US Supreme Court Messerschmidt v. Millender 10-704
by, 05-20-12 at 08:32 PM (1766 Views)
In this cases, Bowen (a known gang member with numerous violent felony convictions) attacked his girlfriend when she broke up with him, because she had called the cops. "Attacked" meaning that he tried to throw her over a second story balcony, dragged her around by her hair, bit her, and shot at her five times with a shotgun. His girlfriend escaped, and reported to the assault to the police. The also gave information regarding his gang affiliation and the location where he could be found (this location was Millender's house. Millender was Bowen's 70 year old former foster parent).
Detectives obtained a warrant for Bowen's arrest, as well as a search warrant for Millender's house. This warrant authorized the seizure of any and all firearms, as well as any evidence of Bowen's gang affiliation. The search warrant was served, and a shotgun was seized along with some ammo and a letter which was addressed to Bowen. Bowen was not found at the residence (he was arrested a couple weeks later, hiding under the bed in a motel room).
Millender sued the detectives, saying that the warrant was unconstitutionally overbroad because it specified "any and all" firearms rather than just the firearm actually used in this case, and because it allowed for the seizure of gang paraphernalia when the case at issue was a domestic violence incident. The detectives tried to claim qualified immunity. When the case worked its way up to the 9th Circuit, the court agreed with Millender, and denied qualified immunity. The court held that the warrant was defective because there was no PC to believe that there were additional guns in the residence, and that a reasonable officer should have known this.
The Supreme Court (as usual) reversed the judgment of the 9th Circuit. The court specifically declined to decide whether or not there was PC to search for any and all firearms and gang paraphernalia, although the language of this decision strongly suggests that there was. The court did decide, however that even if there wasn't PC it was a close enough call that a detective, the detectives supervisor, a deputy DA, and an independent magistrate all reasonably believed that there was PC. The court further held that there was nothing obviously wrong with the warrant, so the police acted reasonably in relying on the warrant and on the judgment of the magistrate. The court contrasted this decision with another case where officers were denied qualified immunity, even though they had obtained a warrant. In that case (Groh v. Ramirez), the warrant didn't describe the items to be seized at all. That's a pretty obvious violation of the 4th amendment, and anyone glancing at the warrant could have seen it, which makes it so different from the case at hand that it is irrelevant.
So anyway, the court ruled that the officers in this case were entitled to qualified immunity. The court explained that although there are circumstances where an officer relying on a warrant would not be entitled to qualified immunity, those cases are extremely rare.