Case: Herring v. United States

Date: Tuesday Oct. 7, 2008

Issue: Can evidence seized in an arrest made without probable cause and based on the erroneous existence of a warrant still be used against a defendant?

Background: In late 2003 the Dale County, Alabama Sheriff's Department issued an arrest warrant for Bennie Dean Herring. That warrant was eventually withdrawn. But in 2004, Herring while in neighboring Coffee County was spotted by an investigator who eventually pulled Herring over even though he had no probable cause to do so. The officer was familiar with Herring and had an associate call the Dale County Clerk's office about outstanding arrest warrants. Anderson was told that Herring did in fact have an outstanding warrant. As it turned out, the withdrawal of the 2003 warrant was not properly indicated in the Dale County computer system. Not aware of that fact, the officer having already pulled Herring over, executed a search and discovered powder related to methamphetamine as well as a handgun and ammunition. Herring was arrested and eventually convicted of drug and weapons possession. He was sentenced to 27 months behind bars. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the conviction even though it found there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Case: Arizona v. Gant

Date: Tuesday Oct. 7, 2008

Issue: Does the Fourth Amendment require law enforcement officers to demonstrate a threat to their safety or a need to preserve evidence related to the crime of arrest to justify a warrantless vehicular search incident to arrest conducted after the vehicles recent occupants have been arrested and secured?

Background: This is the second Fourth Amendment search case the Court will hear this day and one with a much more complicated back-story. The High Court remanded this case for further hearings in 2003 and it has worked its way back. At issue is the search of Rodney Joseph Gant's car and his arrest for possessing and selling drugs that were found in that search. Gant claims the police officers in Tucson, Arizona had no reason to search his car. He and his car were in a known drug neighborhood. In fact, two other people were arrested immediately subsequent to Gant being placed in custody for an outstanding warrant. Gant had left the car on his own accord and was handcuffed a distance away from the car. The officers contend they nonetheless searched Gant's car because of concern for their safety. Eventually, the Arizona Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision ruled the search of Gant's car was a violation of his 4th Amendment rights.

Case: Kennedy v. Plan Adm. for DuPont Savings

Date: Tuesday Oct. 7, 2008

Issue: Does a legal waiver of benefits in a divorce proceeding trump an otherwise binding decree of whom those benefits should be directed towards.

Background: This is a messy divorce case in which both parties are now deceased but the litigation over the estate continues. William Kennedy was a longtime DuPont employee and designated his then wife Liv as the sole recipient of his pension benefits should he die. In 1994, the two divorced with an agreement that Liv Kennedy would have no claims to the pension. When William Kennedy died in 2001 it was revealed that he never changed the official paperwork with DuPont that named Liv (by now his ex-wife who would herself die in 2007) as his sole beneficiary. In accordance to that paperwork DuPont gave Liv the pension valued in excess of $400,000. The Kennedy estate under direction of daughter Kari sued DuPont for misdirecting the money. The trial court agreed with the Estate and awarded it the full amount of the pension. But the Fifth Circuit reversed in favor of DuPont saying the unchanged initial document that Kennedy had signed designating his wife as the sole beneficiary precluded enforcement of her divorce agreement waiver.