CINCINNATI – The ACLU of Ohio recently filed an amicus brief with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of USA v. Damra. In the brief, the ACLU of Ohio assails the Government’s use of anti-civil liberties provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in prosecuting the defendant.

Much of the evidence against the defendant, Damra, was derived from warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as modified by the USA PATRIOT Act. One of the problems with FISA warrants is the deep secrecy in which they are shrouded. In particular, it is impossible for counsel to see the underlying documents which provide the basis for issuing a warrant. As a consequence, counsel cannot meaningfully present an argument to the court that the warrant was issued without probable cause and, therefore, violated the Fourth Amendment. The inability to raise meaningful Fourth Amendment arguments deprives a defendant of the right to due process and fair trial and the right to present a defense as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The ACLU has opposed the anti-civil liberties measures of the USA PATRIOT Act since its passage in 2001 but this is the first time the ACLU of Ohio has challenged any of its provisions in court.

FISA was passed in 1978 to create a separate legal regime for foreign intelligence purposes. The act – amended several times since its passage – gives federal law enforcement officials the capacity to perpetrate wiretaps, physical investigations, and records searches using warrants obtained in secret. The USA PATRIOT Act vastly expanded these powers to any investigation deemed to pertain to “terrorism” as is loosely defined in the act.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “It is disturbing that the United States Government would use such methods to carry out any investigation. The USA PATRIOT Act is a major blow to some of our most deeply cherished freedoms such as the right to due process.”

The nonprofit, nonpartisan ACLU of Ohio is a state affiliate of the national ACLU. Funded entirely through charitable gifts and membership dues, the ACLU defends individual rights through litigation, lobbying, and educational initiatives. The ACLU of Ohio has a staff office in Cleveland and community and campus chapters located in every region of Ohio. There are more than 18,000 ACLU members and supporters in Ohio and over 400,000 nationwide.