High Court Explores Search And Seizure

A brunette version of the original "No. 1 Ponytail" Barbie is displayed at the room of two Italian collectors and dealers at the Hyatt Regency in Los Angeles on July 26, 2006. Hundreds of dealers and collectors attended the four-day Barbie Collectors Convention.
The Supreme Court is going to clarify when police officers can be held legally responsible for using excessive force while arresting someone.

The court also:

  • refused to reinstate a punitive-damage award for a woman who was unlawfully strip-searched by jail guards in New York City
  • refused to revive a lawsuit by an owner of a Texas video store who says he was "censored out of business"
  • ruled against U S West's objection to Washington state telecom rules aimed at opening local phone service to competition.

    Excessive Force In Police Arrests

    The justices say they will consider whether to throw out a lawsuit against a military police officer who's accused of using excessive force to arrest an animal-rights activist.

    The court's decision, expected sometime in 2001, is likely to be of great importance to police forces nationwide.

    The case will focus on what the legal test should be in deciding whether the force used during an arrest was constitutionally proper.

    An appeals court said the question should be whether the force was "reasonable."

    That's the same standard used in deciding whether an arrest without a court warrant is valid under the Constitution.

    Strip-Search Suit Against N.Y.C. Fails

    The U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate a $5 million punitive-damage award for a woman who was unlawfully strip-searched by jail guards in New York City.

    Debra Ciraolo was arrested in January 1997 on a misdemeanor harassment charge following a dispute with a neighbor.

    At the police station she was required to strip naked, bend over and cough while she was visually inspected. She was released the next day and the charge was dropped.

    The city Corrections Department had adopted a policy in mid-1996 of strip-searching everyone who had been arrested even those facing only misdemeanor charges.

    A New York-based federal appeals court had ruled ten years before that the Constitution barred police from strip-searching people arrested on minor charges, unless there was reasonable suspicion they were hiding weapons or contraband.

    The city dropped the policy in 1997 after about 65,000 people arrested for misdemeanors had been strip-searched.

    Ciraolo sued, and last year a federal jury awarded her $19,645 dollars for pain, suffering and medical expenses -- plus another $5 million in punitive damages.

    The city appealed and the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the $5 million damage award. The court said the strip-search policy was "clearly unconstitutional" but that cities almost never can be forced to pay punitive damages.

    Texas Video Store Owner Loses Censorship Battle

    The owner of a Texas video store who says he was "censored out of businss" in 1995 lost his appeal Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The justices refused -- without comment -- to revive Joe Wallace's lawsuit against two Department of Public Safety agents.

    Wallace owned Video Liquidators in Portland, near Corpus Christi. He says the troopers violated his rights by seizing more than 2,100 adult videos from his store.

    Lower courts ruled that the officers were entitled to immunity from Wallace's lawsuit because they seized the movies as evidence for an obscenity prosecution against him.

    Wallace was arrested and, after one mistrial, acquitted of all charges against him. The confiscated movies and other materials were returned to him after 18 months.

    Regional Phone Company Loses Supreme Court Appeal

    The new owner of U S West Monday lost a U S Supreme Court appeal of Washington state rules aimed at opening local phone service to competition.

    The court, without comment, turned down Qwest's argument that the rules violated the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act.

    Qwest acquired U S West earlier this year.

    Washington state regulators had set a number of rules on local phone service, including one requiring U S West to combine separate parts of its network at the request of its competitors.

    Another rule required U S West to allow two competitors -- MCI Metro and AT&T -- to put switching equipment on U S West property.

    The nation's highest court upheld the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    The appeals court said that federal telecommunications law does not bar states from adopting the rules.