DOJ's Attempt To Turn 4th Amendment Into A 'Useless Piece Of Paper' Called Out By Justice Sotomayor

from the you-can-have-a-drug-war-or-you-can-have-a-Fourth-Amendment,-but-not-both dept

The Supreme Court's recent track record on the Fourth Amendment has been inconsistent, to say the least. For every win -- like the warrant requirement for cellphone searches incident to arrest (Riley v. California) -- there's been a loss -- the court's granting of permanent forgiveness for officers who predicate stops on nonexistent laws (Heien v. North Carolina), as long as the mistake is determined to be "objectively reasonable."

The oral arguments in Rodriguez v. United States [pdf link] deal with another attempted expansion of law enforcement powers at the expense of the Fourth Amendment. Here's a the backstory, as summarized by Evan Bernick of HuffPo (and the Institute for Justice):

On March 27, 2012, Nebraska police officer Morgan Struble stopped Dennys Rodriguez for swerving once towards the shoulder of the road. After questioning Rodriguez and issuing him a written warning, Struble asked permission to walk his drug-sniffing dog around the outside of Rodriguez's vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble made him exit the vehicle and wait for backup to arrive. Roughly eight minutes later, a second officer showed up, and Struble led his dog around the car. The dog gave an "alert" for illegal drugs, and a subsequent search turned up a bag of methamphetamine.
A previous decision by the Supreme Court (Illinois v. Caballes) concluded that the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a regular traffic stop was not a Fourth Amendment violation, provided the stop was not prolonged past the point of "completing that mission [the traffic stop]." Prolonged stops have been argued before, but in this particular case, there was no question that the "mission" had been "completed." It was only after the officer told Rodriguez he would let him off with warning that he brought up the subject of searching the vehicle.

The DOJ's lawyer, Ginger Anders, argued that officers should have some leeway in determining the "sequence of the stop." Applied to this situation, the DOJ is basically arguing that a cop can tell you you're free to go and then ask you to wait while he brings in a drug dog to search your vehicle. Anders' theory is that this contradictory sequence still respects the Fourth Amendment so long as the length of the stop doesn't exceed the nebulous standard of "routine time needed."

It's this slippery "routine time" that most of the argument is focused on. Both sides attempted to determine where that lies exactly on the space-time continuum, but Rodriguez's lawyer (reasonably) pointed out that the key issue should be the "completion of the mission," not the amount of time it takes to reach that point.

This attempt to reduce the Fourth Amendment to a specific number of minute-hand movement reaches its simultaneous zenith/nadir during this exchange with the DOJ's lawyer.
JUSTICE BREYER: Okay. But that's where ­­ I thought that position that I've tried to -- ­­let me state it more clearly, I think. It is unlawful to have the dog sniff where the dog sniff unreasonably prolongs the stop, is that -- ­does --­­ is that okay if I write with the government -- ­­ if I write those words in an opinion?

MS. ANDERS: That's right. But we don't think that a dog sniff performed right after the ticket per se unreasonably prolongs the stop. And if I could give you a hypothetical that ­­--

JUSTICE BREYER: Ah. Well, how ­ if the ticket­writing is over and there is nothing else to do and the policeman says, hey, this is over, at that point has it not unreasonably prolonged the stop if the sniff takes place afterwards?

MS. ANDERS: I don't think so. I mean, just imagine ­­--

JUSTICE BREYER: Because?

JUSTICE SCALIA: Because that takes only two minutes and that's not unreasonable, right?

MS. ANDERS: That's right. And it doesn't take into account how he stops ­­--

JUSTICE SCALIA: Big deal. The dog walks around the car for two minutes. That's ­­--

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It's only a violation of the Fourth Amendment for two minutes, right?

(Laughter.)
Presumably, Scalia was being facetious. But the underlying thrust of the government's position is clear: it wants the leeway to perform extraneous searches so long as it can fit it in under a vague time limit determined by an even vaguer "reasonable standard."

