On June 5th, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision regarding US v. Huskisson, weakening the Fourth Amendment and due process. The original case seems relatively cut and dry with regards to Huskisson’s guilt; he agreed to sell methamphetamine to a confidential informant while DEA agents recorded the call. Huskisson arrived at his home the next day with the informant, carrying a cooler. The informant then gave a signal and multiple DEA agents entered the house, arresting Huskisson, who did not consent to a search of his property.
The underlying issue, and the matter at heart for the appeal, was that the DEA agents, after obtaining probable cause, did not wait for a search warrant before entering the house, making it an illegal search. Huskisson’s attorneys were seeking that his original conviction be overturned as the evidence obtained in the search, having been illegal, should not have been admissible. The 7th Circuit disagreed.
Good Intentions Trump Law
The decision of the Court was that, while the search was indeed illegal and the evidence would normally be inadmissible in the trial, the DEA agents were planning on applying for a warrant and one was issued four hours after the raid, thus justifying their actions.
This justification was predicated on the idea that the agents already had enough evidence and that the warrant would have been issued, had they waited. Therefore, the warrant was ultimately not necessary, merely the preferred procedure.
The Court did reiterate that the search was illegal, but the decision was to allow the evidence, and thus the conviction, to stand:
“We do not condone this illegal behavior by law enforcement; the better practice is to obtain a warrant before entering a home,” the panel continued. “Ordinarily, the evidence found here would be excluded. But because the government had so much other evidence of probable cause, and had already planned to apply for a warrant before the illegal entry, the evidence is admissible.
“Though the government should not profit from its bad behavior, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied,” the panel concluded.
Fourth Amendment Implications
This decision, while seemingly an isolated incident, ultimately weakens the integrity of the Fourth Amendment, which requires government agents to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a search or arrest:
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.
Over time, the Fourth Amendment has been weakened, from the stretching of probable cause to New York’s Stop and Frisk law, to the TSA’s apparent immunity to the legal requirements of due process. The 7th Circuit has now taken a further bite out of the necessary procedures designed to protect civilians from government overreach.
Due Process Second
It’s very probable that this case will continue to ascend the judiciary and could very well be overturned. Without a reversal, however, the precedent could continue to be stretched, requiring less and less evidence before conducting a search, ultimately reducing the Fourth Amendment to a formality, rather than a requirement under law.
This decision by the court brings to mind the infamous quote from Donald Trump, who said last year, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” Obviously this case has nothing to do with the president, but both Trump’s thoughts on the confiscation of property and the Court’s belief that intentions outweigh constitutional procedure reflect a disinterest by the federal government and its agencies in respecting the Constitution.
Given the federal government’s long history of misconduct, abuse of authority, and general missteps, law enforcement agencies cannot be given the benefit of the doubt. They must be held to the highest possible standards, which must be reinforced by the Courts. Until then and after, always request a lawyer and never consent to a search.