Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fourth Circuit issues opinion on nighttime search warrants

In United States v. Rizzi, the Fourth Circuit considered the issue of nighttime searches in connection with drug trafficking. During a nighttime search, officers seized firearms and a federal grand jury thereafter indicted Rizzi for being a felon in possession of firearms. On Rizzi's motion, the district court suppressed the seized evidence, concluding that the nighttime execution of the warrant violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(e)(2)(B) because the officers did not attempt to demonstrate, and the authorizing judicial officer did not determine, that "good cause" existed for a nighttime search.

The district court rejected the government's argument that 21 U.S.C. section 879, which specifically authorizes the nighttime execution of a search warrant involving controlled substances, governs, rather than Rule 41(e). The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court, holding that because 21 U.S.C. section 879 provides a specific authorization for circumstances presented in the Rizzi case, it governs rather than the Rule of Criminal Procedure.

The crux of the holding is this:

At bottom, we hold that when a search warrant involves violations of drug crimes, the warrant can be served day or night so long as the warrant itself is supported by probable cause. And to the extent that section 879 might be found to conflict with the general requirement of showing good cause for nighttime searches contained in Rule 41(e), we hold that section 879 applies exclusively.

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