Appeals Court Says Address Mistakes On Warrants Are Mostly Harmless, Not Worth Getting Excited About
from the what-even-the-fuck dept
In a case involving a drug bust utilizing a warrant with erroneous information, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had this to say [PDF] about the use of boilerplate language and typographical errors:
Challenges to warrants based on typographical errors or factual inaccuracies typically fall under this Circuit’s clerical error exception. We have consistently found that inadvertent drafting mistakes, for instance transposing a number in a street address or listing an incorrect nearby address, do not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. That is because those errors create little risk of a mistaken search or a general warrant granting police an unconstitutionally broad authority to conduct searches.
The order to search listed the wrong address. Here’s why:
This description at the beginning of the warrant correctly directed officers to Abdalla’s precise New Hope Road address in DeKalb County. But the warrant’s final paragraph “commanded” officers “to search the . . . premises located at 245 Carey Road, Hartsville, Trousdale Tennessee.” (R. 20-1, Search Warrant, Page ID # 59.) Agent Gooch testified that the Carey Road address came from using a previous warrant as a template. Although Judge Patterson had jurisdiction over Abdalla’s residence in DeKalb County, he lacked jurisdiction in Trousdale County, which encompassed the Carey Road property listed on the warrant’s final page.
The court says this is harmless. Rather than suppress evidence in hopes that cops won’t just copy-paste “sworn statements” before running them by a judge, the Appeals Court says this creates “little risk” of “mistaken searches.” Perhaps in this case the risk was minimal. The rest of the warrant correctly described the residence and how to locate it. But to pretend careless warrant crafting rarely results in “mistaken searches” ignores how often it happens — and how often this supposed low-risk “mistake” results in real harm.
“Little risk?” Here’s what’s actually happening in the Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Oak Park, Michigan (November 2019): Police raid the wrong side of a duplex, breaking windows and the front door before realizing their mistake.
Flint, Michigan (October 2014): Troopers go to the wrong house to locate a fugitive, shoot family’s dog in the face.
Detroit, Michigan (May 2017): After conducting a one-day(!) human trafficking investigation, a SWAT teams raids the wrong house, handcuffs everyone present (including two children) before discovering their mistake.
Detroit, Michigan (September 2017): DEA agents raid two(!) wrong addresses. The forty officers(!!) recover no drugs. Search warrants and property receipts left at the properties by the feds were blank, according to this report.
Detroit, MIchigan (April 2017): Police raid wrong house, kill homeowner’s dog.
Nashville, Tennessee (August 2020): Three cops raid wrong house, traumatizing the resident and two young children. Officers predicated the search on housing information that hadn’t been updated since November 2018.
Lebanon, Tennessee (January 2006) – Officers raid wrong house, kill 61-year-old man while his wife is handcuffed in another room.
Louisville, Kentucky (October 2018) – Officers (three of whom shot and killed Breonna Taylor during another botched raid) using outdated information raid a house looking for someone who had moved out four months earlier.
Bowling Green, Kentucky (July 2016) – Police raid the wrong house looking for a Black suspect. Officers handcuff and question the homeowner, who weighs 100 pounds less than the suspect they’re looking for. The interrogated homeowner is also one foot taller than the suspect. He’s also white.
Louisville, Kentucky (January 2020) – Officers enter the wrong house seeking a shooting suspect, handcuffing one of the residents.
Louisville, Kentucky (July 2020) – Cops raid a vacant house looking for a drug suspect who had already been arrested and was in jail. Officers break windows, destroy a door, and handcuff the man hired to paint the interior of the vacant residence.
Cleveland, Ohio (November 2018) – Wrong house raided during a shooting investigation. Cops cause over $8,000 of physical damage to the house and spend an hour interrogating all the residents — some of whom are disabled — before realizing their mistake.
Strongsville, Ohio (May 2010) – A man and his 14-year-old daughter are forced out of their house and made to lay face down on the lawn until officers realize they have the wrong address.
Cleveland, Tennessee (May 2018) – DEA and local cops raid wrong house in search of murder suspect. Flashbangs are deployed into the house despite the presence of young children — something officers should have been able to discern from the number of toys around the front entry of the residence.
This is just a small sampling. And this is just from this circuit, which covers only four of the 50 states. This happens far too frequently for it to be shrugged off by an Appeals Court, even if the facts of the case might lead the court to conclude a mistake in an affidavit doesn’t warrant the suppression of evidence.
The Fourth Amendment places the sanctity of the home above all else. And yet, officers continue to perform searches without performing the due diligence required to support a home invasion. Outdated info, unverified claims by informants, minimal investigative work… it all adds up to situations where rights are violated and residents are recklessly subjected to violence and deadly force.
How bad can it get? Here’s a true horror story that shows just how little law enforcement agencies care about the people they’re supposed to protect and serve:
Embarrassed cops on Thursday cited a “computer glitch” as the reason police targeted the home of an elderly, law-abiding couple more than 50 times in futile hunts for bad guys.
What followed was years of cops appearing at the Martins’ door looking for murderers, robbers and rapists – as often as three times a week.
Every wrong visit to the house was a chance for officers to respond with deadly force to perceived threats. That these residents managed to survive 50+ incidents with cops looking for violent criminals is a miracle. “Mistaken searches” are not an acceptable outcome. Blanket statements like these issued by courts just give cops more reasons to cut corners before banging their way into someone’s home in search of nonexistent criminals or criminal activity.