Exploring New Approaches to Unsettled Legal Questions

Tag: William B. Spong Jr. Tournament

Lending a Helping or Harmful Hand? Why Federal Magistrate Judges Should Not Accept Felony Guilty Pleas

by Mariana Lopez*

Magistrate judges perform a crucial role in the federal judiciary system by reducing the administrative burden on Article III judges. Courts, however, remain divided on the scope of magistrates’ duties, and importantly, whether they have  final decision-making authority to accept felony guilty pleas under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Vesting this duty in a magistrate judge violates the Federal Magistrates Act, which allows district judges to delegate “additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”1 The weightiness of this task, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the separation of powers doctrine enshrined in the Constitution should prohibit magistrate judges from accepting guilty pleas, regardless of a criminal defendant’s consent, and require magistrates to submit a report and recommendation to an Article III judge who may then accept the plea. As the consequences of a felony verdict weigh heavily on defendants and our judicial system, this task should remain in the hands of a constitutionally endorsed Article III Judge.

An Exception that Swallows the Rule: Limiting the Automobile Exception to Prohibit Warrantless Searches of Electronic Data in Cars

by Lucy Sundelson*

The Supreme Court has long held that under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, “warrantless searches are per se unreasonable,” except in a few limited circumstances.1 One exception to the rule is the automobile exception, which allows police to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle and its contents with probable cause. Over time, the automobile exception has expanded beyond its original purpose, allowing police to search cars and their contents indiscriminately, and its modern application threatens to swallow the warrant requirement altogether. Computer technology offers an opportunity for courts to limit the breadth of the automobile exception and ensure it remains faithful to the purpose of the Fourth Amendment: given the profoundly private information computers and cell phones store, courts must hold that the exception does not extend to such devices. While the Court has not ruled directly on this issue, two recent decisions dealing with other exceptions to the warrant requirement make clear that the Justices agree electronic data must be handled differently than other belongings in the Fourth Amendment context. Courts should use these decisions to prohibit the warrantless search of cell phones and other similar electronic devices, even when they are found within cars.

Mastering the Internet Experience: Why Section 230 Carve-Outs for “Neutral Assistance” Should Not Extend to Algorithmic Recommendations

by Amanda Frame*

Section 230 is sometimes referred to as “the internet’s most important law.” The statute, which amends the Communications Decency Act, generally provides immunity for website platforms from liability arising from the content produced by third parties. In doing so, Section 230 eliminates many ordinary legal responsibilities assumed by traditional publishers of third-party content. Protections initially meant to facilitate the growth of the internet now shield powerful social media corporations and incentivize risky and permissive content moderation rules. A proposed shift in the statutory interpretation of “development” would make it easier for plaintiffs to bring facially valid claims against big tech and would allow finders of fact to properly determine when the existing “good faith” requirements have been violated.

A SLAPP in the Face: How State Anti-SLAPP Statutes Can Still Apply in Federal Courts Exercising Diversity Jurisdiction

by Conner Kozisek*

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) is a meritless lawsuit designed to chill constitutionally protected speech, thereby posing a dangerous threat to First Amendment rights. To challenge the chilling effects of SLAPP suits, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have adopted anti-SLAPP legislation, many of which create a special motion to strike a claim based on a defendant’s speech in furtherance of their First Amendment rights. Because there is no federal anti-SLAPP legislation, the federal judiciary is divided on whether anti-SLAPP laws should apply in federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction, especially in the wake of the Court’s fractured opinion in Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Insurance Co. This Contribution argues that federal courts sitting in diversity should apply the approach set forth in Justice Stevens’s Shady Grove concurrence to recognize the potential substantive rights created by or protected through anti-SLAPP legislation.

The New Panopticon: Location Tracking and the Fourth Amendment

by Hogan Paschal*

Does warrantless, prolonged location tracking violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches? Hogan Paschal (’17) examines this question, based on her experience at the 2016 Spong Moot Court Tournament, hosted by William & Mary Law School on February 12-13th, 2016. The location tracking tools employed by Government investigators have become more sophisticated and widespread, often eroding the practical constraints that government resources previously imposed on search power. This Contribution posits a more holistic reading of the Fourth Amendment, that simultaneously acknowledges its historical context and modern investigative challenges. Ultimately, it argues that courts should restore Fourth Amendment safeguards by requiring a warrant as a precursor to the government’s use of prolonged location tracking.

Hacking from the Inside-Out: Can the CFAA Impose Liability on Employees who Misuse Employer Data?

by Susanna Griffith*

Can an employee who has accessed computer database information in violation of use restrictions and direct instructions from his employer be convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for accessing data “without authorization” or “exceed[ing] authorized access”? Susanna Griffith (’17) reflects on this question, based on her experience at the 2016 Spong Moot Court Tournament, hosted by William & Mary Law School. Her Contribution discusses the legal landscape and circuit split regarding the applicability of the statute to employees who have violated use restrictions and directives from employers. The Contribution argues that the narrow, code-based view is preferable as the clearly constitutional reading that also comports with standards of excellence in the field of cyber-security.

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