.[28] After the lower court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment under the Qualified Immunity doctrine, the Third Circuit reviewed the case.[29] Ultimately affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the court focused on two main points: 1) the fact that there was conflicting case law throughout the country at the time of the alleged violation and 2) the inherently dangerous nature of traffic stops that requires police officers’ command of the situation.[30] As a result of these circumstances, the Third Circuit held that police officers engaged in traffic stops are to be afforded Qualified Immunity for cessation of video recording.[31]

The Fourth Circuit also determined that recording police activity was not a “clearly established” right.[32] However, unlike the Third Circuit, the Fourth Circuit ruled against a plaintiff for recording in a public space as opposed to during a traffic stop.[33] Unfortunately, the Fourth Circuit Court failed to elaborate on its precise reasoning. In its opinion, the Court simply stated, “[T]he district court concluded that Szymecki’s asserted First Amendment right to record police activities on public property was not clearly established in this circuit at the time of the alleged conduct. We have thoroughly reviewed the record and the relevant legal authorities and we agree.”[34] However, the Court also added Fourth Circuit precedent that states, “if the right is recognized in another circuit and not in this circuit, the official will ordinarily retain the immunity defense.”[35] Therefore, the Fourth Circuit does not use another circuit’s recognition of a “clearly established” right as evidence of its status as such. Instead, this Circuit only recognizes rights as “clearly established” if it is shown in its own courts.

Jurisdictions Holding Video Recording Police is “Clearly Established” Right

As previously stated, the First and Eleventh Circuits have held that video recording police officers’ activity is a “clearly established” right.[36] Thus, in those circuits, law enforcement officers do not possess Qualified Immunity when they prevent or cease video recordings.[37]

For example, the Eleventh Circuit has held that citizens have a “clearly established” right to video record police activities in public places.[38] The Court also stated that this right is especially established when the subject being recorded is a “matter[] of public interest,” such as a public officer’s interactions with civilians.[39] Without discussing the particular facts of the plaintiff’s claim, the Eleventh Circuit recognized this conduct as a First Amendment right “subject to reasonable time, manner and place restrictions.”[40] Although the Court affirmed the grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgment, this was due to plaintiff’s failure to show the conduct actually violated plaintiff’s rights.[41] Despite the plaintiff’s lack of evidence, the Court held that such video recording is a “clearly established” right.[42] Unfortunately, this opinion did not detail the extent of the right or what restrictions would be considered “reasonable” in the Eleventh Circuit.

But after the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in 2000, more than a decade later, the First Circuit agreed with the Eleventh Circuit and further explained the nature of this First Amendment right.[43] In Glik, the First Circuit found that the right to record police officers “fits comfortably within” the principles protected by the First Amendment.[44] In Glik, the plaintiff was walking in a well-known park in Boston called the Boston Common, when he noticed three police officers arresting a suspect.[45] After hearing another bystander exclaim that the officers were hurting the man, the plaintiff began recording the event on his cell phone.[46] After the suspect was subdued, an officer approached the plaintiff and asked if the cell phone recorded audio.[47] Replying in the affirmative, the plaintiff continued recording and was then arrested for violation of the Massachusetts wiretap statute.[48] The phone was confiscated and kept as evidence.[49] All of the criminal charges against plaintiff were dropped and he initiated this lawsuit against the officers.[50] After defendants’ motion for summary judgment as denied by the lower court, they appealed to the First Circuit claiming that defendants were protected under Qualified Immunity.[51] While defendants argued that plaintiff did not have the right to record because he was a private individual rather than a reporter, the First Circuit stated that such First Amendment rights were not limited to members of the press.[52] The Court further explained that because recording police activity “. . . not only aids in the uncovering of abuses . . . but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government . . .” private citizens should be allowed to exercise such a right without police interference.[53] According to the First Circuit, because plaintiff acted peacefully, legally, and was protected by the First Amendment, defendants “lacked the authority to stop [him].”[54] The Court also appropriately noted “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw.”[55] Much like the Eleventh Circuit stated in Smith, the First Circuit also conceded that reasonable limitations must occasionally be placed on such activities.[56] Despite this concession, the Court stated that the plaintiff was still protected because he acted in an obviously public area and neither “spoke to nor molested the officers” throughout his recording.[57]

Obviously, one of the most alarming issues that surround this controversy is that video recording is becoming more widely available and simplified through the use of cell phones. According to ABC News, 91% of Americans currently own a mobile phone, which most likely have video recording capabilities.[58] Furthermore, 61% of Americans use a “smart phone” with Internet, capable of posting videos online.[59] Thus, this issue simply must be settled because the amount of litigation regarding such recording is likely to only increase.

[1] U.S. CONST. amend. I.

[2] FIRST AMENDMENT, (last visited Oct. 3, 2013).

[3] Id.

[4] First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978).

[5] First Amendment,

[6] Blackston v. AL, 30 F.3d 117, 120 (11th Cir. 1994).

[7] Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978).

[8] Abbott v. Sangamon Cty., 705 F.3d 706, 14 (7th Cir. 2012).

[9] Id.

[10] Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 691 (7th Cir. 2008).

[11] Chelios, 520 F.3d at 691.

[12] Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 811 (1982) (emphasis added).

[13] E.g., id.

[14] Id.

[15] See Andrew R. Shaw, Our Duty in Light of the Law’s Irrelevance: Police Brutality and Civilian Recordings, 20 GEO. J. POVERTY LAW & POL’Y 161 (2012).

[16] Id. at 162.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.


[20] Id.

[21] Ortiz v. City of New York, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136897 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).

[22] Id.

[23] See generally Stephanie Claiborne, Comment: Is it Justice or a Crime to Record the Police?: A Look at the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute and its Application, 45 J. MARSHALL L. REV. 485.

[24] Id.

[25] See generally Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248 (3rd Cir. 2010); Szymecki v. Houck, 353 Fed. Appx. 852 (4th Cir. 2009); King v. City of Indianapolis, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123505 (So. Ind. 2013).

[26] Kelly, 622 F.3d at 262.

[27] Id. at 252.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 251.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Szymecki v. Houck, 353 Fed. Appx. 852 (4th Cir. 2009).

[33] Id.

[34] Id. at 853.

[35] Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 250 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal quotations omitted).

[36] Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011); Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir. 2000).

[37] Id.

[38] Smith, 212 F.3d 1332

[39] Id. at 1333

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011).

[44] Id. at 82.

[45] Id. at 79.

[46] Id.

[47] Id. at 80.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

[51] Id.

[52] Id. at 82.

[53] Id. at 82-83.

[54] Id. at 83.

[55] Id. at 84

[56] Id.

[57] Id. at 84

[58] Joanna Stern, More Than Half of Americans Own Smartphones, ABC NEWS

[59] Id.


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