Searches and Seizures Pursuant to Warrant

Searches and Seizures Pursuant to Warrant

Emphasis upon the necessity of warrants places the judgment of an independent magistrate between law enforcement officers and the privacy of citizens, authorizes invasion of that privacy only upon a showing that constitutes probable cause, and limits that invasion by specification of the person to be seized, the place to be searched, and the evidence to be sought.93 While a warrant is issued ex parte, its validity may be contested in a subsequent suppression hearing if incriminating evidence is found and a prosecution is brought.94

Issuance by Neutral Magistrate.—In numerous cases, the Court has referred to the necessity that warrants be issued by a "judicial officer" or a "magistrate."95 "The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. Any assumption that evidence sufficient to support a magistrate's disinterested determination to issue a search warrant will justify the officers in making a search without a warrant would reduce the Amendment to a nullity and leave the people's homes secure only in the discretion of police officers."96 These cases do not mean that only a judge or an official who is a lawyer may issue warrants, but they do stand for two tests of the validity of the power of the issuing party to so act. "He must be neutral and detached, and he must be capable of determining whether probable cause exists for the requested arrest or search."97 The first test cannot be met when the issuing party is himself engaged in law enforcement activities,98 but the Court has not required that an issuing party have that independence of tenure and guarantee of salary which characterizes federal judges.99 And in passing on the second test, the Court has been essentially pragmatic in assessing whether the issuing party possesses the capacity to determine probable cause.100

93 While the exceptions may be different for arrest warrants and search warrants, the requirements for the issuance of the two are the same. Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 112 n.3 (1964). Also, the standards by which the validity of warrants are to be judged are the same, whether federal or state officers are involved. Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963).

94 Most often, in the suppression hearings, the defendant will challenge the sufficiency of the evidence presented to the magistrate to constitute probable cause. Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410 (1969); United States v. Harris, 403 U.S. 573 (1971). He may challenge the veracity of the statements used by the police to procure the warrant and otherwise contest the accuracy of the allegations going to establish probable cause, but the Court has carefully hedged his ability to do so. Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). He may also question the power of the official issuing the warrant, Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 449-53 (1971), or the specificity of the particularity required. Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192 (1927).

95 United States v. Lefkowitz , 285 U.S. 452, 464 (1932); Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 486 (1958); Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 270 (1960); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 356 (1967); United States v. United States District Court , 407 U.S. 297, 321 (1972); United States v. Chadwick , 433 U.S. 1, 9 (1977); Lo-Ji Sales v. New York, 442 U.S. 319, 326 (1979).

96 Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13-14 (1948).

97 Shadwick v. City of Tampa, 407 U.S. 345, 354 (1972).

98 Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 449-51 (1971) (warrant issued by state attorney general who was leading investigation and who as a justice of the peace was authorized to issue warrants); Mancusi v. DeForte, 392 U.S. 364, 370-72 (1968) (subpoena issued by district attorney could not qualify as a valid search warrant); Lo-Ji Sales v. New York, 442 U.S. 319 (1979) (justice of the peace issued open-ended search warrant for obscene materials, accompanied police during its execution, and made probable cause determinations at the scene as to particular items).

99 Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 270-71 (1960) (approving issuance of warrants by United States Commissioners, many of whom were not lawyers and none of whom had any guarantees of tenure and salary); Shadwick v. City of Tampa, 407 U.S. 345 (1972) (approving issuance of arrest warrants for violation of city ordinances by city clerks who were assigned to and supervised by municipal court judges). The Court reserved the question "whether a State may lodge warrant authority in someone entirely outside the sphere of the judicial branch. Many persons may not qualify as the kind of 'public civil officers' we have come to associate with the term 'magistrate.' Had the Tampa clerk been entirely divorced from a judicial position, this case would have presented different considerations." Id. at 352.

100 Id. at 350-54 (placing on defendant the burden of demonstrating that the issuing official lacks capacity to determine probable cause). See also Connally v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 245 (1977) (unsalaried justice of the peace who receives a sum of money for each warrant issued but nothing for reviewing and denying a warrant is not sufficiently detached).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014