No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Back of Police Van

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By Alisa Johnson

Criminal suspects whose conversations were secretly recorded as they rode in the back of a police van had no reasonable expectation of privacy, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held Feb. 17 ( United States v. Paxton , 2017 BL 48962, 7th Cir., 14- 2913, 2/17/17 ).

It’s already established in law there is no expectation of privacy in a marked police cruiser, according to an opinion written by Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, and the appeals court made no exception for the van carrying five men charged with robbery and drug-related crimes in Chicago.

The two are similar to mobile jail cells, where there are no privacy expectations, the court noted.

The recordings, captured by audio and visual devices hidden in the van, did not violate the suspects’ Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search through government intrusion of their privacy, the appeals court said.

The decision reversed a district court ruling that suppressed the taped conversations.

The lower court held that the characteristics of the van, with the its solid steel compartments and double plexiglass windows separating the driver and front-seat passenger from the others, afforded the suspects a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The appeals court also pointed to heightened public scrutiny of law enforcement actions stemming from the deaths of suspects in custody as a reason to expect surveillance in any police vehicle.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office represented the government. The Law Office of Standish E. Willis, Law Offices of J. Clifford Greene Jr., Law Office of Thomas C. Brandstrader, Beals Law Firm and Office of The Federal Defender Program represented the defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at

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