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IN RE 2125 S ST.

July 27, 1977

In re Search Warrant Dated July 4, 1977, for Premises at 2125 S Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRYANT

 On July 8, 1977, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed a search warrant on the premises of the Founding Church of Scientology, Washington, D.C. *fn1" Issued on the strength of a lengthy affidavit alleging that certain Church officials had conspired "to steal documents from the Government of the United States by means of the burglary of U.S. Government offices and theft by operatives of the Church in the employ of the U.S. Government" and to obstruct justice by "preparing a false response to expected inquiries . . . by law enforcement authorities and federal grand juries," *fn2" the warrant directed the agents to file cabinets located in the rear of the fourth floor of the building that houses the Church's Washington offices. There, the affiant stated he had probable cause to believe, the agents would find copies of the stolen documents as well as written plans, scenarios, directives and a summary of grand jury testimony prepared in furtherance of the alleged conspiracies.

 
Any and all fruits, instrumentalities and evidence (at this time unknown) of the crimes of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and theft of government porperty [sic] in violation of 18 U.S. Code §§ 371, 1503 and 641 which facts recited in the accompanying affidavit make out.

 While the FBI agents were conducting the search the Church filed a motion in this Court seeking to restrain them from doing so and to impose a protective order sealing all documents seized, primarily on the ground that the warrant was overbroad on its face in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Church argued in addition that should the contents of some of the seized documents be disclosed to representatives of the numerous federal agencies with which it is presently involved in civil litigation, its attorney-client privilege would be violated and its litigation prospects irreparably damaged. This Court denied the motion without reaching the merits of the Church's contentions. On July 11 the Church renewed its request for a protective order; with the consent of the United States Attorneys responsible for the criminal investigation, an order was entered prohibiting disclosure of the seized materials to attorneys for or employees of agencies involved in civil litigation with the Church. The order was to remain in effect for ten days.

 The Church has now moved for return of the property seized from its Washington files on July 8. Rule 41(e), Fed. R. Crim. P. In effect this is a motion to suppress. Id. The Church asserts four grounds for invalidating the seizure: The warrant was overbroad -- or "general" -- on its face; the agents conducted the search in a manner violative of the Fourth Amendment; the agents employed unnecessary force in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3109; and any probable cause that might have been established by the affidavit had grown stale by the time it was executed.

 Having considered the memoranda filed by representatives of the Church and of the government and heard their oral arguments with respect to the warrant's facial validity, I find I need go no further. I hold that the grant of authority to the agents to search for and seize any evidence of conspiracies to steal government property and to obstruct justice *fn3" amounted to a "general warrant" and therefore contravened the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. I am not persuaded that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Andresen v. Maryland, 427 U.S. 463, 96 S. Ct. 2737, 49 L. Ed. 2d 627 (1976), is to the contrary.

 I

 The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides:

 
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. (emphasis added).

 The Fourth Amendment serves to prevent both unjustified and arbitrary interferences with personal security and property. *fn4" In the first instance the amendment is designed to ensure that the government cannot interfere with a person's security unless it has a good reason for doing so. The particularity requirement ensures as well that the government cannot conduct a search indiscriminately, as by rummaging through a person's belongings in search of any evidence of any crime whatsoever. It accomplishes this end in two ways. First, it leaves to a neutral judicial officer the initial decision as to what can be seized. *fn5" Second, it circumscribes the permissible bounds of the search itself; as a commonly-used example illustrates, an officer executing a warrant could not reasonably expect to find a stolen elephant in a kitchen closet or in the drawer of a desk.

 As particularity is required, so necessarily is generality forbidden. Opposition to the so-called "general warrant" has firm roots in the history of Anglo-American law. As Justice Stewart has observed, writing for a majority of the Supreme Court in Stanford v. Texas, 379 U.S. 476, 481-82, 13 L. Ed. 2d 431, 85 S. Ct. 506 (1965):

 
These words [commanding a particularized description of the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized] are precise and clear. They reflect the determination of those who wrote the Bill of Rights that the people of this new Nation should forever 'be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects' from intrusion and seizure by officers acting under the unbridled authority of a general warrant. Vivid in the memory of the newly independent Americans were those general warrants known as writs of assistance under which officers of the Crown had so bedeviled the colonists. The hated writs of assistance had given customs officials blanket authority to search where they pleased for goods imported in violation of the British tax laws. They were denounced by James Otis as 'the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty, and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law book,' because they placed 'the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.' The historic occasion of that denunciation, in 1761 at Boston, has been characterized as "perhaps the most prominent event which inaugurated the resistance of the colonies to the oppressions of the mother country. 'Then and there,' said John Adams, 'then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child of Independence was born.'" Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 625, 29 L. Ed. 746, 6 S. Ct. 524 (1886).

 Also it is significant, in considering the propriety of seizure of a Church's documents, that the First and Fourth Amendments share at least in part a common heritage.

 
Historically the struggle for freedom of speech and press in England was bound up with the issue of the scope of the search and seizure power.

 Marcus v. Search Warrant, 367 U.S. 717, 724, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1127, 81 S. Ct. 1708 (1961). In fact, unlimited power to search was first directed at nonconforming religious groups.

 
In Tudor England officers of the Crown were given roving commissions to search where they pleased in order to suppress and destroy the literature of dissent, both Catholic and Puritan.

 Stanford v. Texas, supra, 379 U.S. at 482.

 I make reference to the First Amendment not to suggest that overtones of religious persecution attend the criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology, but to make clear the need for increased sensitivity in cases in which religious organizations are involved, irrespective of the nature or gravity of the charges ...


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