Partially Valid Search Warrant - Suppressing Evidence
General warrants are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. See Andresen v. Maryland, 427 U.S. 463, 480, 49 L. Ed. 2d 627, 96 S. Ct. 2737 (1976).
To prevent the "general, exploratory rummaging in a person's belongings," the Fourth Amendment requires that a search warrant particularly describe the things to be seized. See id. (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 467, 29 L. Ed. 2d 564, 91 S. Ct. 2022 (1971)).
The particularity requirement "prevents the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another." See id. (citing Stanford v. Texas, 379 U.S. 476, 485, 13 L. Ed. 2d 431, 85 S. Ct. 506 (1965)).
In Andresen, the Supreme Court found that an entire search warrant was not general and that materials related to the specific crime of false pretenses could be seized. See 379 U.S. at 480-81.
To the extent such papers were not within the scope of the warrant or were otherwise improperly seized, "the State was correct in returning them voluntarily and the trial court was correct in suppressing others." Id. at 482, n. 11.
In Re Search Warrant Dated July 4, 1977, 215 U.S. App. D.C. 74, 667 F.2d 117, 130-31 (D.C. Cir. 1981);
United States v. Riggs, 690 F.2d 298, 300 (1st Cir. 1982);
United States v. George, 975 F.2d 72, 79 (2nd Cir. 1992);
United States v. Christine, 687 F.2d 749, 759 (3rd Cir. 1982);
United States v. Jacob, 657 F.2d 49, 52 (4th Cir. 1981);
United States v. Cook, 657 F.2d 730, 735 (5th Cir. 1981);
United States v. Blakeney, 942 F.2d 1001, 1027 (6th Cir. 1991);
United States v. Holmes, 452 F.2d 249, 259 (7th Cir. 1971);
United States v. Cox, 462 F.2d 1293, 1300 (8th Cir. 1972);
United States v. Cardwell, 680 F.2d 75, 78 (9th Cir. 1982);
United States v. Naugle, 997 F.2d 819, 822 (10th Cir. 1993);
United States v. Wuagneux, 683 F.2d 1343, 1354 (11th Cir. 1982). See also United States v. Giresi, 488 F. Supp. 445, 459 n.17 (D.N.J. 1980) (listing state cases that support severability);
2 W. LaFave, SEARCH AND SEIZURE: a TREATISE ON THE FOURTH AMENDMENT, 4.6(f), at 581 (3rd ed. 1996) (supporting principle of severance).
This language has been interpreted to mean that the "invalid portions of a warrant may be stricken and the remaining portions held valid" so that "seizures pursuant to the valid portions will be sustained." United States v. Spilotro, 800 F.2d 959, 967 (9th Cir. 1986);
see also State v. Maddasion, 130 Ariz. 306, 308, 636 P.2d 84, 86 (1981) ("The entire warrant should not be rendered invalid because portions of it might be vulnerable to challenge."). All the federal circuits and many state courts follow this doctrine of severability or partial suppression.
Under the severability doctrine, the valid portions of the warrant must be supported by probable cause and be sufficiently specific to support severance. United States v. Christine, 687 F.2d 749, 754 (3rd Cir. 1982).
Each part of the warrant needs to be examined separately to determine whether it is impermissibly general or unsupported by probable cause.
If the valid portions are "meaningfully severable" from the entire warrant, the trial court may redact the invalid phrases and suppress only the evidence seized pursuant to these invalid portions. Id.
A court may decline to sever a warrant if most of its provisions are invalid for lack of specificity. See United States v. Kow, 58 F.3d 423, 428 (9th Cir. 1995) (declining to sever valid portions of the warrant because they were a relatively insignificant part of an invalid warrant).
A court may also determine that total suppression is necessary because of flagrant disregard of the limits of the warrant. See Mehrens v. State, 138 Ariz. 458, 463, 675 P.2d 718, 723 (App. 1983) (citing with approval United States v. Heldt, 215 U.S. App. D.C. 206, 668 F.2d 1238 (D.C. Cir. 1981));
see also United States v. Rettig, 589 F.2d 418 (9th Cir. 1978) (all evidence suppressed because agents unreasonably exceeded the limitations of the warrant).
Partial suppression is an acceptable middle ground between suppressing or admitting all the evidence. Christine, 687 F.2d at 759.
"It would be harsh medicine indeed if a warrant which was issued on probable cause and which particularly described certain items was invalidated in toto merely because the affiant and magistrate erred in seeking and permitting a search for other items as well." 2 W. LaFave, SEARCH AND SEIZURE: a TREATISE ON THE FOURTH AMENDMENT, 4.6(f), at 581 (3rd ed. 1996).