Suppose a superior court judge issues a search warrant authorizing the search of a suspect’s house for drugs. Officers execute the warrant, find drugs, seize them, and charge the suspect with drug offenses. The charges end up in superior court, where the suspect – now the defendant – moves to suppress, arguing that the search warrant application lacked probable cause and that the judge who issued the warrant erred in doing so. Is it OK for the judge who issued the warrant to hear such a motion? Continue reading
Tag Archives: search warrants
May a Judge Rule on a Motion to Suppress Evidence Seized Under a Search Warrant That He or She Issued?
New Paper on No-Knock Warrants
I recently finished a paper on the law and practice of no-knock warrants in North Carolina. I went with the creative title, The Law and Practice of No-Knock Search Warrants in North Carolina. You can access the paper here. To give you a sense of the contents, here’s a paragraph from the introduction that notes some of the takeaways:
This bulletin takes a deep dive into the law and practice regarding no-knock warrants in North Carolina. Among the conclusions are: (1) there is no explicit authority for North Carolina judicial officials to issue no-knock warrants; (2) judicial officials sometimes issue such warrants anyway; (3) no-knock warrants seem to be very rare; (4) when an application for a no-knock warrant is granted, the resulting warrant does not always include an express judicial determination regarding the need for a no-knock entry or an express judicial authorization of such an entry; and (5) quick-knock entries, where officers knock and announce their presence and then immediately force entry, may be widespread.
Lots of other people made this paper possible, including practicioners who talked about their experiences with me, academics who wrote about this general topic in other jurisdictions, and clerks of court who pointed me in the right direction and let me look through many, many search warrants. My colleagues here at the School of Government provided helpful comments and valuable editing. Others too numerous to mention helped in various ways. I hope that the paper is useful and welcome feedback on it.
Public Access to the Mar-a-Lago Search Warrant (and Other Federal Search Warrants and Related Documents)
Last week, the FBI searched former President Trump’s home at the Mar-a-Lago Club pursuant to a search warrant. At first none of the relevant documents were publicly available. The application, the warrant itself, and the inventory were all sealed. The Government, with the consent of former President Trump, later moved to unseal the warrant and the inventory. That motion was granted and anyone can access the now-public documents here. The application remains under seal, though members of the news media have moved to unseal it. Because several people asked me about public access to federal search warrants and related documents, and because the process isn’t exactly the same as it is under state law, I thought I’d do a post comparing state and federal law on this issue. Continue reading →
Over the past several months, I’ve been dropping by clerks’ offices to look at search warrants. I’ve made it to six offices, including offices in eastern, central, and western North Carolina, and in urban and rural areas. I’ve reviewed and made notes on 279 warrants and have at least skimmed hundreds more. The warrants I’ve reviewed were sought by 38 different agencies for a range of offenses. What follows are a few observations based on what I saw. Continue reading →
Search Warrants for Digital Devices and the Requirement that Warrants be Executed within 48 Hours
I’ve had several questions lately about the requirement in G.S. 15A-248 that “[a] search warrant must be executed within 48 hours from the time of issuance.” The specific concern is how this applies to searches of digital devices, which frequently require off-site forensic analysis that may not begin, let alone end, until substantially more than 48 hours after issuance of the warrant. Although we don’t have an appellate case on point in North Carolina, courts in other jurisdictions have held that so long as the initial seizure of the device is timely, the forensic analysis may be conducted later. Continue reading →
When a Person Sells Drugs Away from His or Her Home, Does that Provide Probable Cause to Search the Person’s Home?
The question in the title of this post is an oversimplified version of the issue addressed by the court of appeals last week in State v. Bailey, __ N.C. App. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2019 WL 3925864 (Aug. 20, 2019). But it isn’t oversimplified by much, and the appellate division may be inching closer to answering the question in the affirmative. Continue reading →
WRAL has several stories up about geofencing warrants. One major article is here. It describes a search warrant obtained by the Raleigh Police Department in a murder case. The warrant ordered “Google [to] hand over the locations of every [mobile] device within the confines of [a defined geographic area] during a specified time period.” In a nutshell, the police were trying to figure out who was near the scene of the crime when the murder took place and asked Google to comb its data banks to find out. This post is intended to start a conversation about warrants of this kind. Continue reading →
While preparing to teach a recent class about search warrants for digital devices, I spoke with a number of experts in digital forensics. Each conversation was very helpful. Almost all of them touched on an issue I’d never previously considered: whether search warrants for cell phones do or may include the authority to search connected cloud services. Continue reading →
There have been several recent cases regarding delays in obtaining search warrants for digital devices that have been lawfully seized. For example, in United States v. Pratt, 915 F.3d 266 (4th Cir. 2019), officers seized a suspect’s phone based on the suspect’s admission that it contained nude pictures of an underage girl. The opinion doesn’t say, but I assume that the basis of the seizure was risk of destruction of evidence. However, the officers didn’t obtain a search warrant for the phone for 31 days. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the delay was unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It turns out that Pratt isn’t alone. Continue reading →
Search Warrants for Very Minor Offenses
What’s the most inconsequential criminal offense in North Carolina? My personal favorite is sale of immature apples, a Class 3 misdemeanor under G.S. 106-189.2. But take a look at the list of Class 3 misdemeanors compiled by the Sentencing Commission and make your case in the comments.
Whatever your answer, now consider this: could a court properly issue a search warrant if there were probable cause to believe that evidence of a very minor crime was in a person’s home? Suppose that a sheriff’s office receives a report that a vendor is selling immature apples at a farmers’ market. A deputy applies for a search warrant for the home of the vendor in question on the basis that she likely has receipts and other evidence of the crime in her house. May a judicial official issue the warrant? Or are there some offenses that are so minor that the “cure” of the search warrant is worse than the “disease” of allowing the crime to go unpunished? Continue reading →