Narcotics Team 'Loses' $294,000 In Seized Cash Because It Omitted The Location To Be Searched From Its Search Warrant
from the [LOCATION-TK]-[INSERT-FACTS-AND-SUCH] dept
Mississippi drug warriors had their eye on nearly $300,000 in “forfeited” funds but threw it all away by issuing one of the most deficient search warrants ever. It’s not that it was loaded with errors or questionable probable cause assertions. It’s that it omitted perhaps the single most important element of a search warrant — the location being searched.
Appellant Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (hereinafter “the State”) had a search warrant signed and executed at the home of Bobby Ray Canada and Beverly Turman. Section one of the search warrant, denoting the location for the search to be executed, was completely blank. The State collected, among other things, $293,720 from the home, and the State then filed a civil forfeiture action. Canada and Turman filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that the search warrant was blank and void, and therefore, the search violated their Fourth Amendment Rights. The trial judge granted the summary judgment motion. The State appealed. We hold the summary judgment motion to be well taken and affirm.
The State didn’t deny that its officer had served a warrant with a blank space where the location to be searched should have been. But it claimed it had supporting documentation that made this omission irrelevant.
The State responded, arguing that the proceedings should be stayed because the affidavit and the underlying facts and circumstances sheet, listing the location of the search, were sealed by the State for other investigations, and they were needed to show the validity of the search warrant in the instant case. The State alleged that Judge Brown had seen and signed the affidavit and the underlying facts and circumstances sheet when he signed the search warrant. After the search warrant was signed – but before the search warrant was executed – both documents were sealed.
So the State briefly unsealed the documents to show the trial judge that, yes, the warrant was clearly and significantly deficient, but look, we wrote down the location in other places. The trial judge remained unimpressed by the officer’s inability to fill out a search warrant properly. Summary judgement was granted and the State appealed, arguing that the warrant was still valid (really?) and even if it wasn’t, the “good faith” exception applied.
The State’s argument hinges on the incorporation of the affidavit and the underlying facts and circumstances sheet. Yet the record before the Court contains neither the affidavit nor the underlying facts and circumstances sheet. In effect, the State has asked us to make a ruling on something that has not even been presented to us.
Despite the State’s failure to produce these documents, the appeals court still entertained the government’s argument. Even while pretending to have the relevant information in front of it, the court still found the government’s arguments weak and unappealing.
Based on a plain reading of both the Mississippi and United States Constitutions, the State’s case fails; the warrant is void and unenforceable on its face. 5 ¶11. Further, in Miller v. State, 93 So. 2 (Miss. 1922), the Court faced a similar issue where one section of a search warrant was completely blank. In Miller, the search warrant was blank as to the name of the person to be searched and the place to be searched at the time of its execution. Id. at 2. After the warrant was executed, the proper person and place was filled in on the warrant. The Court held that “[a] blank warrant or a blank affidavit amounts to nothing.”
As to the so-called “technical error” that resulted in the lack of a very important search warrant element, the court finds that the very malleable “good faith” exception cannot be stretched to cover this omission.
A warrant with a blank section cannot even rise to the level of “failing to particularize” a place. It is clearly, facially defective, and the whole premise of the good faith exception would be negated if we were to find the exception applies. Thus, we hold that the good faith exception does not apply, and the instant issue is, therefore, moot.
The Fourth Amendment wasn’t erected to be an irritant to law enforcement and a criminal’s best friend. It was put in place to protect citizens from government officials and employees who hold vastly more power than those whose lives they intrude on in the course of their duties. Walking around with a warrant that doesn’t specify where or what is to be searched is no better than simply demanding random homeowners open their doors and allow the police to root around in their belongings. That’s simply not allowed. If the government wants to breach the privacy of someone’s house, it needs the proper paperwork. This clearly wasn’t proper and this officer’s omission — although likely not intentional — gave the warrant no more power than a random page torn from a notebook.
In doing so, the State just “lost” nearly $300,000. Given the state of asset forfeiture, it would be clearly erroneous to equate large amounts of cash with guilt, despite our government’s proclivity for doing exactly that. The perverted incentives of asset forfeiture programs may have led to this glaring omission, as the drug task force named in the filing appears to have rushed through filling out its warrant in its haste to crack open a private residence and avail itself of the sweet, sweet cash it expected to find waiting inside.