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Court Overturns Improper Search Warrant in Mobile County, Alabama


This is a criminal case that was appealed due to a search warrant being served illegally. This case is from Mobile County, Alabama in the case of Anderson v. State of Alabama.

The Officers Jimmy Bailey (“Officer Bailey”) and Carlos Walton (“Officer Walton”) worked for the Mobile City Police Department. In February 2013, the officers executed a search warrant at the residence of William Anderson (“Anderson”). During the execution of the search warrant, the policemen found $15,140 in cash and a digital scale; however, no drugs were found on the premises. Anderson was charged with distribution of a controlled substance based on other evidence arising from an investigation conducted by Officer Bailey and Officer Walton.

The other evidence consisted of statements made to Officer Bailey from Anderson explaining that the money was collected form those who sold marijuana for him and that he intended to use $10,000 of the seized money to purchase additional marijuana.

Accordingly, the State instituted a forfeiture action against the currency found in Anderson’s home. A forfeiture action is an involuntary relinquishment of money or property without compensation as a consequence of the commission of a crime. At the hearing, Anderson testified that he had been saving the money from the two jobs he had been working.

However, an issue arose regarding the execution of the search warrant that lead to the finding of the money in question. The search warrant in question was directed to the sheriff of Mobile County not the Mobile City Police Department. Additionally, Anderson’s residence was not within the city limits of Mobile. However, despite the previously mentioned facts, Officer Bailey still executed the search warrant.

Officer Bailey testified that he believed he was authorized to execute warrants outside the city limits without being part of the task force. The trial judge entered a judgment forfeiting the money to the State and Anderson appealed.

The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the forfeiture. Here, the Court of Civil Appeals agreed with Anderson to the fact that the search warrant was executed improperly. Under Alabama law, a search warrant may only be executed by the officers to whom it is directed. Furthermore, according to Code of Alabama, 1975, Section 15-5-5, a search warrant may only be directed to the county sheriff or constable, indicating only sheriffs, deputies, or constables may execute search warrants.

To point out, Officer Bailey was only a municipal police officer; therefore, Officer Bailey lacked authority to execute the search warrant. The State argues that municipal police officers can execute warrants. Although that may be true, it is only true when a municipal court judge issues the search warrant. Here, the district court judge issued the search warrant and not a municipal judge; therefore, this exception is not applicable.

Furthermore, the Court of Civil Appeals explained that section 15-5-7 requires the search warrant to be exercised by the officer who it is directed to, and it was undisputed that the search warrant in the present case was directed to the sheriff of Mobile County not the Mobile City Police Department. Thus, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the order of the trial court.
In the States final attempt to save the search warrant, the State argued that the “good faith” exception should prevent reversal of this case. That exception prevents exclusion of evidence gathered during a defective search warrant when the officers executing the search reasonably relied on the warrant later held to be invalid. However, the search warrant was valid and was just improperly executed. Accordingly, the Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the exception was not applicable to the case at hand.

Normally, law officers executing search warrants must be specifically directed to do so under the authority of the search warrant. However, as the case above illustrates, that is not always the case. Luckily for Anderson, the Court reversed the trial court’s order, and prevented the evidence from be being the basis of the forfeiture action due to it being illegally obtained.
If you find yourself facing a search warrant or forfeiture of money in Birmingham or in Alabama, contact Birmingham criminal defense lawyer, Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 335-2640.. We will work to return your property or money to you.

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