What is a Franks Motion and Hearing in California?
In California, if you suspect that a search warrant served on you was based on false or fraudulent information, effectively resulting in an illegal search and seizure, you have the legal right to challenge it.
In such cases, your criminal defense attorney may file a Franks motion. Named for the seminal case Franks v. Delaware in 1978, the Franks motion requests a hearing to scrutinize the validity of a search or arrest warrant. A process also known as traversing a warrant involves a challenge to the veracity of the affidavit and the information contained therein.
In other words, a Franks hearing is a legal proceeding in a criminal case where the defense lawyer attempts to traverse a search warrant, which means that the defendant challenges the truth of the information used to support it.
A Franks motion is the legal document given to the judge setting forth the defendant's request for a hearing and the specific challenges. This type of hearing is usually conducted after a search and seizure.
Suppose the defense is successful at the hearing. In that case, the judge will toss out or suppress all or some of the evidence seized under the warrant. Notably, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution says that a search warrant can only be issued upon showing probable cause.
Probable cause is a reasonable belief that criminal activity has taken place or is taking place. Thus, a motion to traverse challenges the truth of the information that tries to establish probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant. The defense can also challenge both arrest warrants and bench warrants.
The foundation of a Franks motion lies in the suspicion that the law enforcement officer involved may have misrepresented facts or demonstrated reckless disregard for the truth while obtaining the warrant. Suppose the defense can provide sufficient preliminary evidence of such dishonesty. In that case, the court will hold a Franks hearing to examine the warrant and the affidavit behind it and see whether it is based on false presumptions.
What is the Background of the Franks Motion?
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures” by law enforcement officers.
To search a property, law enforcement must obtain a warrant signed by a judge or magistrate based on information in an affidavit or sworn statement provided by the officer seeking the warrant.
However, suppose any of this information is false or misleading, intentionally or due to reckless disregard for the truth. In that case, any evidence obtained from that search should be inadmissible in court.
The Franks motion, and subsequent Franks Hearing, refers to the legal procedure where a defendant challenges the validity of a search warrant or arrest warrant, otherwise known as traversing the warrant. In other words, A Franks hearing is a proceeding before a judge where a defendant contests the veracity of a search warrant.
When a warrant is traversed, it's akin to declaring, “There's a flaw in this warrant, and it shouldn't have been issued.” It questions the truthfulness or sufficiency of the facts upon which the warrant was issued.
What is Probable Cause for Search Warrants?
The entire justification of a search warrant is based on probable cause. The Fourth Amendment states that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”
Thus, to obtain a search warrant, a law enforcement officer must provide an affidavit to the magistrate or judge asserting that there is probable cause—meaning, reasonable suspicion—that evidence of a crime is present on the premises.
A police officer must submit a search warrant affidavit to the judge. This document gives the reasons why they should allow law enforcement to search. Sometimes an affidavit will include statements from a confidential informant.
However, if the sworn affidavit is based on false or misleading information, the subsequent warrant effectively violates the person's Fourth Amendment rights.
Suppose the judge determines during a Franks hearing that the information in the affidavit was false or deliberately misleading. In that case, any evidence obtained from the subsequent search can be considered “fruit of a poisonous tree” and thus inadmissible in court.
What Is the Process of Filing a Franks Motion?
Filing a Franks motion in California involves several steps:
- Submitting the motion and related evidence: The defense submits the motion, detailing why they believe the warrant was obtained under false pretenses or with reckless disregard for the truth. Alongside this, they must provide prima facie evidence supporting these claims.
- Court review: The judge reviews the motion and the preliminary evidence. If the defense has made a strong enough case, the judge will schedule a Franks hearing, typically in the judge's chambers.
- Franks hearing: During the hearing, the defense may need to subpoena witnesses to testify about the alleged misconduct. The judge may also question the affiant (who wrote the warrant affidavit) to determine whether it contains falsehoods, misrepresentations, inaccuracies, or material omissions.
What is the Burden of Proof When Filing a Franks Motion?
For a motion to be considered by the court, specific criteria must be met in terms of the evidence presented:
- The defendant must have made a “substantial” preliminary showing that the warrant affidavit was misleading, false, or contained material omissions.
- The defendant must argue that an officer knew of the falsity at the time of submission. In other words, they deliberately misled the court or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
- The defendant must prove that the misleading statements or omissions were material to the court's decision to issue the warrant.
Notably, the motion can also show that authorities intentionally omitted the affidavit material information that would have negated the granting of a warrant. If the trial court finds the motion persuasive, the judge will hold a Franks hearing, an evidentiary hearing held in the judge's chambers.
What Happens If the Franks Motion is Granted?
During the hearing, the defense attorney can present evidence of why the search warrant should not have been ordered.
The judge at the suppression hearing could question the officer who wrote the affidavit, known as the affiant. The judge asks questions to determine if the affidavit has false information, misrepresentations, or is inaccurate.
A successful Franks motion can have far-reaching implications for your case. If the judge grants the motion after the Franks hearing, it means that some or all the evidence procured from the disputed warrant becomes inadmissible in court and must be suppressed.
A motion to quash an arrest warrant is a claim that an arrest warrant is invalid or illegal. This could significantly impact the case's trajectory, possibly turning the tide in your favor. You can contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.