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Old 04-23-2004, 07:15 PM   #1
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Default Court Opens Door To Searches Without Warrants

NEW ORLEANS -- It's a groundbreaking court decision that legal experts say will affect everyone: Police officers in Louisiana no longer need a search or arrest warrant to conduct a brief search of your home or business.

Leaders in law enforcement say it will keep officers safe, but others argue it's a privilege that could be abused.

The decision in United States v. Kelly Gould, No. 0230629cr0, was made March 24 by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in Denham Springs in 2000, in which defendant Gould filed a motion to suppress information gleaned from a search of his home. The motion was granted by district court, and the government appealed this decision. The March 24 ruling by the 5th Circuit is an affirmation of that appeal.

In the case, the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office was contacted on Oct. 17, 2000, by a Gould employee who told officers that Gould intended to kill two judges and unidentified police officers and to destroy telephone company transformers. The LPSO informed the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office of the threats.

A search of Gould's criminal history revealed several arrests and that he was "a convicted felon for violent charges," according to the Facts and Proceedings section of the 5th Circuit ruling.

When officers went to question Gould, they were told he was asleep. The officers asked if they could look inside for Gould, and were allowed to enter.

The officers testified that that they believed a search of the home was necessary to ensure their safety, given the allegations by Gould's employee and Gould's criminal history, according to the Facts and Proceedings section of the 5th Circuit ruling.

Gould's bedroom door was ajar, and officers testified they peered inside and saw no one. Thinking Gould could be hiding, the officers looked in three closets. In one of the closets, the officers found three firearms, according to the Facts and Proceedings section of the 5th Circuit ruling.

Gould was found hiding outside the home a few minutes later. He was taken into custody and questioned about the guns. The officers asked for and received Gould's consent to search the home, with Gould signing a waiver of search warrant. Gould subsequently was arrested for allegedly being a felon in possession of firearms.

One judge, Judge Grady Jolly, said he concurred in part and dissented in part with the majority opinion. Judge Jerry Smith, however, completely disagreed with the majority ruling, saying: "I have no doubt that the deputy sheriffs believed that they were acting reasonably and with good intentions. But the old adage warns us that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.'"

New Orleans Police Department spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said the new search power, which is effective immediately, will be used judiciously.

"We have to have a legitimate problem to be there in the first place, and if we don't, we can't conduct the search," Defillo said.

But former U.S. Attorney Julian Murray said the ruling is problematic.

"I think it goes way too far," Murray said, noting that the searches can be performed if an officer fears for his safety.

Defillo said he doesn't envision any problems in New Orleans.

"There are checks and balances to make sure the criminal justice system works in an effective manner," Defillo said.
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