Messerschmidt v. Miller

Messerschmidt v. Miller 


(1) Whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity when they obtained a facially valid warrant to search for firearms, firearm-related materials, and gang-related items in the residence of a gang member and felon who had threatened to kill his girlfriend and fired a sawed-off shotgun at her? (2) Whether United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), and Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986), should be reconsidered or clarified?

Whether police officers were entitled to qualified immunity for executing a search warrant for firearms and evidence of gang activity in a home after a victim reported that the suspect had threatened her with a gun.

  November 4, 2003  Messerschmidt applied for a warrant to arrest Jerry Bowen and a warrant to search the suspect's house.  Messerschmidt made an affidavit( is a written sworn statement of fact voluntarily made by an affiant or deponent under an oath or affirmation administered by a person authorized to do so by law.) titled "statement probable cause".  The police were called to Jerry Bowen house to accompany his former spouse into the house to get her belongings so that Jerry Bowen could not harm her. After the officers on call accompanied her for about 20 minutes they had an emergency call to tend to and would return when the situation was taken care of. While the officers were gone, Jerry Bowen started assaulting his former spouse Shelly Kelly threatening her and using abusive language. Once Shelly kelly was able to break away from Jerry Bowen and make it into her car; Jerry Bowen disappeared and returned with a black sawed off shot gun. Jerry Bowen fired the gun 5 times only hitting the victim's left front tire of her car. Once Shelly Kelly got away from Jerry Bowen she approached the officers that was at her former residence and told them what happened. She told the officers that Jerry Bowen has a deadly weapon in his possession. 

From the information the officers got from Shelly Kelly they placed Jerry Bowen in a line up that contained 6 men. Shelly circled Bowen's picture without hesitation. Once Kelly identified Bowen personally the policed gathered information about him being a part of the Mona Park Crip Gang. 

"The Swat team broke into Bowen's home with the warrant & did not find him. Shortly after that, Jerry Bowen was arrested after found hiding under a bed in a motel. "But the affidavit does not set forth any evidence indicating that Bowen owned or used other firearms, that such firearms were contraband or evidence of a crime, or that such firearms were likely to be present at the Millenders' residence"

Nothing was found in the warrant or affidavit says there was probable cause to search or seize the firearms that were listed on the warrant. Probable cause did not exist. 

The officers could not prove that the affidavit was attached to the warrant.

Messerschmidt did not use the affidavit at the Millenders' residence to provide more specific direction to the investigators who searched the house

Rather, they seized Augusta Millender's shotgun, which did not resemble the firearm described by Kelly: it had a wooden stock and was neither sawed-off nor had a pistol grip.

" the deputies had probable cause to search for a single, identified weapon, whether assembled or disassembled. They had no probable cause to search for the broad class of firearms and firearm-related materials described in the warrant."

The officers tried to argue in court that Jerry Bowen was seen with this firearm, is very dangerous and is part of a gang so they had probable cause to search for other items inside his house.

The officers were  qualified for immunity. 

Other related cases:

United States v. Leon 

Ewing v. City of Stockton

Ortiz v. Van Auken

Malley v. Briggs