Post details: E.D.Wis.: Consitutionality of WI court commissioners does not have to be resolved under Fourth Amendment

02/16/10

Permalink 07:08:09 am, by fourth, 697 words, 557 views   English (US)
Categories: General

E.D.Wis.: Consitutionality of WI court commissioners does not have to be resolved under Fourth Amendment

A challenge to the Wisconsin court commissioner issuing a search warrant utilized in a federal prosecution fails. While no Wisconsin court has considered the constitutionality of court commissioners, they are longstanding in the state, even after the unification of the court system in 1977. Under the Fourth Amendment, the court finds no basis to suppress. United States v. Diaz, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12584 (E.D. Wis. January 15, 2010):

So precisely what is the constitutional basis for court commissioners? Despite having existed for more than three decades since the 1977 amendment, it does not appear that this question has yet been answered by, nor even posed to, any Wisconsin court. The resolution of this novel question would require an analysis of Wisconsin constitutional law and could have significant impact upon the longstanding judicial practices in the state. In the interest of comity, questions of this import should generally be reserved to the state rather than resolved by a federal court. It is the view of this court that it is inappropriate to delve into this issue when its resolution is not necessary to the question currently before this court. The question before this court is a narrow one: does the search withstand scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment imposes two requirements upon searches and seizures: (1) the search and seizure must be reasonable; and (2) "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 Fourth Amendment does not dictate who may issue a search warrant. As the Supreme Court noted:

The substance of the Constitution's warrant requirements does not turn on the labeling of the issuing party. The warrant traditionally has represented an independent assurance that a search and arrest will not proceed without probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person or place named in the warrant is involved in the crime. Thus, an issuing magistrate must meet two tests. He must be neutral and detached, and he must be capable of determining whether probable cause exists for the requested arrest or search.

Shadwick v. Tampa, 407 U.S. 345, 350 (1972); see also id. at 351 ("We find no commandment ... that all warrant authority must reside exclusively in a lawyer or judge."). Although individuals involved with the prosecution of a case, such as prosecutors or police officers may not issue warrants, see Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 450 (1971), other "competent personnel" may do so provided they are "neutral and detached." Shadwick, 407 U.S. at 352-53. For example, in Shadwick, 407 U.S. at 351, the Supreme Court found no constitutional defect in a warrant issued by a municipal court clerk.

In this case, the Wisconsin legislature and judiciary have approved the position of court commissioners as well as the practice of court commissioners issuing search warrants. See Wis. SCR 75.02; Wis. Stat. § 757.69(1)(b). There is no allegation that court commissioners lack the capacity to determine probable cause, see Shadwick, 407 U.S. at 351, nor does Diaz contend the warrant was not supported by probable cause. Further, there is no allegation that the court commissioner was not neutral and detached. Thus, the court finds no basis to conclude that the search that occurred here was in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Further, the court finds that application of the exclusionary rule under these circumstances would not be appropriate. Applying the exclusionary rule imposes substantial social costs and thus its application should be limited to situations "where its remedial objectives are thought most efficaciously served,--that is, where its deterrence benefits outweigh its substantial social costs." Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 591 (2006) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Thus, suppression of evidence should occur only as a last resort. Id.

The police proceeded as courts prefer; prior to conducting the search, a neutral and detached officer of the court was presented with an affidavit that established that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found in a particular location. Upon finding probable cause, a warrant was issued. Therefore, suppression of evidence is not appropriate in this case. Accordingly, the court shall recommend that Diaz's motion to suppress be denied.

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