Senators have more rights than you and I

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Justice Department violated the constitution in seizing certain papers in the FBI’s investigation of La. senator William Jefferson.

The court ruled that any documents that were seized that pertained to the legislative process must be returned. They did not order the return of documents not of the law-making kind. It made no ruling as to whether the information contained therein could be used in the bribery case against Jefferson. Jefferson, you may remember, was found with $90,000 in his freezer–a common place for innocent senators to keep their money.

The appeals court stated that the initial search conducted by the FBI of Jefferson’s office was legal, but that they violated the law when seizing all documents without giving Jefferson a chance to explain if they related to the legislative process.


Isn’t that tantamount to the police raiding a drug dealer’s home with a legitimate warrant, finding white powder on the coffee table, but being required to ask said doper if the stuff is baby powder? “Of course it’s baby powder, officer.” And of course all of those papers pertain to lawmaking.

But they didn’t.

So the court just made law. Not only do the police have to obtain a warrant signed by a judge, but they also have to make sure that everything they seize does not fall into some strange category of untouchability. I know the FBI did their homework before this raid. They have great lawyers, and you don’t march into a liberal, black senator without your ducks in line.

As a former police officer, I remember having to write the following from memory something like a hundred times in a search and seizure class–it’s our hallowed 4th Amendment.

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.

Where is the ambiguity? Actually, I believe the whole warrant process has become a muddled overly complicated mess that it was never intended to be. According to the above amendment, the application for a warrant could go like this:

Officer: Hi Judge Kendrick, sorry to wake you.

Judge: I’m used to it. Busy tonight?

Officer: Yup. Joe told me that Steve has three pounds of dope hidden in the back of his toilet. Joe’s good for it. We used him on that warrant two weeks ago that you signed. Here’s the police report that I took on his statements. We found pot seeds in Steve’s garbage too, plus a few baggies twisted off for distribution purposes. I’d like to search his car and apartment and take anything that looks like it could be used for drug use or sales. Any paperwork or computer documents that record illegal drug involvment too.

Judge: Alright. Raise your hand. Do you swear?

Officer: Yup.

Judge: Sign here. I gotta get up early to hit the links tomorrow.

Officer: Thanks. Goodluck.

That’s it. That’s the way it was a long time ago. But now the whole thing is swamped by rediculaous amounts of paperwork and weird legal terminology. I remember the first time that I saw a drug warrant affidavit. The wording was cryptic in the extreme. I thought to myself: What does this have to do with me telling the judge the facts and him determining if it amounts to probable cause?

And I don’t care if Republican Newt Gingrich opposed the raid. They are not above or below us. He should know better.

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