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http://reason.com/blog/show/120331.html

Supremes to Victims of Wrong House Searches: Deal With It

Radley Balko | May 22, 2007, 8:06am

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the police can break into your home, rouse you from sleep, hold you naked at gunpoint, andâ€"even if you're completely innocentâ€"you have no recourse, so long as the warrant was valid.

It was an 8-1 decision.

"Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost," the justices said in the unsigned opinion. "The resulting frustration, embarrassment and humiliation may be real, as was true here. When officers execute a valid warrant and act in a reasonable manner to protect themselves from harm, however, the 4th Amendment is not violated," the court concluded.

The police apparently didn't know that the suspects they were after no longer lived at the residence, and didn't bother to check to see that the house had been recently purchased by new owners several months earlier. The new owners were white. The suspects the police were looking for were black. And they were wanted not on charges related to violent crime, but for identity fraud.

The Hudson case basically gave police carte blanche to violate the knock-and-announce rule without having to worry about application of the exclusionary rule. This case says that innocent civilians should have to bear the humiliating, terrifying, and possibly dangerous costs of mistakes made by agents of the state. It's a horrible ruling.

This case wasn't a forced-entry raid; the couple's son let the police into the home. But given the wording of the opinion and the 8-1 vote, it will almost certainly encourage city and state governments to fight suits stemming from wrong door raids in the future, instead of settling with victims.

Neither ruling is consistent with a society that allegedly values individual rights, even without the express protections offered by the Fourth Amendment. This ruling in particular evokes Justice Scalia's flp aside in Hudson that the only purpose of requiring the police to give notice is to avoid the harm of "being seen in one's night clothes." That the Supreme Court can continue to issue rulings like this one in spite of the Fourth Amendment shows that the Castle Doctrine, freedom from unreasonable search, and privacy in general are all but dead in this country.

Seems to me, not only should the state not be given immunity, the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur ought to apply in these cases. I can't think of a more unreasonable search than for an innocent couple to be startled from sleep by armed men, then forced to stand naked in front of them while the police rifle through their belongings, trying to figure out if they got the right house. That, by definition, ought to be unreasonable. And the victims should be compensated. Both because they were genuinely harmed, and and as a deterrent to encourage the police to practice due diligence in future searches.
 

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I did considerable reading on this reversal of the 9th Circuit yesterday. Over at Volokh there is an extensive discussion with many comments. My initial reaction to this case is to be angry that innocent people in their bed were rousted by the police and held naked. Upon further reading, the police had a valid warrant for the previous owners of the premises, which had recently been sold. They did not request a nighttime warrant, so thus appeared only after 7:00 am. They did knock and announce, and they waited for the door to be opened. They did not ransack the place, but after they discovered their error they apologized and departed. Their total time in the home was < 15 minutes. The people were naked in bed and were allowed to cover themselves shortly (2-3 minutes). The question here was whether these officers should be held personally financially liable for damages to these folks in a court of law. This conduct bears no resemblance at all to the Johnson story here in Atlanta and many more like it around the country. It was not malicious. Did these officers do everything they could to research change in ownership? No. Their last surveillance was a couple months old. Still, they did it by the book and the court found in their favor. If I were these people, I would be really angry. The way to deal with this one is politically. Show up at every council meeting and tell your story repeatedly until you get some satisfaction. Go the papers and the TV stations. Request meetings with the Chief and record his answers. Stand in front of the residences of the officers holding signs stating your case until they come out and give you satisfaction. Buy a highway billboard (being mindful of libel) and put their pictures on it. This outcome does not give one much satisfaction, but I do believe it was right. If we hold officers personally financially liable every time a good-faith mistake is made or a case doesn't end in conviction, we're not going to have many officers.
 

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#-o

wtf were they thinking?!

Who was the one holdout?
 

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There was no holdout. It was a per curiam opinion on the merits of the legality of the search and did not reach the qualified immunity. Stevens wrote a concurrence, with which Ginsburg joined, that would have overturned the case on qualified immunity, not on the legality of the whole affair. Souter would deny the petition altogether (which I guess one could view as half-hearted dissent). This even came as the reversal of a 2-1 unpublished 9th Circuit opinion. The 9th Circuit is chastised for their failing to make this one published. The Supremes love to slap them around.
 

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lame....I wonder why it was per curiam.
 

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There is a difference between going to the wrong house and going to a house with a valid warrant. There are checks that most agencies use to verify residence, but I can see where they would have missed a house that had just been sold.

It does seem like they would have realized something was up once they got into the house though.
 

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I might be missing some of the point but why did they not have more surveillance a day or two prior to the warrant. Ensure what is going on, be sure they are home not on vacation, have a undercover watch the house the day/night prior. Just seams wrong to have used two month old data for a search later.

