A bank robbery took place in Aurora, Colorado this past Saturday afternoon. The police did not have a description of
the robber. They knew he was masked. The officers estimated that based on the time of the robbery, and the direction of his travel, the bank robber was somewhere in a bunch of cars at the intersection of Buckley and Iliff. In a novel approach,the police, with guns drawn, held each vehicle. Each person in these vehicles were to wait and be searched, and people were to also allow searches of their cars. Many of the occupants were handcuffed and their cars were completely and thoroughly searched, including the trunks, as well as purses and packages in the cars. The police did take someone away from the scene in handcuffs.
When Does the Constitution Allow the Government to Disturb a Citizen’s Privacy?
Both the Colorado and United States Constitutions guarantee that law enforcement (and the government generally) can only disturb a citizen’s privacy by detaining him and searching his property if:
- Law enforcement must provide a specific tie between the criminal activity and the person being detained (Aurora police randomly held people simply because they happened to be at a certain location)
- Law enforcement can only investigate long enough to confirm or disprove that a person held was involved in criminal activity (Aurora police held people for hours, an unreasonable length of time because it took minutes for the cops to verify suspects based facts known about the crime)
- Law enforcement can only search a vehicle’s trunk in the field with consent or a warrant (Aurora police had guns drawn — the consent obtained at the point of a gun is coercive by nature, meaning there is no consent at all. Obviously there were no warrants).
Aurora Police Walked All Over Citizens’ Constitutional Rights
Aurora police walked all over constitutional rights yesterday by randomly grabbing and holding people for a long time. They had no reason to simply grab all of the people they did. The officers had nothing to connect any of them to a crime. The officers had no way to know what was in the trunk of each vehicle.
So What’s the Big Deal?
Your right to be protected from the government is going down the drain. Novel approach, Aurora: there was a crime, so let’s stop everyone, handcuff a bunch of them, and then think of a reason. The city of Aurora has taken 240 years of constitutional law and dumped it on the sidewalk at Iliff and Buckley. These are important rights and rules in our United States and Colorado Constitutions, which were tossed out there on the ground somewhere near a Subway shop. Don’t forget them.
Shaun Kaufman Law specializes in criminal defense, personal injury and business litigation.