Errors with Warrants

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, 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."

 

Let's focus on the underlined part about "Warrants" for a moment.

Most citizens have heard the name Ms. Breonna Taylor of Louisville, KY. Epic tragedy. But not a unique case, sadly.

Most have heard that officers went to her residence with a warrant to arrest her ex-boyfriend on a drug charge, yet he was not there and apparently had not been around there for quite some time. Officers entered with weapons drawn, her new boyfriend thought the residence was being burglarized and drew his weapon and fired, as did officers. Shooting occurred and tragically, Ms. Taylor died.

She had a Constitutional right to be "secure in her person". Clearly, that right was violated.

And there is a violation of the civil right protecting her "against unreasonable searches and seizures" too. The warrant "particularly described" a person who wasn't even there.

"A civil rights violation is a violation, and when rights are violated, restitution is due."

 

CONUNDRUM

The legal question is, "Who is responsible for her death?"

Officers who entered the building with weapons drawn and who fired guns clearly inflicted wounds.

Yet those officers were executing a lawful warrant. It can be argued objectively that the "officers were just doing their job, and doing what officers do when fired upon". There is a considerable amount of precedent for this type of argument, beginning with the Pierson v Ray Supreme Court ruling in 1967. And there may be a point to it.

Granted, there are questions about whether officers announced themselves, whether officers should always knock so as not to appear to be burglars or intruders, etc., but those are not the most serious failures in this case and others like it. Consider this case (and so many other cases like it) this way.

Who made the decision to send officers that night, long after the ex was out of her life? Error. Liability.

Who made the decision to not bother to check and verify that the ex was actually at that location that particular evening? Error. Liability.

Who made the decision to request a warrant for a particular individual on that particular night, without confirming the exact present location of the particular individual sought? Error. Liability.

Which judge issued the warrant, but did not demand evidence that the 'particular individual' sought was at that 'particular location' that night? Courts are the protectors of civil rights. Error.

In far too many cases of errors while serving warrants, officers have gone to the wrong location, sometimes with the wrong address even printed on the warrant information, and violated the civil rights of completely innocent citizens! There are even cases of innocent grandparents rousted out of bed or the shower and forced to stand at gunpoint while officers then took time to discover that the grandparent was not even the person named in the warrant.

Where are the proper checks and balances in the system?!? Why is information ever not current, and twice verified?!? Officers serving warrants always risk violating civil rights; legitimate warrants are just Constitutionally "reasonable" violations! Information in warrants MUST always be accurate and current and verified. The damage done from a violation of the civil rights of an innocent person is too great to do second-rate work. Serving warrants is a "Pass or Fail" project, and 100% accuracy is required or the system violates the Constitution's civil rights protection of citizens.

There are too many cases of errors with warrants that have caused civil rights violations. There are lots of points where mistakes can lead up to the violation of the "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures" and likely several people share responsibility. Every person who made a mistake is partly liable for violating civil rights, for deaths, including Ms. Breonna Taylor's.

 

IDENTIFY THE AGENTS AND THE PRINCIPAL

The officers at the scene were "agents", acting on orders, acting as tools of the department. We must identify the "principal", and legal scholars will determine whether the principal is the department or its chief, or it may be a supervisor in some cases. There is a clear legal tenet that holds that "the principal is responsible for the actions of the agent". Who is the "principal"?

We can be mad at the officers who fired shots in a heated situation, but we must recognize that they were told to effect a warrant, did what officers do when shots were fired at them, and are not the ultimate "principal" any more than any employee is in any other job where an employer directs the actions of its employees. They are "agents" acting on behalf of a "principal". The officers will not be found to bear ultimate liability, as they were told what to do that night. Understand that multiple Supreme Court precedents will determine that to be so.

Perhaps everyone who contributed to bad decisions will be named as co-defendants in the litigation over violating the civil rights of Ms. Taylor, just as the principal must be named. Perhaps that will be true in all cases of errors with warrants. Civil rights attorneys filing cases will decide such things.

Note that cases like this are different than cases where an officer engages in malicious rights violations by the officer's own initiative and free will. In such cases where the officer initiates a violation that is not directed by any other "principal", the officer must remain liable for his/her own conduct.

So we have to focus correctly to determine where liability rests. Officers doing a job are "agents". "The principal is responsible for the actions of its agent."

 

CONFIDENTIALITY

These types of cases are far too common. You won't hear about most examples because attorneys representing departments and officers in cases where rights are violated insist on "confidentiality clauses" in settlement agreements, so many of these types of cases are sealed before the public knows about them. When presented with an agreement that contains a Confidentiality Clause, citizens MUST say, "I object to Confidentiality. Remove that section or I will not sign it. You can violate my rights, but you cannot ask me to voluntarily surrender my First Amendment rights." Make these types of errors known, so patterns can be identified and rights can be protected.

 

FIX THE SYSTEMS

There are plenty of other people, other "agents", in addition to the officers at the scene who work for that "principal" who share responsibility for violating Ms. Breonna Taylor's civil right to be secure in her person. Too often only the officers at the scene are discussed in cases like this, but all of the other contributing "agents" must be identified to reduce the likelihood that another violation like this happens to anyone else.

The Constitution is clear: "...particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

"particularly describing"

Understand that people made mistakes, but they did because the systems allowed those mistakes. The mistakes of each agent must be identified, and the errors in the system design that allowed those mistakes to cause a civil rights violation must be corrected. Proper checks and balances must be implemented to improve the systems. The "principal" will bear legal liability for the rights violations, and will be responsible for correcting the systems to prevent more tragedies. As a society, we must fix the systems that allowed errors at so many points as to, for no benefit to society, endanger the life of Ms. Breonna Taylor...and so many others.

Observe the real problems. Make them known. Correctly identify liability. Fix the systems.

In all things: Respect civil rights.