The fourth amendment of the United States Constitution says that “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.”
What this basically means is that, in order for a person, their home, or their belongings to be searched, there must be some type of tip or piece of evidence – which can be proven in court (by an affidavit which swears to be true)– that gives proof that the police believed their search was warranted.
Last fall, a U.S. District Court ruled that police were entitled to immunity from a lawsuit in the case of Giuseppina Sanseverino, where police barged into Sanseverino’s house and smashed the door, arresting her son, Anthony, on a drug charge which was later dropped.
U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant dimissed the case on October 15, 2012, but a panel of federal appellate judges in the Second Circuit reversed his decision last Tuesday, stating that it was too close to determine whether the police would have gotten a warrant without the information in dispute; that dispute being Sanseverino’s claim that several officers gave fake information in their affidavits that led to the state judge signing off on the warrant. The city claims that the police acted in good faith and did not lie in their affidavits.
In addition, the panel ruled that Sanseverino “raised a genuine issue of fact” in regards to whether the police “intentionally or recklessly made misstatements and falsehoods in the warrant affidavit.”
As a result, the panel reinstated her civil rights lawsuit, sending it back down to the lower court to proceed to trial. In that trial, the courts will determine whether the affidavits were indeed falsified, or whether the warrant was legitimate.
Sanseverino’s attorney stated that “the New Britain detectives went way overboard in this. Their overzealousness caused harm to real people.”
The warrant was signed by a state judge on October 1, 2011, after the police suspected Anthony Sanseverino of selling marijuana from inside his parents’ apartment room. The police received a warrant to search the house, based on affidavits which stated that the witnessed suspicious activity while observing the house.
Their affidavit states that they watched Omar Sanchez leaving the driveway from the Sanseverino home, and quickly left while trying to conceal something in his pants. When the officers approached Sanchez, he threw a small bag of marijuana onto the ground, and later identified Anthony Sanseverino as the dealer.
Sanseverino’s attorney says that the officers would not have been able see the driveway from their location. Additionally, he produced a sworn statement from Sanchez which denies that he’d ever told police about where he got the marijuana from.
Clearly, one of these two parties is lying under oath. Based on that fact, the court ruled that without the Sanchez information – the information which claims that Sanchez said he got the marijuana from Anthony – it is not clear whether the police would have had enough evidence to get a search warrant.
This issue is what must be ruled on in the lower court when this case goes to trial. Because if the police did not have enough evidence to search Anthony’s house, and they did anyway, they violated his fourth amendment rights.
We will keep you updated on this information once it goes to trial. For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).