New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his team of lawyers from Quinn Emanuel—and several other lawyers and appellees—deserve congratulations. They have achieved, before Judges Cory Ciklin, Robert Gross, and Melanie May of the Fourth District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida, a big win.
It is a victory more significant and better than any that Kraft, his head coach Bill Belichick, or their longtime quarterback Tom Brady (the "Goat," as he is known, for greatest of all time) have achieved on the football field. That includes all six Superbowl wins of Kraft's Patriots. For while football games are win-lose—if the Patriots win, the other team on the football field loses—the legal victory in State of Florida v. Robert Kraft is a win-win. Kraft wins—but so do all Americans, and particularly the residents of Florida. Our Fourth Amendment rights to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures were protected by Kraft. The only losers were overreaching police and prosecutors.
It would have been an easy route for Kraft to do what so many other defendants do in these situations—accept a plea deal for the two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, put the matter rapidly in the past, and move on. Instead, he mounted a legal battle, subjecting himself to extended press coverage of an embarrassing situation and incurring significant legal bills. It was a courageous choice. On a personal level, it converted what seemed like bad news for Kraft into good news. Rather than being known for an alleged squalid encounter in a massage parlor, he now will be known for fighting to generate a principled judicial decision that will help to protect civil liberties. He has set an example for other defendants with the personal financial resources to stand up and challenge abuses by police, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials who overstep the bounds of the law.
As Judge Ciklin's opinion makes clear, these Fourth Amendment questions are "of great public importance." The opinion states, correctly, that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches "protects individual privacy against certain types of government intrusion."
The court's opinion recounts what it calls "egregious" and "unacceptable" behavior by the Vero Beach police. Those police recorded video inside a spa for 60 days. As the opinion puts it, "There was no suggestion or probable cause to believe that female spa clients were receiving sexual services, yet law enforcement largely failed to take the most reasonable, basic, and obvious minimization technique, which was simply to not monitor or record female spa clients." The opinion goes on to say that "Other innocent spa clients may have been recorded nude – or partially undressed – on those days. Those innocent clients potentially live with the knowledge that nude videos of themselves are preserved on a server somewhere with unknown accessibility. In our ever increasingly digital world filled with hackers and the like, such awareness renders the surveillance a particularly severe infringement on privacy."
The purpose of the exclusionary rule, barring the use of improperly obtained evidence, "is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations," the opinion says. A footnote explains that the state of Florida's alternative suggestion that innocent spa clients pursue a civil lawsuit "is impractical and would not serve to meaningfully deter future violations." Write the judges, "Were we to accept this argument, police in future cases could blatantly violate the privacy rights and Fourth Amendment protections of citizens and the only consequence would be the risk of future civil lawsuits that most citizens would not have the wherewithal to pursue."
The judges concluded by describing the video surveillance that police and prosecutors in three separate Florida jurisdictions used in these cases as "extreme." Allowing it, they said, "would yield unbridled discretion to agents of law enforcement and the government, the antithesis of the constitutional liberty of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures."
Robert Kraft has been known as a Patriot since his family bought the team in 1994. Never, though, has he earned the appellation more thoroughly than this week, when he won a legal victory defending constitutional liberty against government despotism.