Judicial Neutrality Upheld: Evidence Suppressed in Oklahoma Case
Video Transcript: Suppression of evidence affirmed where the magistrate abandoned neutrality and helped law enforcement. I’m Oklahoma lawyer James Wirth, and we’re talking about a new case from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
It’s State of Oklahoma versus Alan Newsom. It is S-2022-412 and is not a published decision, but it is an interesting decision. In that case, law enforcement had some information related to what they believed was a crime. They wrote it up in an affidavit, and they took it to the magistrate in order to get a warrant. Rather than deciding yes or no, the magistrate kind of took some stuff up, gave some tips to law enforcement, and kind of told them how to redraft her and maybe she redrafted it. It’s not completely clear, and then the officer did that, came back, and then she signed the warrant.
Ultimately, the person was arrested, charged, and then put on for a preliminary hearing where there was a motion to suppress saying that it was bad warrant because the magistrate abandoned neutrality. A magistrate is not supposed to favor the state, not supposed to favor the defendant, is supposed to be neutral.
In this case, the defendant was asserting that the magistrate actually helped law enforcement do a better job drafting their affidavit so that she could sign it, sign the warrant that is. There’s some interesting language in here.
Ultimately, the motion to suppress was heard at the district court and it was heard by Judge Woodward, who held the following: “The magistrate was acting on law enforcement’s behalf and on the state’s behalf in editing the affidavit for the search warrant and then issuing the warrant.” Court called this “an abandonment of her neutrality.” Now, the state somewhat conceded that that was an abandonment, perhaps of neutrality.
What the state was asserting was, well, it was still in good faith by law enforcement, and under the Leon exception, where there was good faith by law enforcement, even when there’s a bad warrant, that they should still not grant the suppression saying that although that’s fruits of a poisonous tree, shouldn’t really be suppressed because law enforcement was acting in good faith.
That’s the issue that the state was addressing, and what the court said to that was, “Where the issuing magistrate wholly abandon his judicial rule in such circumstances, no reasonably well-trained officer should rely on the warrant.” It should have been clear to law enforcement that it’s improper for the judge to abandon that neutrality and help crafting the affidavit for that warrant. Therefore, the good faith exception under Leon does not apply. Some additional language in here that notes how seriously the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was taking this.
Ultimately, they noted at the end of their opinion that “We are obligated to forward a copy of this opinion to the Council on Judicial Complaints for such action as it finds necessary based on the facts of this case.” They found it serious enough to believe that they were required to forward this to the Office of Judicial Complaints.
Essentially, it’s an ethical issue that perhaps maybe needed to be investigated. Well, that’s the decision that we have here. We have a decision that’s favorable for the defendant from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which is somewhat rare, but we’ve been seeing a few in the last few months, which is interesting, and that allowed the suppression of evidence where there was a judge not doing her proper job and ultimately not being neutral, but helping out the state.
That’s a good result, hopefully for judges and law enforcement acting in the ways that they’re supposed to with law enforcement not accepting help from judges and judges understanding that they need to be neutral and not give a preference to the state.
If you’re dealing with a criminal case in the State of Oklahoma or an appeal, you’re going to want to talk to a Tulsa criminal defense attorney about that privately, confidentially get legal advice. To get that scheduled to somebody at my office, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.