And if that's not feasible because the 2005 Caballes decision theoretically limits stops to a "reasonable" length of time, the government proposes another solution: just stick a K-9 in every cop car. Justice Sotomayor steps up to shut down this line of thinking.
MS. ANDERS: So the hypothetical that I propose is that if you imagine you have two officers conducting a stop and the first officer is explaining the ticket and what's happening with the ticket to the person, to the driver. While he's doing that, the second officer is performing the dog sniff around the car. If the officer who's explaining the ticket ends first and the dog sniff takes another 30 seconds, I don't think there's any reason to say that that stop, which maybe lasted a total of ten minutes has -- has gone on for longer than reasonably required to complete the traffic ticket.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, I have a ­­-- I have a real fundamental question, because this line drawing is only here because we've now created a Fourth Amendment entitlement to search for drugs by using dogs, whenever anybody's stopped. Because that's what you're proposing. And is that really what the Fourth Amendment should permit?

MS. ANDERS: I don't think it's an entitlement, Justice Sotomayor. I think once the Court said in Caballes that ­-- that it is permissible in some circumstances to perform a dog sniff during a traffic stop, then ­­--

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, in some circumstances. So why don't ­-- why don't we keep it cabined to Caballes, which is when it's being done simultaneous with writing the ticket. If it's not, then it's unlawful.

MS. ANDERS: Well, because that leads to arbitrary results as I was explaining with Justice Breyer, I think in that hypothetical ­­--

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: It's not arbitrary. The Fourth Amendment is arbitrary by its nature. It says you can't search unless you have probable cause to search.
Later on, as this particular angle is argued further, Sotomayor comes down even more harshly on the government's assertions, noting that what it's attempting to do is grant itself more power at the expense of citizens' rights.
But the way Justice Breyer has said this -- what he's saying is you can't unreasonably prolong. You can't hold a person any -- any measurable time that would allow to get the dog. And, yes, it has to do with the resources of the police department, but we can't keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement. Particularly when this stop is not -- is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It's purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.
This appears to be the DOJ's goal, if its arguments in this case -- and previous cases like Riley -- are to be believed. In its eyes, the Fourth Amendment is something that should be subject to law enforcement's needs and wants, rather than something to be respected and complied with.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, dogs, doj, law enforcement, police, searches, sonia sotomayor, supreme court


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:57am

    Grossly understating it

    This appears to be the DOJ's goal, if its arguments in this case -- and previous cases like Riley -- are to be believed. In its eyes, the Fourth Amendment is something that should be subject to law enforcement's needs and wants, rather than something to be respected and complied with.

    If the DOJ, and almost the entire rest of the government had it's way, the Fourth Amendment, along with all those other pesky 'rights' wouldn't be 'subject to law enforcement's needs and wants', or the 'needs and wants' of any other government agency, they would cease to exist.

    As they have made abundantly clear these last few years, and even beyond, they consider anything that impedes their desires as obstacles to be eliminated or bypassed, no matter what those 'obstacles' may be.

    I dearly hope sanity prevails in the end of this case, the Fourth Amendment, as well as several of the other supposed rights(now more privilege than right) of the people have already been shot full of enough holes, they certainly don't need more added.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:12am

      Re: Grossly understating it

      If the DOJ, and almost the entire rest of the government had it's way, the Fourth Amendment, along with all those other pesky 'rights' wouldn't be 'subject to law enforcement's needs and wants', or the 'needs and wants' of any other government agency, they would cease to exist.

      Well, yes. We just had somebody from the DOJ moan, in repetition of what we heard from NSA and FBI and whoelse, that encryption creates a zone of lawlessness.

      And that is what all the provisions in the Bill of Rights do: they explicitly carve out zones of lawlessness, areas of civil rights that the law may not mess with, no matter how much it wants to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re: Grossly understating it

        Which is utterly incorrect of such moral cowards to say. They do not get to decide, via arbitrary means, what the order of s top and search is. That should be not only clearly outlined, but should have severe penalties for failure to adhere to it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 5:40pm

        Re: Re: Grossly understating it

        And that is what all the provisions in the Bill of Rights do: they explicitly carve out zones of lawlessness, areas of civil rights that the law may not mess with, no matter how much it wants to.