Ok we are going to serve this warrant and just go rolling up, no one home the whole neighborhood now knows what is going on and someone is friends will talk, little chance at a good second try then.

Just my :2cents:
 

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I agree with Kkennett.
If the guys were only there 15 minutes & they had the right house and were let in... not much you can do about that. Teach your kid not to let cops in the house (though they had a warrant so I guess they were coming in anyway)
Cops see all kinds of things. Seeing me & John Thomas standing blocking the view of my exposed wife would certainly be embarrassing and would result in me getting tossed to the ground or worse if they wouldn't let her stay wrapped in a sheet but it's not a $6.5 million dollar suit or anything.

I will say that it seems odd that they could have surveillance on a place & decide that someone is committing ID theft from a given location and then discontinue surveillance for a several month long period of time then come back with a warrant and cause this kind of commotion. I'm no leo, trial lawyer or judge. Is that normal? I would think you would keep a place under watch basically until such time as you were ready to move in on the BGs. I might even think some kind of slap to those responsible for the warrant would be in order to encourage them to NOT let that kind of thing happen in the future.
 

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The opinion makes clear that no one challenged, thus they're not ruling on the validity of the warrant, just the legality of the brief detention, albeit naked. The opinion even seems to puzzle at that. Perhaps a challenge on the information in the warrant being stale would have yielded better results, but that is not what the plaintiff's argued. I agree that the lack of recent surveillance could be an issue.

Another thing: The reason they went in guns drawn anyway was because one of the suspects had a registered handgun. They did knock and announce. I question whether warrants served for non-violent crimes like identify theft need to have guns drawn absent any actual threat. At least in GA the lack of any gun registry wouldn't have played out this way.
 

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S&W 40 said:
I might be missing some of the point but why did they not have more surveillance a day or two prior to the warrant. Ensure what is going on, be sure they are home not on vacation, have a undercover watch the house the day/night prior. Just seams wrong to have used two month old data for a search later.

Ok we are going to serve this warrant and just go rolling up, no one home the whole neighborhood now knows what is going on and someone is friends will talk, little chance at a good second try then.

Just my :2cents:
You raise a point that I missed on my first read. I'm shocked that a judge signed a warrant on two-month old information unless there was something current in the investigation.
 

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Re: Supremes to Victims of Wrong House Searches: Deal With I

The new owners were white. The suspects the police were looking for were black.
Now that is scary!
 

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Romans 10:13
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Ramm, have you ever thought of pushing the limits?
 

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I believe Ramm is at/near/past/or just teasing us with the limits. 8)
 

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What are limits for a 20 something getting ready to grad from college???

We don't need no steenking badges


We don't need no steenking limits
 

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I'm shocked that a judge signed a warrant on two-month old information unless there was something current in the investigation.
Ummm a magistrate judge can sign a warrant I believe. The ones I've met are not lawyers and not particularly bright or necessarily skilled at their job. They are politically appointed in GA. There's a big stink in my county right now because ours hired her dad as an assistant magistrate judge without letting the county commision know about the hiring and it really screwed up the budget. Well that and he got fired from his assistant magistrate judgeship by the previous chief magistrate for incompetence.

I guess this makes the forum antijudiciary as well as antiLEO now. :shock:
 

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I've got a question for you...

What if one night your in bed asleep or not...and suddenly you hear your front door knock down...maybe they yell police, maybe not...what would be your reaction? Engage targets or go face down?

With the actions of some thugs using fake police badges, shirts, jackets, etc. one should ask themselves this. After all, you know that you are from top to bottom legal in your everyday living. There have been several incidences like this and it turns out that it's not the po-po's...its thug life and his crew and bad things happen to your family.
 

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CoolHand said:
I'm shocked that a judge signed a warrant on two-month old information unless there was something current in the investigation.
Ummm a magistrate judge can sign a warrant I believe. The ones I've met are not lawyers and not particularly bright or necessarily skilled at their job. They are politically appointed in GA. There's a big stink in my county right now because ours hired her dad as an assistant magistrate judge without letting the county commision know about the hiring and it really screwed up the budget. Well that and he got fired from his assistant magistrate judgeship by the previous chief magistrate for incompetence.

I guess this makes the forum antijudiciary as well as antiLEO now. :shock:
The chief magistrate judge in each county is elected. Magistrate judges deal with questions of probable cause for arrest and search warrants as well as handling some things like evictions and bad checks. They do not have to have law degrees in GA. IIRC, probate court judges in GA don't have to be lawyers either. Probate can be a little tricky, but basically a magistrate judge just needs common sense. You're going to get good and bad in any collective group of people.
 
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