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September 27, 2007

School of Law Alum Hon. Ann Aiken Rules That Portions of Patriot Act Violate Fourth Amendment

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, UO Law ’79, yesterday struck down a portion of the Patriot Act on the grounds that it violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.  In the ruling, the court granted summary judgment on Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield’s request for declaratory relief that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), as amended by the Patriot Act, is unconstitutional.

Mayfield’s case attracted worldwide attention when he was mistakenly accused of involvement in the March 11, 2004 bombings of several commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, an event that killed 191 people.  After a botched fingerprint match appeared to implicate Mayfield, the FBI applied to the Foreign Intelligence Security Court (“FISC”) for authority to place Mayfield under surveillance under FISA, which was amended by the Patriot Act to authorize issuance of a warrant if “a significant purpose” of the surveillance is “foreign intelligence.”  Prior to passage of the Patriot Act, FISA had required the government to show that the target may be an agent of a foreign government, and the place or facility to be searched is being used in furtherance of espionage or terrorist activities.  The warrant issued, and federal agents searched Mayfield’s house and law office, and took him into custody.  Mayfield was released when Spanish law enforcement authorities determined that the fingerprint was not a match.  Mayfield sued, charging that the Patriot Act permitted the government to bypass Constitutional requirements for obtaining a search warrant.

In ruling that the challenged portion of the Patriot Act violated the Fourth Amendment, Judge Aiken observed that, “Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the government has been prohibited from gathering evidence for use in a prosecution against an American citizen in a courtroom unless the government could prove the existence of probable cause that a crime has been committed.  The hard won legislative compromise previously embodied in FISA reduced the probable cause requirement only for national security intelligence gathering.  The Patriot Act effectively eliminates that compromise by allowing the Executive Branch to bypass the Fourth Amendment in gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution.”

Judge Aiken is the second federal judge this month to rule against the Patriot Act; a New York judge previously struck down a separate portion of the law.  For the full text of Judge Aiken’s ruling, visit http://www.ord.uscourts.gov/rulings/04-cv-1427Opinion.pdf.

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