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(Federal) Judge blocks warrantless searches of Oregon drug database (by DEA)

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posted on Feb, 13 2014 @ 05:27 AM
** The portion in parentheses were added by me to clarify the topic **

Judge blocks warrantless searches of Oregon drug database

(Reuters) - A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that U.S. government attempts to gather information from an Oregon state database of prescription drug records violates constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the decision, in a case originally brought by the state of Oregon, as the first time a federal judge has ruled that patients have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their prescription records.

The ACLU had joined the lawsuit on behalf of four patients and a physician challenging U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration efforts to gain access, without prior court approval, to the state's prescription database.

Click link for remainder of article.

Keep an eye on this one as it goes through the courts (if the DEA appeals the federal ruling). It surprises me because a State Law trumped a Federal Law.

Oregon set up the prescription database to comply with the Federal Controlled Substance Act. The state law requires a warrant in order for law enforcement agencies (state and federal) to gain access to the records. The DEA argued their use of administrative subpoenas were all that was needed, going on to argue that since there is no criminal investigation, no warrant is needed. they cited Federal Law to support the claim.

In this case the federal judge ruled against the DEA, supporting the Oregon law that requires a valid warrant.

The state mandated privacy protections for the data, including a requirement that law enforcement could only obtain information from the network with a warrant.

But the DEA claimed federal law allowed the government to access the database using only an "administrative subpoena", which does not require a finding of probable cause for believing a crime has been committed or a judge's approval.

U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty in Portland ruled that the DEA's efforts to obtain Oregon's prescription records without a warrant violate Fourth Amendment safeguards against searches and seizures of items or places in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

"It is more than reasonable for patients to believe that law enforcement agencies will not have unfettered access to their records," Haggerty wrote in the summary judgment opinion.

"The prescription information maintained by (Oregon) is intensely private as it connects a person's identity information with the prescription drugs they use," Haggerty wrote.

While the topic seems a bit off and local, the ruling by the federal judge set precedent. The judge essentially told the DEA that a general subpoena (administrative) cannot be used to circumvent the 4th amendment. This, hopefully, is a trend when it comes to the Federal government's use of FISA warrant (or General Warrants, which is more akin to a fishing expedition for to locate Probable Cause after the fact - and is a no no but I digress).

The 9th circus, errr circuit, court of appeals is one of the most overturned appeals courts in the nation, but every now and then they get it right. I see the government challenging the ruling, and I see the 9th screwing up their responsibility, which means this case could end up at the SCOTUS level.

Hopefully this is not the last time we will see a judge actually applying the constitution as opposed to legislating from the bench. If a federal agency is required to use a warrant for these types of records, it could possibly open the door to other challenges of government overreach by requiring these agencies to produce probable cause and a valid warrant, as is required under the 4th.

Bravo to the judge...

For those not familiar the federal appeals court / Supreme Court - When they review a case it means there is a question of
constitutional rights being affected (in this case the 4th amendment). This will also possibly delve into the supremacy clause, which states if a Federal law and State law are in conflict, the federal law must be applied. In this case the judge sided with the state law.

Possible outcomes - In general
* - The DEA doesn't challenge the court ruling.

* - The DEA challenges the ruling, which moves it to the 9th circuit court of appeals.
A - The 9th can sustain the lower court ruling
B - The 9th can overturn it
C - The 9th can send it back for additional review by the judge who issued the first ruling.

* - SCOTUS can
A - allow the lower court / appeals court ruling to stand.
B - refuse to hear the case, meaning the last court ruling stands.
C - hears the appeal and rules in favor of the DEA
C1 hears the appeal and rules in favor of the state
C2 Hears the appeal and issues their own ruling on the various constitutional questions involved.

Anyways, just thought I would share.

edit on 13-2-2014 by Xcathdra because: (no reason given)

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