Nevada Senate votes to delay releasing police search affidavits
Critics say the measure is unnecessary and would trample protections from unreasonable search and seizure.
The practice of not immediately revealing probable cause was commonplace in some areas of the state until the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last December that search warrants without an attached affidavit were invalid, said Ben Graham of the Nevada District Attorneys’ Association.
Since then, police statewide have been stapling all unsealed affidavits to search warrants. Graham says that change has in some cases hindered law enforcement efforts and endangered witnesses whose testimony is included in affidavits.
He’s backing SB316 to let police file affidavits with a court up to 10 days after a search or have the affidavit sealed by a magistrate. Graham downplayed its effect on civil liberties.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” he said. “It’s just to protect the people. There’s no legal rights or privileges that are affected by a few days’ delay.”
The Senate passed the bill 18-3 on Thursday over strong objections from Sen. Joe Neal, who said it would amount to a state endorsement of unconstitutional searches.
“I see the erosion of individuals’ right to be free of search and seizure without the warrant,” the North Las Vegas Democrat said.
Winnemucca lawyer Jack Bullock agreed.
“They want to operate their search warrants in secrecy. And that’s wrong,” said Bullock, a former district attorney.
Bullock represented Ruth Allen of Humboldt County, whose home was searched in January 2000 by police with a search warrant but no document stating probable cause. The state Supreme Court ruled in December to suppress the evidence police found.
Justices wrote that the existence of probable cause was the “linchpin of a warrant” and must be attached unless a magistrate has sealed an affidavit.
“If we’re going to have a truly free society, the targets of the search warrants should have some fundamental knowledge of why they’re being searched,” Bullock said.
SB316 heads to the Assembly.
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