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Law School Case Brief

Stanford v. Texas - 379 U.S. 476, 85 S. Ct. 506 (1965)

Rule:

The requirement that warrants shall particularly describe the things to be seized makes general searches under them impossible and prevents the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another. As to what is to be taken, nothing is left to the discretion of the officer executing the warrant.

Facts:

John William Stanford, Jr.’s home was searched pursuant to a warrant issued under Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 6889-3A, § 9, authorizing seizure of "books, records, pamphlets, cards, receipts, lists, memoranda, pictures, recordings and other written instruments concerning the Communist Party of Texas, and the operations of the Communist Party in Texas." Some 2000 items were seized, most relating to petitioner's mail order business but also including personal items. The state court denied petitioner's motion to annul the warrant and order the return of his property.

Issue:

Was the warrant issued to search Stanford’s home in the nature of a general warrant, thus, invalid?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that, even assuming the statute was constitutional and had not been pre-empted, the warrant was a general warrant forbidden by U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Court cited the history of the use of general warrants as instruments of oppression, and said that the constitutional requirement that warrants must particularly describe the things to be seized was to be accorded the most scrupulous exactitude when those things were books, seized for the ideas contained. The Court held that the indiscriminate sweep of the language of the warrant was constitutionally intolerable.

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