Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Freedom-destroying cocktail"

In a recent decision, Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. _ 2014, No. 12-9490, the US Supreme Court ruled that an anonymous tip from a 911 caller was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion of criminal activity of a driver and search of his vehicle was reasonable. The 911 caller reported that a Silver Ford 150 pick up truck had run her off the road. The caller also reported the location of the incident and the plate number of the truck. A few minutes later the CHP officers located a similar pick up truck further down the highway, stopped the vehicle without any further corroboration. As they were conducting a traffic stop, they smelled marijuana from the vehicle. The search ensued, with 30 pounds of marijuana discovered in the truck.

By distinguishing the landmark case on the topic, Florida v. J.L. (2000) 529 U.S. 266, the majority opinion held that the tip here had sufficient indicia of reliability to give reasonable suspicion to the officers that the driver was drunk. The caller’s account indicated she was an eyewitness to the incident, by providing the license plate number, the location and the model of the car. The Court also pointed out that the timeline of the events, the reported location of the incident by the caller and the officers’ spotting of the truck a few minutes later sufficiently corroborated the tip. The fact that the tipster used the 911 system also pointed to the reliability, since a false tipster would be aware of the tracking system and would not be willing to resort to false reporting.

The Court quickly dismissed the argument that even if the tip could be reliable, it might not have necessarily raised reasonable suspicion that the driver was actually drunk or perhaps the police could have further corroborated the observations of the tipster by following the vehicle before initiating the stop.

Justice Scalia (surprisingly) dissented with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, pointing out that this was a vivid departure of precedent, that anonymous tips must be corroborated before they form basis for reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. By noting that the tip would have qualified to be admitted neither as a ‘present sense impression’ nor an ‘excited utterance’, Justice Scalia pointed out that the question was not how the tipster could see this happening but whether what she claimed was true. Nothing corroborated the caller’s statements.

Furthermore, Scalia pointed out, “I fail to see how reasonable suspicion of a discrete instance of irregular or hazardous driving generates a reasonable suspicion of ongoing intoxicated driving. What proportion of the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of careless, reckless, or intentional traffic violations committed each day is attributable to drunken drivers? I say 0.1 percent.” To allow the police to make traffic stop on the basis of uncorroborated and anonymous caller to catch .1 percentage of drunk drivers is an unjustifiable intrusion into Fourth Amendment rights or as Scalia called it, a two-part ‘freedom-destroying cocktail’.

He was further outraged with the fact that in the five minute observation of the truck before initiating the traffic stop, the CHP did not observe any suspicious driving. They had no personal corroboration of the bad driving alleged by the 911 caller. This fact alone should have quickly undermined the reliability of the tipper.

The upshot of this case is the continuing erosion of the Fourth Amendment principles. If you are a driver, you have no protection against anonymous 911 calls and the police are free to decide whether they will credit the caller and stop your car or not. You are at the mercy of law enforcement.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ninety-nine years...

“Turks are coming!” This phrase has a soul-piercing, blood-chilling effect on every Armenian around the globe. The pantheon of Armenian ethnicity and nationhood is cloaked with heavy drips of blood. The development and unprecedented rise of Islam in the Middle East culminated in the victory of the Ottoman Turkey in 1453, with the final collapse of the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople (or Polis) was renamed Istanbul, and the Ottoman Turkey proved to be a ruthless empire of war and conquest. The fall of the Byzantine Empire was the historic doomsday of Armenians, the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as their religion. Art-loving, peaceful Armenians, similar in their heritage to the Greeks, were greatly overwhelmed in numbers by war-mongering Turks, who soon took over all of historic Armenian lands, by reducing Armenians to an ethnic minority residing in the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Armenia (current Armenia).

The seeds of fate were sown and ripened in the World War I, when Ottoman Turkey artfully used the excuse of war to resolve the pestering ‘Armenian question.’ As Armenian intellectuals residing in Turkey had co-existed with Turks and had risen in the ranks, they were lobbying for equal rights and recognition of freedom of religion and self-autonomy. This movement was internally coined as the ‘Armenian Question’ by the Ottoman government officials. It was a real thorn in their imperialistic goals of expansion, and conversion of all ethnicities to Islam. Armenians historically refused to convert to Islam and sought autonomy to be able to survive and maintain their language, culture, identity, religion.

 As World War I was waging in the background, the Ottoman officials masterminded a skillful and ‘brilliant’ resolution of the ‘Armenian Question.’ The plan was to forcefully remove and displace all Armenians residing in the empire, using any and all methods. This was understood by the executioners as including killing, starvation, deportation. The ‘Gyavur’ as the Armenians were pejoratively called, were to be quickly eliminated from the face of the Earth. To execute the plan, first, all intellectuals with connections and power, were rounded up, imprisoned and then disappeared on mass scale. Then, forced displacement began. All Armenians were rounded up and forced to deport. Since this process was too slow, mass killings of Armenians on unprecedented scale began. The world had not yet seen a similar systematic and targeted killing of a whole nation before. The rate of killings was so fast that by the time Armenians could seek help from other nations, the large majority of Armenians in Turkey, were ruthlessly killed. The numbers could never be accurate, but on the basis of the number of Armenians residing in Turkey, and those who survived, the estimated total was at least 1.5 million Armenian massacres.

              Both my grandfathers as kids were survivors. One escaped with his older brother, leaving behind his entire family, that was massacred. The other escaped through the desert and mountains to current Northern Armenia, carrying his younger sister on his back. The survivors spread around the globe, as living eyewitnesses to a GENOCIDE, as a testament to one of the worst crimes against humanity.

              Genocide is defined as killing of a ‘genom’, or race. All the historic chronicles indisputably proved that the Ottoman Turks were targeting Armenians to be wiped out from the face of the Earth, as the Nazis were targeting Jews or Interahamwe were targeting Tutsis.  While this was the first mass genocide of the 20th century, it was not the last. However, while the other genocides and crimes against humanity were accordingly punished and perpetrators brought to justice in various International Tribunals, the Armenian genocide went unpunished. Turkey was never brought to justice by the world to answer for its cruel acts against humanity. Furthermore, its shameful denial has received a silent imprimatur or ‘approval’ of world powers, most notably the United States, whose geopolitical interests in the Middle East have demanded alliance with Turkey. Silence and impunity have grown deep roots in the national psyche of Armenians. If a crime of such magnitude goes unpunished by the world community, the entire concept of justice on Earth is in grave danger. If the humanity were truly determined not to repeat such crimes, it would have brought justice to the victims and survivors. Indeed, it was this inaction of the world that allowed for the repetition of similar crimes against humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and most recently, Darfur.  

This week we are commemorating the 99th year of the Armenian Genocide. As we renew our pledge to seek official recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the face of age-old denial by Turkey, we mourn over the innocent victims, whose tragic deaths have left an indelible scar and will scornfully sear the conscience of mankind as long as it exists on Earth.

Justice is not an abstract concept, but a truth-searching engine, a pre-condition to human survival. But while the world still remains silent in the face of denial, it is a word with no meaning.