Sealed Search Warrants Rejected by Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit vacates the district court’s judgment in a case that seeks to unseal search warrants in an important Fourth Amendment case.

HOUSTON, TEXAS, AUGUST 22, 2017 – On Monday, August 21st, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit struck a major blow against sealed search warrant affidavits and said in its Opinion that the district court abused its discretion in the case.

In what started as an IRS tax investigation, the legal team at Minns & Arnett challenged the legitimacy of concealing the probable cause affidavits supporting three search warrants for the home, business, and storage unit of their client, Mr. Justin Smith. Attorney Michael Minns argued that Mr. Smith should have a common law right to access the affidavits supporting the warrants. The Magistrate granted a request by Minn’s law partner, Ashley Arnett, for disclosure, but the Federal District Court overruled the Magistrate’s order granting access to the affidavits, prompting an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The Appeals Court agreed with Mr. Minns, stating in the published Opinion that, “The district court abused its discretion by finding that the pre-indictment warrant materials here should remain sealed without making sufficient factual findings.”

“This is a tremendous decision with far-reaching impact for the Fourth Amendment, increasing transparency in the judicial process for citizens, as well as the media,” said Michael Minns, counsel for Justin Smith, the subject of interest in the warrants.

Motions in the Magistrate’s Court and District Court were handled by Minns & Arnett partner Ashley Arnett, and oral arguments at the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans were conducted by Michael Minns.

Minns & Arnett is a trial and appellate law firm based in Houston, Texas which tries Federal cases all over the United States. The firm focuses on complex tax matters and professional malpractice cases, with a concentration in criminal tax defense. The firm has litigated cases from New York to California, in Alaska and Hawaii, Texas and Jersey.

SOURCE: Minns & Arnett News Release
Case Number: 16-20562
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit