In 2015, conducting an investigation of a drug case, Officer Travis Serafin of the Eden Prairie, Minnesota police, obtained a search warrant to search the home of suspect, Timothy Holmes. The search uncovered a large quantity of drugs in the home and in Holmes car as well.
Did the officer falsify the search warrant?
Subsequently, Holmes’ attorney accused Officer Serafin of falsifying the search warrant. An internal police investigation found there was reason to believe that the officer changed the search warrant and replaced it with a second warrant that included permission to search Holmes’ surrounding property and vehicles.
Holmes later confessed and pleaded guilty to the felony drug charge in exchange for the dismissal of a third-degree murder charge stemming from a heroin overdose death.
Officer Serafin’s lawyer, Paul Rogosheske, explained that Officer Serafin did not submit two separate warrants.
He had made a mistake. It was a clerical error that was corrected on the record during the omnibus hearing. Rogosheske said that the prosecuting attorney’s supervisor, Holmes’ defense attorney, and the judge were all aware of the clerical mistake, which Officer Serafin admitted to in court.
Even though all parties in the trial and the case agreed that Officer Sarafin had done nothing wrong, the County Attorney’s office has opened a review of Serafin’s case for possible criminal charges.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s office said it is taking action that could lead to the dismissal of 32 cases in which Officer Serafin was involved.
The Mechanics of Search Warrants.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees protection against unreasonable searches and seizure of property by the government (usually in the person of the police).
Under most conditions, the police must obtain permission from an impartial court who decides if police suspicion objectively warrants a search, before they can search and seize evidence The procedure by which police obtain a warrant to search is fairly straightforward and fast.
But many cases that go to trial hinge on the validity and coverage of the search warrant under which evidence was taken.
Under old common law, evidence could be admitted to trial no matter how it was obtained.
A defendant could even be compelled to produce evidence that would convict him or her, even though it would be it would be ruled an “unreasonable seizure.” The current legal practice is that evidence obtained through unreasonable searches and seizures is not admissible in court.
The search warrant is issued to law enforcement on the basis of the judge’s decision that a search and seizure is not unreasonable. Searches must also be carried out under the strict limitations and conditions defined in the warrant.
Law Enforcement Incursions.
The search warrant process is endangered by many practices of law enforcement. Law enforcement sometimes wants to keep an investigation secret from the courts and defendants (as well as the public). They may conduct searches through surveillance waiting for an incident in which police can intervene.
Since the early stages of the search are never revealed, defendants can’t point to a violation of law to defend themselves. Judges can’t forbid the admission of evidence on the basis of illegal search and seizure if the actions of law enforcement in obtaining evidence are hidden.
Attorneys must be continuously looking for the ways in which evidence was obtained.
The admissibility of evidence is a point of constant investigation and debate in the courts. This includes continuous evaluation of the exact ways warrants were obtained and the search and seizure restrictions in the warrants are observed.
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