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The substance of the United States Constitution's warrant requirements does not turn on the labeling of the issuing party. The warrant traditionally has represented an independent assurance that a search and arrest will not proceed without probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person or place named in the warrant is involved in the crime. Thus, an issuing magistrate must meet two tests. He must be neutral and detached, and he must be capable of determining whether probable cause exists for the requested arrest or search. The United States Supreme Court long has insisted that inferences of probable cause be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime.
In a municipal court in Tampa, Florida, the appellant was charged with driving while ability to drive was impaired. After a warrant for the appellant's arrest had been issued by a clerk of the municipal court, the appellant moved to quash the warrant on the ground that it was issued by a nonjudicial officer in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The motion was denied. The appellant then petitioned the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County for a writ of certiorari, and his petition was denied. The Florida District Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, affirmed, and the Florida Supreme Court, affirming the decision of the District Court of Appeal, held that the clerks of the municipal court were neutral and detached magistrates who were authorized under the Fourth Amendment to issue arrest warrants. Appellant challenged the decision.
Were the clerks of municipal courts authorized under the Fourth Amendment to issue arrest warrants?
The Court affirmed, holding that although the clerks of the municipal court were not lawyers or judges, they qualified as neutral and detached magistrates, so as to be authorized under the Fourth Amendment to issue arrest warrants, since there was no showing of partiality, or of affiliation of the clerks with prosecutors or police, or of any connection with any law enforcement activity or authority which would distort independent judgment. The court held that the clerks were not assigned to prosecutors or police, but were assigned to, and subject to the supervision of, the municipal court judges for whom they did much of their work. Moreover, the clerks' authority to issue arrest warrants extended only to arrests for violations of municipal ordinances, and there was no showing that the clerks lacked capacity to determine probable cause or that the task was too difficult for them to accomplish.