Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Orwell watch: A new definition of 'reasonable search'

This one's straight out of 1984 and Animal Farm: It's OK for storm troopers to ransack the wrong home and hold the wrong suspects at gunpoint, naked, if the officers took reasonable precautions to protect themselves.

The whole L.A. Times story can be found here. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday let stand an appeals court ruling that said it was OK to roust a white couple out of bed in their search for black suspects who had moved out of the home three months earlier and had no connection to the couple:

Mistakes sometimes happen when police conduct home searches, the Supreme Court said Monday in throwing out a lawsuit brought by a white couple in Southern California who were rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies looking for several black suspects.

The search of Max Rettele and his girlfriend, Judy Sadler, in their bedroom may have been an error, and it was certainly embarrassing to them, the justices said. But it did not violate their rights under the 4th Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," they added.

Police obtain search warrants based on probable evidence, not "absolute certainty," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent, and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost." ...

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."

Thus, the meaning of the term "unreasonable search" has been reconfigured to protect the state, rather than the individual. A state search of innocent, unconnected parties is reasonable if the state was acting in a way that would be OK if the innocent parties were guilty. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and reason is chaos.

I suppose this kind of insane ruling is the end result of a society where random drug tests are acceptable behavior and innocents entering an airplane or a stadium are frisked for contraband and weapons.

The couple's lawyer says they have moved out of Southern California and are living in Kansas now. The Supreme Court's 8-1 decision (only Souter dissented) shows they didn't go far enough away. The law-abiding are no longer safe or free in this country.

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Anonymous John Newman said...

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

9:27 AM  

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