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FBI terrorist watchlist ruled unconstitutional by federal judge

September 9, 2019 – David W. Foley – Criminal Defense

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Lawyers in Colorado and around the country have been paying close attention to a lawsuit brought by a group of Muslim-Americans against the federal government. The plaintiffs say that they have faced difficulties when traveling and have even been placed in handcuffs because their names have been added to the government’s terrorist watch list, and a federal judge ruled on Sept. 4 that they had been denied rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

The ruling provides summary judgement to about two dozen plaintiffs who are backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The judge will study legal briefs before determining what remedies are appropriate. The case was argued in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The ruling is likely to lead to greater scrutiny of how the Federal Bureau of Investigation curates and maintains the Terrorist Screening Database.

The list contains the names of approximately 1.16 million individuals who have been identified as known or suspected terrorists by the federal government. The plaintiffs in the case strongly deny any links to terrorism or terrorist groups. The list has grown substantially in recent years and is shared with government agencies and at least 500 private entities such as university police departments, railroads and hospitals. In 2013, the list contained fewer than 700,000 names. Critics of the watch list claim that it has done little to combat terrorism. They also point out that the names of the perpetrators of several recent terrorist attacks were either not on the list or had been removed from it.

The courts take rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution extremely seriously, and experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have charges dropped and cases dismissed when the facts suggest that they may have been violated. Such arguments are often made when police officers infringe on protections against unreasonable search and seizure by searching suspects or their homes or automobiles without sufficient probable cause or a search warrant.

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