UT: The fact an electronic warrant application is acted on quickly doesn’t mean reviewing court should be “skeptical” of PC finding

This case started with a cell phone stolen from a customer in a grocery store. The police pinged the phone and it came back as being located at defendant’s house. Police went there to talk to defendant, and he had a story about kids having brought the phone there, and he told them to return it, which he said happened. The police went to the grocery store to find a few turned in phones, but the victim couldn’t ID one as his. Police went back to defendant who had a slightly different version. “Suspicious of Defendant’s answers, Officer electronically applied for, and received, a warrant to search Defendant’s residence for the phone and its SIM card. Officer served the warrant on Defendant and began the search” finding prescription drugs in bottles not prescribed for him. The officer applied for a second electronic warrant for that offense, and it was granted, and the officer searched this time for drugs, for which defendant was charged. The motion to suppress the second search warrant is denied. The fact the magistrate was quick in ruling on it is attributed to the fact he or she was familiar with the facts already. Also, the fact defendant had prescriptions not in the bottle is a question for trial and doesn’t undermine probable cause just because they could be his. State v. Roberts, 2018 Utah App. LEXIS 102 (May 25, 2018). Note 4:

Defendant further argues that the magistrate’s determination should be viewed with skepticism because the magistrate issued the warrant “less than five minutes” after the application was electronically sent. We find this argument unpersuasive. Judges take turns acting as the “on-call” magistrate for the purpose of electronically reviewing search warrant applications, and receive a text message (or other electronic alert) the moment an application comes in. Often, the applications are reviewed immediately upon receipt of the electronic alert. In this particular case, Officer’s search warrant affidavit was only two pages long, with the probable cause statement—where all of the operative facts were contained—taking up only three paragraphs on the second page. Moreover, the magistrate was already familiar with some of the relevant facts (the identity and experience of the officer, the location of the residence) from issuing the first warrant earlier that day. Under the circumstances, five minutes was not an unreasonably short time for a diligent magistrate to read, review, and comprehend the submitted material. Time is often of the essence in reviewing warrant applications. In some cases, the suspect is detained pending issuance of the warrant. Expeditious consideration of warrant applications serves the interest of justice, and we commend the magistrate in this case for his promptness.

I was confronted with an obvious issue of a judge not reading search warrants long ago. He liked to “hold court” in chambers before court each morning with the lawyers because of his social and gregarious nature. Police officers came in with search warrant applications he never read, just swearing the officer and signing the warrant. When I encountered a search warrant that he signed, there would always be probable cause shown. Therefore, I concluded that there was no point in a motion to suppress that he was not a “neutral and detached magistrate” because there was probable cause, and, even if he didn’t read it, a circuit judge finding probable cause wouldn’t result in suppression.

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