Thursday, March 28, 2019
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared yesterday that even if federal agents erred in executing search warrants issued by state Superior Court judges, that did not, in itself, render the searches violative of the Fourth Amendment.
Circuit Judge Paul J. Watford wrote:
“Federal agents may have violated California law when they executed two search warrants issued by state court judges. California law authorizes ‘peace officers’ to execute search warrants, but excludes federal law enforcement officers. This apparent violation of state law, we conclude, does not render the warrants invalid under the Fourth Amendment.”
While disagreeing with District Court Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California that the irregularity warranting suppression of items seized pursuant to warrants signed by Alameda Superior Court judges, Watford declared that suppression was appropriate in connection with one of the warrants—for the search of a cell phone—because it was not supported by probable cause.
While expressing some uncertainty as to whether the state warrants were properly executed by federal officers—at one point, he said “it seems doubtful” that they were—Watford declared there was no Fourth Amendment violation, explaining:
“[T]he identity of the executing officers—federal agents versus peace officers—does not implicate any interest protected by the Fourth Amendment. No greater intrusion upon protected privacy or property interests occurred by virtue of the fact that the searches were conducted by federal agents as opposed to, say, city police officers.”
Warrant Not Void
He went on to say:
“An otherwise properly issued search warrant is not rendered void for Fourth Amendment purposes merely because it was executed by law enforcement officers who lacked warrant-executing authority under state law.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Stonie Carlson was a member of a joint federal-state task force seeking apprehension of fugitives. He applied for search warrants from state judges because the two men he was seeking to locate were the subjects of state arrest warrants.
Watford noted that he could have sought warrants signed by a federal magistrate.
The case is United States v. Artis, 18-10246.
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