        I think it's abundantly clear that the gov't considers all those constitutional protections are anachronisms. In 1776, okay, but nowadays, no way! Bad guys! Terrorists! Kiddie fiddlers! Chaos!

        Not to mention prosecutors' chances of being re-elected, FFS!1!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Pragmatic, 30 Jan 2015 @ 5:32am

          Re: Re: Re: Grossly understating it

          I'm not sure that prosecutors ought to be elected to office. Can anyone provide an argument in favor of it?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:31pm

      Re: Grossly understating it

      As long as they keep everyone focused on the case law and not contrast it with the actual rights they are trampling, they consider everyone fair game. Even if you are doing literally everything required by law, they will make up conspiracy to commit charges. With seizures and the long drawn out options available, they never even have to convict you. You eventually cave and plead to a lesser charge just to start rebuilding your life. Our founding fathers would be 100% against the current government that claims to operate in their name.

      Just a reminder, none of the rights listed in the bill of rights can be removed short of a constitutional amendment.

      "in·al·ien·a·ble
      inˈālēənəb(ə)l/
      adjective
      unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 8:29pm

        Say I have a gun and you don't...

        ...then I can stop you from exercising your rights anytime I want.

        If they're inalienable then that means you'll exercise them when I'm not looking no matter how much I threaten you. Only then by shooting you dead can I end that.

        In the meantime, the agencies of the US that are supposed to be enforcing the bill of rights have chosen to not. While their ability to quash our rights ends with their ability to detect and intercept, within similar confines is their ability to enforce our rights.

        That's how neo-pagans, gays and blacks still get differentiated in communities despite laws that say that sort of thing is unlawful.

        So, no, our constitution, and all our laws, are only as good as those (rapidly dying) good-faith efforts to enforce them and make sure everyone gets their due.

        Outside that the natural order (will to power) rules.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 8:07am

    *Slow clap*

    I like how Sotomayor and other Justices simply start interrupting the Govt representative and outright make cordial fun of the ideas. And as harsh as Sotomayor may seem when he drops the 'useless piece of paper' bomb he's right and I'd say he could be much, much harsher. The Government is trying to destroy the Constitution at every turn and in my view no amount of harsh is enough now. In fact they should be delivering much harsher sentences against the Executive. Hopefully this is the beginning of a series of decisions that will rein the Govt in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 9:47am

    I suspect that the cop was either profiling motorists or may have already known who this guy was, and was just looking for a reason (real or imagined) to pull him over and bust him for drugs.

    Police could also just walk sniffer dogs past cars stopped at red lights, (presumably) no warrant needed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 9:50am

      Re:

      Don't forget the whole DEA tracking system and parallel construction. It all goes back to the rights that we imagine still to be applicable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:01am

      Re:

      Also since when is searching with a non verbal drug dog, not a search? I wouldn't mind so much if the dogs had some kind of public certification and could get kicked out of the program for too high of a false alarm.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Actually, that's a very good idea. using the dog as an expert should be predicated on its success rate (! In the real world, not structured tests !!) So along with each justification of the dog's use should be the justification that the dog is a reliable indicator of success. (I.e. what - 80% success? 90%? Dog that fails to measure up cannot be a justification for a physical search.)

        My impression of Roberts has gone up a notch. This guy's no knee-jerk Scalia moron.

        But the whole question, of course, is what is allowed? Is the aura you give off sufficiently public (if a trained dog can smell it) to be the equivalent of "plain sight"? Is your location information broadcast to cell towers the same as publicly shared? Should Doppler radar, able to see through wall, mean that police don't need a warrant to see what's happening in a house?

        At what point does the level of tech used slip from the equivalent of "plain sight" to "intrusive"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:36pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "At what point does the level of tech used slip from the equivalent of "plain sight" to "intrusive"?"

          As soon as it is applied to the police or government as far as I can tell.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 5:54pm

      Re:

      I suspect that the cop was either profiling motorists or may have already known who this guy was, and was just looking for a reason (real or imagined) to pull him over and bust him for drugs.

