Search Warrants: Probable not ‘Absolute’

Picture this: a group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies enter a home inside which they believe are a bunch of gun-toting ID thieves. They have a court-backed search warrant.

Instead of finding nefarious characters, they find inside a naked, sleeping couple, who, they hold at gunpoint. (Yes, they’re still naked.)

Nothing is found in the home. The police apologize for the trouble, then leave.

Well, the in-the-buff couple wasn’t too happy with this intrusion, and sued alleging a violation of their fourth amendment rights. The case was eventually granted a writ of certiorari and the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case Monday, according to an article in the LA Times.


The court ruled against the couple in an 8-1 decision. While the justices acknowledged the couples’ troubles that morning their slumber was interrupted, they ultimately decreed that search warrants are “probable evidence” and not “absolute certainty.”

Here’s more from the article by David G. Savage:

The couple’s “constitutional rights were not violated,” the court said in Los Angeles County vs. Rettele. The deputies “believed a suspect might be armed…. In executing a search warrant, officers may take reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search.”

As for the innocent victims, “the resulting frustration, embarrassment and humiliation may be real, as was true here,” the court said in its seven-page opinion. Nonetheless, “when officers execute a valid warrant and act in a reasonable manner to protect themselves from harm, however, the 4th Amendment is not violated.”

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