Last week, I argued a federal criminal case here in Atlanta in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The main issue in the case was whether a search warrant that was obtained by an Atlanta Police Department Officer could survive scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment.
Procedurally, the case was somewhat unique in that, in the lower court, the federal magistrate judge concluded that the warrant was unconstitutional. His decision was based primarily on the fact that the warrant completely failed to link the items sought in the warrant to the crime at issue, or provide any basis as to why those items would be present at the location searched. Thus, the judge concluded (rightly I believe) that Eleventh Circuit precedent required him to hold that the warrant was unconstitutional because it simply was not supported by probable cause. Ultimately, however, this decision was not sustained by the federal district judge that presided over the matter. Obviously, we disagree with this decision, which is why we ended up in the Court of Appeals.
This was my sixth oral argument in the Federal Court of Appeals (Paul Kish has argued about fifty cases there) and I am always amazed at how much preparation time is required to get ready for an oral argument. I spent several days reading cases, reviewing briefs and the record below, and outlining my argument. The folks at the Federal Defender office here in Atlanta helped me tremendously. Several of them took time from their busy schedules to read the briefs and spend several hours grilling me with questions. It was a huge help. Based on my reading of the case law, I am very optimistic.