Mississippi law has never provided for police to obtain search warrants by merely phoning a judge. But in an opinion handed down in a marijuana case on October 24, the state Supreme Court allowed a conviction based on a telephonic search warrant to stand, even while it reiterated that such warrants are illegal. Go figure.
James White of Clinton, MS, was sentenced to nine years in prison for marijuana trafficking after police seized less than two ounces of pot from his home in 1998. The seizure came when police raided his home based on a telephonic search warrant okayed by a local magistrate. Hinds County sheriff's deputies targeted White after deputies trailed a local man to White's place, then pulled him over, finding marijuana. The local man told police he got it from White, according to the court opinion. Police feared White would become suspicious and destroy the evidence, they testified.
"This Court finds that the search was a warrantless search, as Mississippi has yet to recognize the viability of telephonic warrants," wrote Presiding Justice Smith for the majority. "We decline to accept telephonic search warrants as valid."
But then the court turned around and did just that in ruling that the police acted in "good faith" when executing the warrant that wasn't. The US Supreme Court held that officers executing a search warrant that turned out to be defective should not be punished by excluding evidence because they acted in "good faith." The Mississippi court cited trial testimony by one deputy that he had applied for and executed telephonic search warrants "one or two times" before (!) and that a district attorney had told him it was okay under certain circumstances (!). Displaying a curious lack of curiosity about such acts it deems illegal, the court instead merely held that the deputy's belief in telephonic warrants constituted "good faith."
Chief Justice Pittman, in a dissent, accused his colleagues of holding "two incompatible positions" in arguing that the search was warrantless because there is no such thing as a telephonic search warrant in Mississippi, yet also arguing that the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule -- which requires a warrant -- could be invoked. "At the same time that it rejects searches authorized by telephone, it upholds this search based upon permission obtained by telephone," he wrote. And James White sits in prison because of a search based on a warrant that never existed.
Visit http://www.mslawyer.com/mssc/cases/20021024/0001034.html to read the opinion online.