E.D.Ky.: An “unreasonable” overseizure as to quantity and not place might be suppressible; hard case to understand

Overseizure under a valid warrant is hard to prove. This case makes it seem like at least an “unreasonable” overseizure, whatever that is, might still be a general search, but it doesn’t directly say so. This case is not good authority except on its limited facts. United States v. Lostutter, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186303 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 24, 2016):

Indeed, as Defendant insinuates, law enforcement can conduct an invalid search, even pursuant to a valid warrant if it “flagrantly disregards the limitations of [the] warrant[.]” United States v. Garcia, 496 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 2007) (emphasis removed). However, “[f]or purposes of general search analysis, [a court] will find that an officer flagrantly disregards the limitations of a warrant only where he ‘exceeds the scope of the warrant in the places searched’ (rather than the items seized).” Id. (internal alteration removed; emphasis in original). “The test for determining if the officers engaged in an impermissible general search is whether their search unreasonably exceeded the scope of the warrant.” Id. (emphasis in original).

Here, Lostutter in no way alleges or proves that the officers exceeded the warrant scope in the places searched—the sole focus of the inquiry. See Garcia, 496 F.3d at 507. Indeed, his brief describes utilized search limitations as “unclear.” DE #38-1, at 11. On this record, however, as presented, the matter is clear to the Court. Officers searched 436 Miller Hunt Road, the residence the warrant authorized them to search. The searched specimens listed at DE #55-1 likewise all easily fall within the warrant scope. Law enforcement, thus, did not exceed the scope of the warrant in the places searched. Garcia, 496 F.3d at 507-08. Indeed, the warrant return item listing certainly squares with the warrant authorization. DE #38-3, at 8. The listed items do not indicate that agents disregarded the warrant limitations, as to the items seized, in any way, much less unreasonably.

Generally, overseizure only leads to suppression of that which was unreasonably seized, not the whole search. Garcia deals with a drug search where the drugs can be easily concealed.

What happens with a gross overseizure? They happen. Consider this: I filed a motion to recover property in a forfeiture case where a drug search warrant for methamphetamine produced firearms, too. All well and good. But, the officers seized literally almost everything in the house to attempt to forfeit it, without regard to any remote ability to prove it was drug proceeds or with any seizure warrant for anything beyond drugs and guns. The inventory for the forfeiture was seven pages long and included things like small kitchen appliances and clothing and furniture, things having nothing whatsoever to do with the drug search. It was attacked as the definition of a “general search.” It brought to mind the line from the book and movie The Cowboys: “Take everything but the fire.” William Dale Jennings, The Cowboys (1971) (Warner Bros. 1972).

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