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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 30, 2003

Law Professor Pens Brief In Important Supreme Court Case

University of Iowa Professor of Law James Tomkovicz will be involved in the next U.S. Supreme Court term that starts when the justices return on the traditional first Monday in October.

Tomkovicz has submitted an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in the case of United States v. Patane, advocating that a police officer's failure to comply with Miranda v. Arizona by not reading a suspect his rights tainted the subsequent discovery of a gun in Patane's home and rendered the weapon inadmissible at trial. The case is being closely watched by law enforcement groups and defense attorneys because the high court's decision could have a far-reaching effect on how police question suspects and collect evidence.

"It's somewhat surprising that in the nearly 40 years since the Miranda ruling, the Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on this issue," Tomkovicz said of the Patane case's importance. "Because the situation arises with some frequency, the court's resolution is likely to have significant impact on law enforcement and on the rights of those suspected of crime."

Tomkovicz was enlisted to write the brief by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He specializes in both criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure and has written widely in those fields. His book, "The Right to the Assistance of Counsel: A Reference Guide to the U.S. Constitution," was recently published.

This is the fourth Supreme Court case in which Tomkovicz has authored and filed a friend of the court brief. Two terms ago, he supported the prevailing side in Kyllo v. United States, a case that led to the ruling that law enforcement use of a thermal imager on a private home is a search. He was involved earlier in an Iowa case that reached the high court. In Knowles v. Iowa, the court ruled that officers do not have the authority to search a vehicle simply because they have cited a driver for a traffic infraction.

The Patane case stems from an incident involving Samuel Francis Patane of Colorado Springs, Colo. Patane was arrested by one officer for violating a restraining order prohibiting contact with his former girlfriend. Another officer, who was investigating allegations that Patane was in illegal possession of a gun, began to deliver Miranda warnings but stopped when Patane said that he knew them. Upon being questioned, Patane admitted that he had a gun in his home. Since Patane had previously been convicted of a felony, he was charged with violating a federal law that prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms.

A federal court of appeals ruled that because the officer failed to complete the Miranda warnings, Patane's incriminating statements as well as the gun itself -- a direct product of the statements -- could not be used in his trial. The United States, which conceded in the lower courts that the officer had violated Miranda's requirement that every suspect be informed of his or her rights, has taken the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that only a suspect's verbal admissions need to be excluded when Miranda is violated. Evidence found as a result of those admissions, according to the government, should never be barred from a trial. Tomkovicz argues that the government's position is contrary to the spirit of the Fifth Amendment and the Miranda doctrine. According to his brief, evidence should be suppressed unless the connection between a Miranda violation and the discovery of evidence is weakened by the passage of time or intervening events. When the connection is close, as in the Patane case, Tomkovicz contends that Miranda requires suppression.

"The constitutional underpinnings of Miranda strongly suggest that not only statements, but closely related evidence found from the statements, must be excluded from the courtroom," Tomkovicz said.

Although a date has not yet been set, oral argument in the case will probably be held in December.

Note to editors: Tomkovicz is available for interviews and analysis on this case. He is a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law during the fall 2003 semester and can be reached by phone at 310-825-5384 or by email at either james-tomkovicz@uiowa.edu or Tomkovicz@law.ucla.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu