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Court: Warrant overbroad, so toss gun-related evidence

We submit in today's blog post that even some people who disagree with the recent ruling of a U.S. federal appellate court regarding warrants and the suppression of evidence can understand the court's reasoning and its rationale for ruling against the government.

In the case before the tribunal, it was uncontested that a criminal suspect was seen tossing a gun out of an apartment window as police were about to enter the abode pursuant to a search warrant. Authorities used that evidence to convict the man on a criminal weapons charge.

Unfortunately for the government, the charge did not stick, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling in a 2-1 decision that, because the search warrant was defective, any resulting evidence tying back to it could not be used in court.

What the court found fatally flawed was the warrant's stated license to search the individual's dwelling for a cellphone "without any particularized information that he owned one." Because probable cause to come into contact with the individual was lacking, any evidence seized was constitutionally infirm and a violation of the 4th Amendment's stated search-and-seizure requirements.

The appellate tribunal zeroed in especially closely on the affidavit of a police detective offered to support warrant issuance. That officer merely stated that gang members often communicate by cellphone.

That view didn't go nearly far enough to support probable cause that the warrant's subject owned such a phone himself.

Moreover, the court stated, even if the suspect did own a cellphone, the affidavit offered no reason whatever to indicate that it would be at the apartment and contain incriminating evidence.

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