During a domestic dispute, the defendant became violent over the victim’s contact with the police. He discharged a black, pistol-gripped sawed off shot-gun at the victim as she fled in an automobile. The victim reported the incident to the police, described the shotgun, and explained the defendant was an active member of a local gang. The investigating officer confirmed the defendant’s gang affiliation and that he had been arrested 31 times, 9 times for firearms offenses and 6 times for violent crimes. The officer drafted a search warrant affidavit for:
“[A]ll handguns, rifles, or shotguns of any caliber, or any firearms capable of firing ammunition, or firearms or devices modified or designed to allow it [sic] to fire ammunition” and
“[A]rticles of evidence showing street gang membership or affiliation with any Street Gang to include but not limited to any reference to ‘Mona Park Crips’…”
The officer had his supervisor and a prosecuting attorney review his affidavit, and a
judge signed his request for the search warrant. The officer executed the warrant and
was subsequently sued for enforcing an overly broad search warrant.
Whether the officer had qualified immunity in executing a search warrant for “all guns” when he knew specifically what kind of gun was used in the crime?
Yes. The officer was entitled to reasonably rely on the issuing judge’s finding of probable cause.
The Court found that “[W]here the alleged Fourth Amendment violation involves a search or seizure pursuant to a warrant, the fact that a neutral magistrate has issued a warrant is the clearest indication that the officers acted in an objectively reasonable manner or, as we have sometimes put it, in ‘objective good faith.’”
Under the circumstances of this case “it would not have been unreasonable for an officer to conclude that there was a ‘fair probability’ that the sawed-off shotgun was not the only firearm [the defendant] owned” or that the “sawed-off shotgun was illegal.” The Court noted that “[E]vidence of one crime is not always evidence of several, but given [the defendant’s] possession of one illegal gun, his gang membership, his willingness to use the gun to kill someone, and his concern about the police, a reasonable officer could conclude that there would be additional illegal guns among others that [the defendant] owned.” The Court expressed similar reasoning for finding the inclusion of the gang-related material in the search warrant as reasonable. Therefore, the officer was entitled to rely on the issuing judge’s finding of probable cause.
565 U.S. 535, 132 S. Ct. 1235 (2012)