ATF agents constructed a search warrant application to seek “any automatic firearms or parts to automatic weapons, destructive devices to include but not limited to grenades, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and any and all receipts pertaining to the purchase or manufacture of automatic weapons or explosive devices or launchers.” The warrant itself, however, was less specific. In the section of the warrant that called for a description of the “person or property” to be seized, the agents provided a description of the home to be searched rather than the weapons listed in the application, in an apparent transfer of information error. The magistrate signed the warrant and the following day the agents executed the warrant.
Whether a search warrant that does not particularly describe the things to be seized meets the Fourth Amendment’s standards?
No. The purpose of the Fourth Amendment’s particularity clause is to inform the person whose property is being seized of the bounds of the search.
The Court held that “[T]he warrant was plainly invalid.” As stated in the Fourth Amendment “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (underline added).” While the oversight in the warrant might appear to be superficial, and the items to be seized are clearly described in the application, the search warrant serves an important function for the person whose privacy is being intruded upon. It provides notice. The Court stated that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit warrants from cross referencing other documents if the warrant “uses appropriate words of incorporation, and if the supporting document accompanies the warrant.” Here, the warrant did not incorporate by reference any other document. The Court held that the purpose of the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement is to (1) limit general searches and (2) assure the person whose property is being seized that the officer has authority to conduct a search, the need to search, and the bounds of that search.
540 U.S. 551, 124 S. Ct. 1284 (2004)