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Search for guns and drug crimes nets little contraband

When a search warrant is issued for a private home, defense counsel must examine the warrant and the surrounding circumstances to determine whether there were deficiencies in the process. Fourth Amendment principles in Arkansas and all other states require that a search warrant be issued only upon probable cause, and that it must particularly describe the place and the subject matter being searched.  In most cases, when a search warrant or the search itself is determined to be deficient, the suppression of the evidence with respect to alleged drug crimes or gun charges will result in dismissal of the charged crimes.

Recent arrests in Helena-West Helena may raise constitutional issues depending on further discovery of the surrounding facts. Police obtained a search warrant for a residence based on "information" about gang activities. The police chief stated that the intention was to search several local residences "where people in the area have complained about criminal activity."  At the first property searched, police found a convicted felon in possession of a handgun and marijuana in his pickup truck. He and another resident were each arrested for possession of a gun and marijuana possession.

The search warrant will have to be examined, and the police questioned, to determine whether there was sufficient reasonable cause for the warrant. Anonymous tips or general complaints are typically insufficient. There must be information from known and reliable informants, and the information must point to specific criminal activity as opposed to general consternation with the lifestyle or habits of neighborhood residents.

The police allegedly found unsanitary living conditions at the residence, which resulted in the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services removing children from the home. This aspect of the arrest may indicate that the authority to search was not based on information dealing with specific violations but on observations of lifestyle routines. In any event, what was billed as a search for violent criminal activity netted two handguns and two minor drug crimes involving marijuana possession, with no indications of specific violent behavior or activities by the accused individuals.   

Source: helena-arkansas.com, "Search warrants lead to 3 arrests", Randy Hogan, April 20, 2016

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