Friday, March 07, 2014

Anticipatory search warrant issued by Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge valid despite provisions of Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(b), because search was a state search in nature, and postal inspector’s four-day delay in obtaining search warrant not unreasonable under totality of the circumstances.

In United States v. Golson, No. 13-1416 (3d Cir. Feb. 11, 2014), during the course of a drug trafficking investigation, postal inspectors in Phoenix, Arizona intercepted a parcel with a fictitious return address that was addressed to a residence near Harrisburg, Pa. Postal Inspectors in Harrisburg received the package on a Thursday — that Monday, the Government obtained a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge; when opened, the package contained 20 pounds of marijuana.

The Cumberland County Drug Task Force decided to carry out a controlled delivery to the residence, and obtained an anticipatory search warrant signed by a Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge. A postal inspector disguised as a carrier delivered the package, which someone in the house accepted and signed for on behalf of defendant (using a fictitious name). When the indicator equipment in the package alerted that it had been opened, law enforcement officers entered the home, took the residents into custody, and searched the house, finding drugs, drug-selling paraphernalia, firearms, and ammunition.

Golson — the intended recipient of the parcel — was charged with drug trafficking and possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress asserting two arguments of interest: 1) the search violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(b) — providing warrant issuing authority to a federal judge or a judge of a state court of record — because a Magisterial District Judge is not a judge of a state court of record under Pennsylvania law; and 2) the postal inspectors unreasonably retained possession of the parcel for four days before seeking a warrant to open it.

The District Court denied the suppression motion and Golson entered a conditional guilty plea. On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the suppression motion.

First, the Court held that although a Pennsylvania Magisterial Court Judge is not a judge of a state court of record as Rule 41(b) requires, Rule 41(b) does not apply here because the search was a state search in character: among other things, the search warrant was issued at the request of a state trooper indicating a violation of state law, and federal involvement in the search and seizure was, under the circumstances, relatively minor.

Second, the Court held that the four-day delay in obtaining the search warrant was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, particularly because of the agent’s one-day scheduled leave and the two-day weekend, with the search warrant issued the next business day.

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