Bluefield PD obtains search warrant for video footage, then searches fridge, etc. – Off-duty Officer Rampage Incident Part 2

I already posted the crazy video footage showing an off duty police officer on a rampage at Greg’s Sports Bar in October of 2021. It’s long, but highly interesting:

Here’s the backstory which led up to that night. About a week before the rampage incident, there was a shooting in the parking lot of the same bar. Someone basically fired a gun in the air. The same police department that the rampaging officer worked for arrived at the bar to investigate. Bodycam footage shows what happened next, resulting in a late-night search where the officers can be seen looking in refrigerators and whatnot, rather than following the language of the warrant. As you’ll hear on the video, the main officer threatened to get Greg in trouble with the ABC, which is exactly what happened after the rampage from the first video……

“The text of the [Fourth] Amendment thus expressly imposes two requirements. First, all searches and seizures must be reasonable. Second, a warrant may not be issued unless probable cause is properly established and the scope of the authorized search is set out with particularity.” Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) (citing Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 584, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980) ). The particularity requirement “prevent[s] a ‘general, exploratory rummaging.’ ” United States v. Oloyede, 982 F.2d 133, 138 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 467, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971) ).

This [particularity] requirement ensures that the search is confined in scope to particularly described evidence relating to a specific crime for which there is probable cause.” Id.; see also Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 84, 107 S.Ct. 1013, 94 L.Ed.2d 72 (1987) (“The manifest purpose of this particularity requirement was to prevent general searches. By limiting the authorization to search to the specific areas and things for which there is probable cause to search, the requirement ensures that the search will be carefully tailored to its justifications, and will not take on the character of the wide-ranging exploratory searches the Framers intended to prohibit.”).7 “[T]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.” Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 381-82, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014) (quoting Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) ). United States v. Nasher-Alneam, 399 F.Supp.3d 579 (S.D. W.Va. 2019).

Opposition to general warrants in America predates the American Revolution and is one of the guiding principles of individual freedom under our Constitution. In an effort to combat smuggling to avoid import tariffs, British colonial governments issued general warrants, known as “writs of assistance,” that invested the bearer with power to compel any local official to enter any property and make a general search for contraband. The writs of assistance case in colonial Massachusetts, Paxton’s case (1761), is said to have been “the most important legal event leading up to the American Revolution.” Presser and Zainaldin, Law and Jurisprudence in American History 65 (6th ed. 2006). According to John Adams, “Then and there the child Independence was born.” Id. While the writ in Paxton’s case was granted, the result only fueled growing opposition to the practice of general searches, an opposition confirmed in countless cases subsequently decided in the United States. (FN 7 from United States v. Nasher-Alneam, 399 F.Supp.3d 579 (S.D. W.Va. 2019)).

Case of Michigan Man Sitting in WV Jail Begs the Question: Do Police Need a Warrant to Enter/Search/Seize an RV or Motorhome?

In my last video I featured the case of a Michigan man currently rotting in a West Virginia jail for the high crime of traveling through West Virginia with a few hemp plants, possibly marijuana, I don’t know. A video of him refusing to consent to police entering his RV was shown in a Youtube video by the Real News Network, highlighting the actions of the Milton Police Department (which is in Cabell County, WV), including the fact that they take in a huge amount of fines as a result of their policing, despite having only around 2,500 residents. This begs the question, first of all, in general, do police need a warrant to enter, search, seize, etc., an RV or motorhome? Or is it just like regular automobiles, where only probable cause is required, rather than a warrant? Here’s the video, and below I’ll post an explanation of the applicable law:

Do police need a warrant to search an RV?

The Fourth Amendment generally requires the police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. There is a well-established exception to this requirement, however, for automobile searches. See, e.g., Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925). Under this exception, “[i]f a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment thus permits police to search the vehicle without more.” Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940, 116 S.Ct. 2485, 135 L.Ed.2d 1031 (1996). Thus, once police have probable cause, they may search “every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.” Id. 

In California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390, 105 S.Ct. 2066, 85 L.Ed.2d 406 (1985), the Supreme Court held that a mobile home, on the facts presented, was more characteristic of an automobile than a fixed residence. 

The Court did look to the nature of the location where the vehicle was discovered, but only to ascertain whether the vehicle itself was, in an ontological sense, in use as a “movable vessel” or as a fixed residence. Hence, the Court’s reference to a “place not regularly used for residential purposes,” Carney, 471 U.S. at 392, 105 S.Ct. 2066 — from which the police would be less likely to infer that the object was residential in nature — served as a guidepost to determine, whether the object encountered was a vehicle or a residence. 

Summed up: was the RV on a public road, or situated such that it is reasonable to conclude that the RV was not being used as a residence?

1. Is the vehicle readily mobile? Absent an immediate search and seizure, could it have quickly been moved beyond reach of the police? Was the vehicle licensed “to operate on public streets” and subject to inspection as a motor vehicle?

2. Was the vehicle so situated that an objective observer would conclude that it was eing used not as a residence, but as a vehicle?

3. The search still must be reasonable under the circumstances. Was the search that occurred otherwise reasonable as would have been approved by a neutral judge had the officer applied for a search warrant?

If the vehicle can be categorized somewhere within the realm of a residence, rather than an automobile, then a warrant may be required. As with many search and seizure issues, the result will turn on the particular facts of each case. Or they should anyways…..