In August 2001, instructors at a flight school in Minneapolis became suspicious of Zacharias Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan descent who want to fly airplanes but didn’t want to learn how to land them. They tipped off the FBI, which arrested Moussaoui on an immigration violation.
Among Moussaoui’s possessions was a computer. Minneapolis agents wanted to go into the hard drive to check for contacts or other information. Doing so, however, required that FBI headquarters in Washington apply for a search warrant before a federal judge. Schooled in the latest niceties of contemporary law enforcement, the Washington office responded that there was no “probable cause” for conducting a search. “All you’ve got is a guy with an expired visa who’s taking flight lessons,” they said. “Where’s the crime?”
The Minneapolis office responded that it would be good to find out exactly what was going on before Moussaoui “took an airplane and flew it into the World Trade Center.” Their pleas had no impact. Only after September 11th did FBI officials finally look into Moussaoui’s computer, where they found information linking him to both the Hamburg cell that planned the attack and to its leader, Mohammed Atta.
The FBI’s failure to search Moussaoui’s computer caused a sensation in the liberal press. In 2002, Time made Coleen Rowley, staff attorney in the Minneapolis office, along with two other women, its “Persons of the Year” because of their “whistle blowing” efforts. “Rowley is the FBI staff attorney who caused a sensation in May with a memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller about how the bureau brushed off pleas from her Minneapolis, Minn., field office that Zacharias Moussaoui, who is now indicted as a Sept. 11 coconspirator, was a man who must be investigated,” reported Time. She had also fought hard during the weeks before September 11th for a search warrant — until Washington finally told her not to call back.
Yet as Heather Mac Donald pointed out, the press took little interest in this story until it could be fit in the familiar Hollywood scenario of a courageous woman taking on dumb organization men. Even in its “Person of the Year” cover story, Time was never able to articulate exactly what it was that Rowley and Washington were arguing about in the first place.
Now the same liberal press is pillorying President Bush for “spying on Americans” because he has authorized monitoring some international phone calls to terrorist countries. In fact, the President has complete authority to issue such an order, just as customs inspectors have every right to inspect every package arriving in the country. Yet the real reason the Bush Administration has been reluctant to involve the Federal judiciary is the same issue that was at stake in the Moussaoui incident. Over the last twenty years, the courts have tied themselves in knots over what constitutes “probable cause” for investigating a crime.
THE FOURTH AMENDMENT CONCERNING searches and seizure reads as follows: “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.”
The target of the Fourth Amendment was the “unreasonable searches” of the British Colonial government, particularly “writs of assistance,” which were general warrants allowing government officials to search individuals and their homes for anything that might be deemed suspicious or incriminating.
The Amendment does not say warrants must accompany every search and seizure. In fact, very few warrants were ever issued until the Supreme Court began to crack down in the early 20th century. Frustrated with increasing federal abuse — particularly after the formation of the FBI under Theodore Roosevelt — the Supreme Court attached an “exclusionary rule” as a means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment. If law enforcement officials failed to follow the strictures of the Amendment in conducting a search, the evidence would be inadmissible in court as “fruit of the poisoned tree.”
The exclusionary rule had its early dissenters. Justice Benjamin Cardozo summed them up succinctly in 1926 when he complained, “The criminal goes free because the constable has blundered.” Still, the exclusionary rule had only minimal impact because it was limited to federal officials under the prevailing doctrine of the era that the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government. Most criminal investigations occur at the state level. In subsequent years, the FBI developed a “hand-off” system where, in order to circumvent the exclusionary rule, state police conducted searches before handing over the evidence for federal prosecution.
By the 1960s, the Warren Court had become exasperated with these evasions. In Mapp vs. Ohio (1961), it “incorporated” the Fourth Amendment into state proceedings, along with the exclusionary rule. The case before the court cried out for intervention. In 1958, Cleveland police had gone to the home of Dolree Mapp, a black woman, in pursuit of a fugitive. When she refused them entry, the police broke down her door and ransacked her home. Failing to find the fugitive, they confiscated some racy books from her basement and charged her with violating the state’s pornography laws — an obviously vindictive prosecution.
When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, it was the pornography laws that were under challenge. Without any oral argument, however, the Warren majority decided to use the opportunity to incorporate the Fourth Amendment into state criminal proceedings. Mapp became a pillar of the Warren revolution. Hard evidence — even a dead body or murder weapon — was now subject to constitutional challenge. Alert criminal defense attorneys quickly seized the opportunity to “put the state on trial,” since malfeasance now made the warrant illegal, the search “unconstitutional,” and the evidence inadmissible in court.
The atrocities soon began to pile up. Warrants were found to be defective if a name had been misspelled or a street address or license plate number transposed. A whole new breed of appeal attorneys emerged who never faced a jury or trial judge but concentrated on such minutia. Alan Dershowitz succeeded in overturning Claus Von Bulow’s conviction for attempting to murder his wife by arguing that state police had violated the Fourth Amendment when they failed to secure a warrant before sending a powdery substance found in a black bag owned by Von Bulow to a police laboratory. The powder — which turned out to be a hard-to-obtain barbiturate — was taken from a locked closet by a private detective hired by the Von Bulow children and turned over to the police. With this key piece of evidence excluded, Von Bulow was acquitted at a second trial.
Finally, in 1986, two Massachusetts murder convictions — both overturned on defective warrants — reached the Supreme Court. In the first, the police had contacted the judge for a search warrant on a Sunday night. Not having keys to the courthouse, the judge improvised a warrant for a criminal search on a form for drug searches. The Massachusetts Supreme Court said this impropriety made the search unconstitutional. Moreover, the court noted, a supplementary sheet had not been properly stapled to the original warrant. This further defect also voided the evidence.
In the second, police had found a 25-year-old woman strangled in a vacant lot. Investigating her 45-year-old boy friend, they secured a warrant to search his apartment for “a woman’s jacket that has been described as black-gray (charcoal), any possessions of Sandra D. Boulware [the victim], similar type wire and rope that match those on the body… a blunt instrument that might have been used on the victim, men’s or women’s clothing that may have blood, gasoline burns on them.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?