Anticipatory Warrants

Saturday, January 20, 2007
From Flopping Aces

What’s going on? As with everything about this program, we can’t be sure; we don’t know the facts, so we’re stuck with making barely-educated guesses. But it sounds to me like the FISA Court judges have agreed to issue anticipatory warrants. The traditional warrant process requires the government to write up the facts in an application and let the judge decide whether those facts amount to probable cause. If you were looking for a way to speed up that process — and both sides were in a mood to be “innovative” — one fairly straightfoward alternative would be to use anticipatory warrants.

An anticipatory warrant lets the government conduct surveillance when a specific set of triggering facts occurs. The judge agrees ahead of time that if those facts occur, probable cause will exist and the monitoring can occur under the warrant. The idea is that there isn’t enough time to get a warrant right at that second, so the warrant can be “pre-approved” by the Judge and used by the government when the triggering event happens.

And guess what? According to Orin, the Supreme Court, for the first time, has approved anticipatory warrants:

What’s the mystery legal development that helped make this possible? If my guesses are on the right track, it’s probably the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Grubbs, which was handed down on March 21, 2006. The Grubbs case is the first Supreme Court decision approving the use of anticipatory warrants.

So maybe nobody lost and nobody won, there was just a change in the rules. Sometimes I think our system is just a tad too adversary.

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