Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fifth Circuit says no SWAT teams for administrative inspections

From Reason Magazine:
It's a "Well gee, you'd hope so" sort of victory, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that using a SWAT team to conduct an administrative or regulatory search is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The case stems from what was clearly a drug raid conducted on a bar in Louisiana by the Rapides Parrish Sheriff's Department. But the raid was conducted under the auspices of an alcohol inspection, which allowed the department to get around the need for a criminal search warrant.

The Fifth Circuit ruled such a raid violates the Fourth Amendment, and is allowing a civil rights suit against the officers involved to go forward. From the opinion:
Taking plaintiffs' factual allegations as true, defendants did not enter Club Retro as would a typical patron; instead, they chose to project official authority by entering with weapons drawn in a S.W.A.T. team raid. They lacked any particularized suspicion or probable cause when they subsequently searched Club Retro, its attic, and the separate apartment and seized and searched all of its patrons and employees. Thus, defendants' entry and search was not a reasonable acceptance of Club Retro's invitation to the public. Any other conclusion would be an invitation for S.W.A.T. team raids by law enforcement officers of any business that is open to the public and would severely undermine the Fourth Amendment protections afforded to owners of commercial premises.

We are likewise not convinced by defendants' second argument that they conducted a permissible administrative inspection. Although Louisiana statutes and Rapides Parish ordinances authorizing administrative inspections may have provided justification for an entry and inspection of Club Retro, no such law permits the scope and manner of the raid that plaintiffs allege occurred here...

Administrative inspections, by their very nature, require more limited, less intrusive conduct than is alleged to have occurred here. We thus conclude that defendants' S.W.A.T. team entries and extensive searches, as described in the amended complaint, unreasonably exceeded the scope of Louisiana and Rapides Parish administrative inspection laws. Any other conclusion would allow the administrative inspection exception to swallow the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for searches of private property.

Article here.

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