      Or, the cops just want to, as SOP, search anyone and everyone, "probable cause" be damned, because they *might* manage to bust someone if they search everyone. Shades of NSA haystacking.

      It is a useless piece of paper. Get used to it. This'll only get worse. You don't live in a country in which gov't is constrained by constitutional rights anymore. You live in a fascist dictatorship. Enjoy what freedom you have before it's taken away from you, which it will be.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 9:53am

    What did the 'J' stand for again in 'DOJ'?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    AMJAD (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 9:59am

    fun

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:15am

    Bah

    There should be NO search without probable cause. The supremes' should revert back to the plain language of the Fourth Ammendment:

    Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


    Oh, and the dogs have been shown to react to their handler, rather than drugs or explosives often enough to be highly questionable.

    If probable cause arises during a traffic stop, then the cop should apply for a warrant over his radio, and if the probable cause cited does not achieve that warrant, then the cop should be sanctioned. Which brings up supposed exigent circumstances, which needs a much better definition, with the rights of an individual severely outweighing the cops supposed need to perform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:50am

      Re: Bah

      They have drank the "unreasonable searches and seizures" cool-aid to mean "as long as someone thinks it's reasonable" to justify not having a warrant.

      The problem the majority of lay and those in power do not understand that the 4th declares what is reasonable... and this is a muthapupping WARRANT!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:18pm

      Re: Bah

      As I said upthread - a dog's "assertion" that drugs are present should be accompanied by a record of proof - in the real world, not tests - of how well the dog performed, in a blind real world situation where the handler and the rest of the police did not know what the truth was.

      (some friend back in the 70's recount the time they were returning to Canada from New York. 20 or 30 miles form the border, they realize they have a nice-sized bag of weed in the car and decide to "dispose" of it rather than risk crossing the border with it. After a lazy afternoon parked on a side road smoking their weed in a closed car, they have none left and they are stopped at the border. The customs people have them in the office while a drug-sniffing dog is checking their car.

      The customs guy is saying "you might as well tell us where you hid the drugs, our dog will find them pretty soon." Meanwhile he says, you can see the dog through the office window, inside the car and just going nuts bouncing and shaking his head all around the interior while the handler encourages him to point to drugs.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 29 Jan 2015 @ 1:21am

      Re: Bah

      If probable cause arises during a traffic stop,

      But if it didn't? If it arose because you stingrayed into the conversation with the dealer while doing unconstitutional observation, and then used illegal databases for matching mobile number and license plate?

      I mean, you just know that the guy is transporting bad stuff, and all you need is to come up with some "probable cause". If kicking a trained dog is all it takes, why wouldn't you do that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:16am

    Anyone have some spare time?

    John Oliver's Dog SC base footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tug71xZL7yc

    Rodriguez v. US audio: http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio.aspx

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:34am

    Government just hates it when 4th Amendment law is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Cache1989, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:53am

    Free Retail Diablo III
    http://diablo.cachemag.net/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TruthHurts (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:01am

    New Business Opportunity...

    Vehicular mounted pepper spray deployment device.

    When you are in your car, and you are stopped, just press this button and an aerosol mist of pepper spray is deployed completely around your vehicle after automatically rolling up your windows. The time to deploy the spray is prior to the officer exiting their police vehicle, so that the entire time they are working on the ticket, they are breathing the fumes.

    Win Win and you can sue the police officer on the grounds of animal cruelty if they attempt to force the dog to try and sniff through the pepper spray anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:38pm

      Re: New Business Opportunity...

      When you are in your car, and you are stopped, just press this button and an aerosol mist of pepper spray is deployed completely around your vehicle after automatically rolling up your windows. The time to deploy the spray is prior to the officer exiting their police vehicle, so that the entire time they are working on the ticket, they are breathing the fumes.

      And then you will be arrested and charged with assaulting the officer.

      You might get away with spraying the entire outside of your car with Liquid Ass (novelty spray that literally smells like crap). For extra fun, spray yourself with it before the officer comes up to your car. Sure, you'll suffer too, but you can be sure he'll want to spend as little time around you as possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 29 Jan 2015 @ 1:22am

        Re: Re: New Business Opportunity...

