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FBI Violated Constitution In Safe-Deposit Box Search, Court Rules

The FBI violated the Fourth Amendment when its agents rifled through the contents of more than 700 safe-deposit boxes after a 2021 raid, ruled a panel of federal appeals court judges. Judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed what innocent victims of the raid and their attorneys have argued for years: that the FBI overstepped the bounds of its warrant and failed to follow proper protocol when federal agents cracked open safe-deposit boxes, ran the contents past drug-sniffing dogs, and tried to seize money and other valuables found in the boxes, Reason reports.

The 9th Circuit's ruling involved"supplemental instructions" for the handling of the safe-deposit boxes seized at U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, Calif. The warrant authorizing the raid forebade federal agents from engaging in a "criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety [sic] deposit boxes." Under typical FBI procedure, the boxes should have been taken into custody until they could be returned to their rightful owners. The "supplemental instructions" drawn up by the agent in charge of the operation told agents to be on the lookout for cash stored inside the safe-deposit boxes and to note "anything which suggests the cash may be criminal proceeds." It is "particularly troubling," wrote Judge Milan Smith Jr., that the government was unable to provide any "limiting principle to how far a hypothetical 'inventory search' conducted pursuant to customized instructions can go." Smith theorized that if a government agency were "given the discretion to create customized inventory policies" for "each car it impounds and each person detained, the ensuing search stops looking like an 'inventory' meant to simply protect property and looks more like a criminal investigation of that particular car or person, i.e, more like a 'ruse.'"


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