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Quarles & Brady Achieves Win in Pro Bono Challenge to Search Warrant

CHICAGO, ILL. - Quarles & Brady attorneys E. King Poor and Valerie P. Vidal recently achieved a successful outcome for their pro bono client, Mason McMurtrey in an appeal where the court provided new guidance on the law for protecting a defendant's constitutional right to challenge a search warrant.

The case arose from an attempt by police to obtain search warrants for two almost identical houses on the same street on the same day--based on affidavits that contradicted each other. The court noted at the outset that the case required that it "clarify issues concerning the procedures a district court may or must use in evaluating a criminal defendant's motion to suppress evidence." In particular, the court ruled that a hearing to challenge the search warrants falls short of the constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures when it becomes "a vehicle for the government to present new evidence to explain discrepancies identified by the defense, yet the defense is not given a full opportunity to challenge or rebut that evidence." In this case, the court ruled that the hearing "went astray" when the government was allowed to explain discrepancies and contradictions in the affidavits supporting the search warrants, but the defendant was not allowed a full opportunity to cross examine on those contentions.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion in favor of a McMurtrey, allowing him to vacate his 15-year prison sentence. In a 23-page published opinion, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the trial court had improperly prevented their client from challenging a search warrant for a drug arrest and remanded his case for a new hearing. The case centers on the court's ruling that allowing the government to shore up a deficient affidavit for the warrant, while denying the accused an equal opportunity to challenge it, ran contrary to Supreme Court precedent protecting against unlawful searches and seizures.

"We are not only pleased with the court's ruling for our client, but are also grateful that the court has clarified how the Fourth Amendment's guaranty against unreasonable search and seizures applies to all defendants who challenge search warrants," said Vidal.

The Federal Public Defenders Office in Peoria, Illinois, where the case originated, has stated that the ruling will be of great use to future defendants in the circuit that challenge wrongful searches.

The case is reported at United States v. McMurtrey, __F.3d__ 2013 WL 105787 (7th Cir. 2013). For more information on this case, please contact Chicago office partner, King Poor at (312) 715-5143 or Milwaukee attorney, Valerie Vidal at (414) 277-5627.