DES MOINES — A divided Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a warrant to search a suspected drug dealer's residence, even though a deputy and a judge didn't properly fill out the authorizing paperwork.
The 4-3 ruling underlined divisions among the justices on whether officers and judges must be held to exacting standards or if seemingly minor bureaucratic oversights can be excused.
At issue was a warrant application that Scott County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Furlong prepared in 2015 to search a Davenport home where Maurice Angel lived.
Furlong, who had tracked Angel's movements for weeks, didn't sign the application spelling out why he thought there was probable cause. But he swore to the information under oath before District Court Judge Henry Latham, who signed the warrant. The judge failed to circle words in two spots indicating he found probable cause, as required.
Days later, officers searching the property found cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, along with two young children. Prosecutors filed drug charges against Angel and a woman, Kemia B. McDowell, who lived there, who also was charged with child endangerment.
District Chief Judge Marlita Greve later granted their motion to throw out the evidence found during the search, saying the warrant didn't comply with the law because it lacked a signature. She said Latham's failure to circle the two words supported her decision.
Writing for the majority Friday, Justice Edward Mansfield said Furlong's oversight was inadvertent and that the application was legal because the law doesn't require the applicant's written "oath or affirmation." He said there was no doubt that Latham found probable cause to issue the warrant.
Dissenting Justice Brent Appel said he thought the warrant was invalid because the law requires the applicant's written signature and the issuing judge must make clear the finding of probable cause.
Praising Greve's ruling, Appel said the process of obtaining a search warrant to authorize police to raid a home is "not a bureaucratic bother in which a lackadaisical, close-enough attitude toward legal requirements is good enough." He said judicial review of the warrant process must be "highly detailed and demanding," given the constitutional rights at stake.
"This court, however, falls well short of the mark by endorsing a sloppy, poorly executed search warrant process," he wrote.
Mansfield was joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager. Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht concurred with Appel's dissent.
The case now returns to Scott County District Court for further proceedings.