Supreme Court declines to hear wrongly accused man's Patriot Act challenge

A Muslim American who was wrongly accused of involvement in a terror attack challenged a Patriot Act change to FISA as violating the Fourth Amendment. A federal judge agreed.

A Muslim American from Oregon who was wrongly accused of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombing has lost his bid to have part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act declared unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up Brandon Mayfield’s challenge to FISA provisions adopted under the Patriot Act that allowed the government to bypass the usual constitutional safeguards and authorize surveillance and covert searches of his home and office. A federal court judge had agreed with Mr. Mayfield’s claim.

Mayfield, a lawyer in Portland and a US military veteran, was subjected to an extensive counterterrorism operation after FBI experts matched a Mayfield fingerprint in the FBI database with a single print found on a bag containing detonators near the Madrid terror attack site.

Federal authorities planted listening devices in his office, throughout his house – including in his bedroom – and tapped his phones. He and his family were kept under surveillance. Agents conducted “sneak and peak” searches, entering the home when the family was away. The agents were so clumsy the family thought they had been burglarized.

Eventually, Mayfield was arrested as a material witness and imprisoned for two weeks although authorities did not possess the requisite probable cause to believe he’d committed a crime.

Spanish authorities expressed doubt about the FBI’s fingerprint match. They were investigating North Africans as possible suspects in the train bombing, and Mayfield had no connection to Spain or North Africa.

Mayfield was released after the Spanish National Police matched the latent fingerprint to an Algerian man, Daoud Ouhnane. He remains a fugitive.

Mayfield’s fingerprints were in the government’s database because he had served in the US armed forces. Other than the fingerprint, there was nothing suggesting Mayfield’s involvement in the bombing or terrorism. But he did share one characteristic with the bombers. He was a Muslim. Mayfield was also an outspoken critic of Bush administration policies.

After his release, the US government issued a rare apology to Mayfield and his family, and paid a $2 million settlement. Under the agreement, Mayfield dropped his lawsuit against the government, except for the portion of his claim that challenged the constitutionality of two provisions of FISA.

Mayfield charged that the provisions, allowing electronic surveillance and authorizing physical searches, violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

A federal judge agreed with Mayfield that the provisions violate the Fourth Amendment requirement of probable cause. An appeals court panel reversed, ruling that Mayfield’s settlement with the government had resolved his case and that he no longer had legal standing to challenge the alleged Fourth Amendment violation.

The appeals court did not examine the Fourth Amendment issue.

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