        And then you will be arrested and charged with assaulting the officer.

        Arrested and assaulted by the officer anyway.

        As it is, with each new news cycle we're running out of reasons to cooperate with the police except when forced to do so.

        And it's not like law enforcement has the moral high ground of legitimacy anymore when the DoJ has decided that they can enforce the laws they believe exist, rather than the laws as they have been written.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:06am

    The petitioner was way unprepared

    When you go to the supreme court, you should understand that the court has an interest in establishing rules that can be re-used in courts throughout the nation. Your particular case is of secondary importance. The justices were begging this guy to propose some serious guidelines for them and he had nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:23pm

      Re: The petitioner was way unprepared

      Your particular case is of secondary importance.
      The judicial power of the United States, under Article III, extends to cases and controversies.

      While it may be fashionable to view the Supreme Court as trumping both the Article I and article II branches by virtue of having in its own right as many Roman numerals as those other two branches put together, that arithmetic does not endow the court with super-legislative power.

      Ultimately, the justices are charged with deciding the case before them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:28pm

    Well, at least Scalia's epic douchebaggery is consistent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:11pm

    The way they govern the country, the whole constitution is a useless scrap of paper in the eyes of the elected American officials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:35pm

    Trained sniffer dogs versus heat imaging?

    If it is not legal for the police to image a house using thermal imaging because this isn't something that ordinary people can do, how is using a sniffer dog legal? Surely ordinary people don't have access to a trained and certified sniffer dog?

    Of course, we all know that "sniffer dog alerted" is code for "policeman ordered dog to alert".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:56pm

    Guilt-o-meters

    You know, folks, I already mentioned that I sell guilt-o-meters that can provide probable cause without having to poop sometimes. Really, they run on a nine-volt battery.

    If a dog-sniff constitutes a search, then probable cause has to be established beforehand.

    If a dog-sniff does not consitute a search then it is a means to establish probable cause (and the officer's expertise determines whether the dog effectively signals. There's no obvious dog alert that isn't subject to officer interpretation.

    So this is going to end one of two ways. Either:

    ~a. We're going to get tired of police abuse of dogs to justify probable cause, and sniffs without warrants will become an illegal search, or...

    ~b. The precincts are going to cut to the chase and buy my guilt-o-meters, which never fails to detect a guilty suspect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 3:09pm

    Cuba looks better everyday, and it is only 90 or so miles off the coast. At least then I could get a decent cigar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Roland, 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:25pm

    clever hans

    The whole idea of using "drug-sniffing dogs" is ridiculous. The dog "indicated" something, but we'll never know what, because it won't testify, even under subpoena.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans
    is a case of a horse that could allegedly count. It was a sham. Yet the courts are apparently willing to discard the 4th Amendment based solely on the behavior of a dog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 9:05pm

      Re: clever hans

      Honestly all of their common methods of removing rights need to have cause and effect for their use and subsequent failure to have been correct. A cop needs to swear on penalty of loss of job if incorrect too often. How often is too often? Good question. Rights of the ruled seem far less important when they don't apply to you. Maybe they should lose their rights for x years if they violate ours with the extra ones they are entrusted with... No wait their unions will override the good of the many for their own self serving interests. History is better than hindsight, but we refuse to admit we are England this time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dogmatix, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:20pm

    4th Amendment.

    The court is missing the point of the 4th amendment. If the determination of what is reasonable is left to the police officer, then any and every search is reasonable, whenever, wherever, and however it is performed; and the 4th amendment is meaningless.
    The purpose of the 4th amendment was to make searches difficult, and to keep them from being performed at the whim of some government official.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:40pm

    We need to perfect cloning technology and make eight more copies of Justice Sotomayor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2015 @ 2:27am

    B...but... they found a b...bag of m...meth!
    Yes! That's it! That justifies the whole thing.
    If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear!
    :P (yes, i'm being sarcastic)

    People do realize that cops have been caught planting weed and meth in teen's cars on traffic stop searches more than once right ?

    If you really (and I mean REALLY) suspect something, just follow the damn procedure!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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