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United States v. Grubbs - 547 U.S. 90, 126 S. Ct. 1494 (2006)


For a conditioned anticipatory warrant to comply with the Fourth Amendment's requirement of probable cause, two prerequisites of probability must be satisfied. It must be true not only that if the triggering condition occurs there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place, but also that there is probable cause to believe the triggering condition will occur. The supporting affidavit must provide the magistrate with sufficient information to evaluate both aspects of the probable-cause determination.


An "anticipatory" search warrant is based on an affidavit showing probable cause that at some future time (but not presently) certain evidence of crime will be located at a specified place and typically subjects the warrant's execution to some condition precedent (the "triggering condition") other than the mere passage of time.

In the case at hand, officers from the United States Postal Inspection Service arranged a controlled delivery to respondent Grubbs' house of a pornographic videotape that he had purchased online from an undercover postal inspector. A magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued an anticipatory search warrant for the house on the basis of a postal inspector's affidavit. The affidavit: (1) stated the triggering condition that the warrant would not be executed until a parcel containing the videotape was received at, and physically taken into, the house; and (2) referred to two attachments describing the residence and the items to be seized. During the search that followed delivery of the videotape, postal inspectors gave Grubbs a copy of the warrant, which included the attachments but not the supporting affidavit. After being indicted under federal law for receiving the videotape, Grubbs filed a motion to suppress the seized evidence on the ground, inter alia, that the warrant was invalid because it failed to list the triggering condition for the search. A federal district court denied the motion. The accused pleaded guilty, but reserved his right to appeal the motion's denial. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and invalidated the warrant concluding that the warrant's failure to present the triggering condition violated the Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement for warrants.


Was the anticipatory warrant valid?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that anticipatory warrants were lawful and that the occurrence of the triggering condition plainly established probable cause for the search. In addition, the affidavit established probable cause to believe the triggering condition would be satisfied since although it was possible that Grubbs could have refused delivery of the videotape he had ordered, that was unlikely. Furthermore, the Court noted that the Fourth Amendment's requirement that a warrant "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized" did not include the conditions precedent to execution of the warrant. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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