Supreme Court Review-Preview-Overview

An up-to-date outline of Supreme Court criminal cases
is available here. It covers pending cert grants and decisions from the past and current Terms. Other "cites" of interest are available here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

U.S. v. Grubbs: Triggering Condition Need Not Figure in Warrant

In U.S. v. Grubbs, No. 04-1414 (March 21, 2006), the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit which had held that an anticipatory search warrant that fails to contain the operative triggering condition runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Here, federal agents requested an anticipatory search warrant for a house where a videotape containing child pornography was going to be delivered as part of a sting operation. An affidavit that was part of the application stated that "Execution of this search warrant will not occur unless and until the parcel has been received by a person(s) and has been taken into the residence." That affidavit was NOT included as part of the search warrant issued by the Magistrate and used by federal agents to search the home for the tape after the tape had been delivered to the home, received by the defendant's wife and taken inside the residence. The Ninth Circuit vacated the conviction holding that "the particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment applies with full force to the conditions precedent to an anticipatory search warrant."
Reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court first held that conditioned anticipatory search warrants are consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The only limitation placed on such warrants by the Fourth Amendment's requirement of probable cause is that "two prerequisites of probability must be satisfied": 1) if the triggering condition occurs, a fair probability exists that contraband will be found in a particular place; and 2) "probable cause to believe that the triggering condition will occur." Here, both prerequisites of probability were satisfied.
Turning to the issue of whether the Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement was violated by the failure to have the triggering condition included in the search warrant, the Court held that no such violation had occurred. Relying on the express language of the Fourth Amendment, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment "specifies only two matters that must be 'particularly described' in the warrant: 'the place to be searched' and 'the persons or things to be seized." The Court further noted that "neither the Fourth Amendment nor Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure imposes [ ] a requirement . . . that the executing officer must present the property owner with a copy of the warrant before conducting his search."

Georgia v. Randolph: Both Spouses' Consent Needed for Warrantless Search

In Georgia v. Randolph No. 04-1067 (March 22, 2006), the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that it is unconstitutional for police, without a warrant, to search a home, if two occupants are present at the time and one consents but the other objects. The search may not go forward in the face of that objection, but the occupant must be present to have the objection count. "We have to admit we are drawing a fine line, [but] we think the formalism is justified" and that it will be easier to enforce in practice. Thus, the Court held, if the individual who may be at legal risk of prosecution and thus does not want the police to enter "is in fact at the door and objects," the other occupant's consent to search will not suffice. But, if the objector is nearby, and not at the door, an objection by him will not block the search. The Court stressed, though, that police may not take a potentialy objecting tenant away from the home in order to be able to make the search with the other occupant's consent. The Court left intact U.S. v. Matlok, in which one occupant was allowed to consent to police entry even though a co-occupant was being held in a squad car not far away, but was not asked for consent to search a jointly used room in the house. The Court also left intact Illinois v. Rodriguez, in which the Court allowed a search with consent of one occupant while the individual who would object to the police entry was asleep in the apartment. The case involved a warrantless police search in July 2001 of a home. It was the home of Scott Fitz Randolph. He and his wife had been having marital problems, and they were separated. He continued to live in the home. On the day of the incident, the wife had returned and was staying, at least temporarily, in the home. She called police about a domestic disturbance. When the officeres arrived, they found the wife to be upset, saying that her husband had taken the child and left. She also accused her husband of using cocaine, causing financial problems for the family. Randolph soon returned, without the child. The child had been taken to a neighbor's house. One officer asked Randolph about his wife's statements about cocaine use, and asked for permission to search. Randolph refused, but his wife consented. The officers found a straw apparently containing cocaine residue, in an upstairs bedroom. That piece of evidence was taken in, and formed the basis for a search warrant application. The police returned and made a search, finding various drug-related items. Randolph moved to suppress the evidence that had led to a charge of illegal drug possession.