CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SCOTUS Decides L.A. County vs. Rettele

Supreme_court_20 From Mistakes sometimes happen when police conduct home searches, the Supreme Court said Monday in throwing out Los Angeles County vs. Rettele, a lawsuit brought by a white couple in Southern California who were rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies looking for several black suspects.

The search of Max Rettele and his girlfriend, Judy Sadler, in their bedroom may have been an error, and it was certainly embarrassing to them, the justices said. But it did not violate their rights under the 4th Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," they added.

Police obtain search warrants based on probable evidence, not "absolute certainty," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent, and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost."

Without bothering to hear arguments in the case, the Supreme Court agreed and ruled for the deputies.

The couple's "constitutional rights were not violated," the court said in Los Angeles County vs. Rettele. The deputies "believed a suspect might be armed…. In executing a search warrant, officers may take reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search."

As for the innocent victims, "the resulting frustration, embarrassment and humiliation may be real, as was true here," the court said in its seven-page opinion. Nonetheless, "when officers execute a valid warrant and act in a reasonable manner to protect themselves from harm, however, the 4th Amendment is not violated."

Only Justice David H. Souter dissented from the order to reject the suit. In a separate statement, Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred in the outcome without joining the court's opinion. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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