Here’s an update on the Fourth Amendment civil rights lawsuit we filed in the Sizemore case, which involved a federal criminal prosecution which was dismissed following a federal judge making a finding that officers in the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force made false statements to a magistrate in order to illegally procure a search warrant. We filed suit to establish civil liability for a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which specifically requires probable cause and a search warrant.
Well, we made it past the defendants’ motions to dismiss, and now we are proceeding to the discovery stage, which is essentially the exchange of information and the questioning of witnesses via depositions. The federal court denied the motions, and has ruled that we get to proceed.
From the order:
First, I must note this Court is at a loss to understand Defendants’ assertion that because this case involves “a search warrant, rather than an arrest warrant,” it therefore “does not require a showing of probable cause.” Defs.’ Mem. Mot. Dismiss [ECF Nos. 6, 9]. More confusing, Defendants cite favorably to Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), a case which describes the standard for probable cause in a search warrant. Though puzzling that this is necessary to explain to a member of the bar, “the Fourth Amendment requires that no search warrant shall issue without probable cause.” United States v. Daughtery, 215 F. App’x 314, 316 (4th Cir. 2007).
Indeed, the text of the Fourth Amendment, which has been in place since the adoption of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, states that individuals have the right to be protected “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and “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.” U.S. Const. amend. IV (emphasis added). And a search and seizure without probable cause is unreasonable. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627. This is especially true for searches of the home, which “is first among equals” regarding the Fourth Amendment. Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 434, 464–65 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013)).
Yep. It says “probable cause” in the Constitution. Hard to get around that…..
As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157.
As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).