It Wasn’t Me—Unintended Targets of Arrest Warrants
Innocent people are being arrested multiple times on arrest warrants intended for others. By virtue of sharing a name with someone who is the legitimate target of law enforcement, these innocent people experience unfair disruptions in their lives almost any time they have contact with law enforcement. As of today, the courts afford them no relief, based in part on a series of unfortunate interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. Nothing stops law enforcement from repeatedly arresting the same person as long as the person arrested has the opportunity to see a judge after spending several days in jail. Courts throughout this country accept that these innocent people can be arrested ad infinitum, as long as they see a judge within a reasonable amount of time.
This Note examines the development of jurisprudence on the particularity requirement in the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment. Through a series of logical missteps, courts have whittled away at the otherwise clear Fourth Amendment avenue of relief for the unintended targets of arrest warrants. As long as the name on the warrant is the correct name for the target of the warrant, courts deem the Warrant Clause satisfied. And the officers on the scene cannot be blamed for acting in good faith when they arrest an individual whose name is identical to the name on the warrant. Thus, the only avenue left for these victims is an inadequate Fourteenth Amendment over-detention analysis.
This Note asserts that the avenue for relief lies in following a correct interpretation of the Fourth Amendment’s Warrant Clause that courts have thus far ignored. Under this interpretation, victims can obtain injunctive relief through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a statute permitting suit against persons acting under the color of state law for violations of federal constitutional or statutory rights.1 Through this cause of action, victims can enjoin the organizations that issue these warrants to update them in a manner that satisfies the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement. Most importantly, victims can stop worrying that every interaction with law enforcement will result in spending several days in jail for a crime they did not commit.