Monday, January 09, 2006

Time of Day Doesn't Matter When Executing Drug-Related Search Warrant

US v. Rizzi: Rizzi was an ex-con who came under investigation of Baltimore police for dealing drugs. When local officers relayed their information about Rizzi to federal authorities, the feds informed them that Rizzi could no longer posses firearms. Baltimore PD officers then obtained a warrant from a state judge to search Rizzi's home for "drugs, firearms, money, records, and other drug-related paraphernalia." The warrant commanded officers to execute it "forthwith." It was obtained on July 7, 2004. On July 9, 2004, at 4:30 in the morning, 24 officers executed the warrant at Rizzi's home. They knocked and announced their presence, waited 15-20 seconds, then broke into the house. Rizzi met them and admitted possessing firearms that were recovered from the basement. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Rizzi filed a motion to suppress the guns, on the grounds that the warrant did not specify that a night-time search could be conducted. Specifically, Rizzi argued that Rule 41(e)(2)(B) controls and suppression was required because the police had not shown, and the issuing judge did not find, good cause for execution of a night-time warrant. The Government contended that 18 USC 879 trumpted Rule 41 because the search involved drugs and that the warrant was sufficient to authorize the search. The district court rejected the Government's argument, concluding that Rule 41 and section 879 "dovetailed" to make the search illegal and ordered the evidence suppressed. The Government appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court, adopting the Government's argument as to the relationship between Rule 41 and 879, leaning heaving on Gooding v. United States, 416 U.S. 430 (1974), to do so. The court concluded that because Rule 41 deals with search warrants in general, while section 879 deals with warrants specifically in drug cases, that the more specific statutory rule controlled. Section 879, according to the Fourth Circuit, requires no particular finding by the judge issuing the warrant that a night-time search is warranted. The court concluded:

At bottom, we hold that when a search warrant involves violations of drug crimes, the warrant can be served day or night so long as the warrant itself is supported by probable cause. And to the extent that section 879 might be found to conflict with the general requirement of showing good cause for nighttime searches contained in Rule 41(e), we hold that section 879 exclusively.
The court also rejected Rizzi's argument that, as interpreted, section 879 violated the Fourth Amendment.

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