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Virginia federal judge rules terrorist watchlist unconstitutional

| Sep 10, 2019 | Criminal Defense

A federal judge in Virginia ruled on Sept. 4 that the government’s terrorist watchlist violates the constitutional rights of the more than 1 million people who have been placed on it. The case challenging the watchlist was brought by more than 20 Muslim-Americans and argued before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs are being supported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The plaintiffs, who deny any connection to terrorist activity, convinced the judge that the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not take adequate steps to protect the innocent before adding an individual’s name to the government’s list of known or suspected terrorists. The judge has asked for additional briefs to help determine appropriate remedies. Incidents recounted by the plaintiffs included being subjected to additional screening at airports and placed in handcuffs at border crossings. The judge determined that the plaintiffs had been denied the right to due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

The Terrorist Screening Database is maintained by the FBI and shared with agencies including U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Officials have recently admitted that more than 500 nongovernmental entities also have access to the list. These private entities include railroads, university police forces and animal welfare organizations. The list has more than doubled in size since 2013 and now includes at least 1.16 million names.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have the charges against their clients dismissed when rights protected by the U.S. Constitution appear to have been violated. These arguments are commonly made when key evidence was discovered during illegal searches that violated protections against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Searches may be considered illegal even when a warrant was issued if police exceeded the scope of the warrant or obtained authorization to search based on questionable probable cause.