Appeals Court Finds FBI Did Violate 4th Amendment Rights of Los Angeles Residents by Seizing Hundreds of Safety Deposit Boxes without ‘Any Legal Basis’

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the FBI violated the Constitutional rights of some Beverly Hills residents by seizing hundreds of safety deposit boxes without ‘any legal basis.’

In 2021, the feds seized $85 million in cash, precious metals and family heirlooms stored in about 800 safe deposit boxes in Los Angeles.

A class-action lawsuit claims the FBI “exceeded the search warrant approved by the court” when it raided storage provider, US Private Vaults (USPV) and snooped through the contents of the safe deposit boxes.

USPV was indicted by the feds for conspiracy to sell drugs and launder money, however the owners of the boxes are not accused of committing any crimes.

The search warrant only authorized the FBI to inspect the safe deposit boxes to “identify their owners in order to notify them” about claiming their property.

The FBI agents were caught on video going through the boxes, tearing open packages with coins after already identifying the owner’s name.

“Items appear to be missing” – The owner’s lawyer told the Los Angeles Times the FBI’s list of inventory left out $75,000 in gold coins.

The Institute for Justice, a watchdog accountability group is spearheading the fight and filed a temporary restraining order this week on behalf of several owners who stand to lose the contents of their safe deposit boxes if a federal judge doesn’t intervene.

This is the “most outrageous Fourth Amendment abuse that the Institute for Justice has ever seen,” Frommer, the IJ attorney, said when it announced the case. “It is like the government breaking into every apartment in a building because the landlord was dealing drugs in the lobby.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the FBI violated the 4th Amendment rights of the Los Angeles residents by seizing 1,400 safety deposit boxes.

“Writing for the 9th Circuit panel Tuesday, Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. found that the government had gone beyond the scope of its warrant — and its own rules for taking inventory of property that is not the subject of a warrant but is nonetheless in its possession — by searching the boxes and launching subsequent criminal investigations based on their contents,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

Judge Milan Smith Jr., a Bush appointee, blasted the federal government for its unlawful search and seizure.

“Smith, an appointee of President George W. Bush, also wrote that it was “particularly troubling” that the government could not explain how far it believed it could go with such “inventory” searches. Without such an explanation, he wrote, it was unclear how those searches differed from the sort of limitless searches that existed in pre-revolutionary America — and which prompted the 4th Amendment to be written into the Constitution in the first place.” the newspaper said.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

The FBI violated people’s constitutional rights when it opened and “inventoried” the contents of hundreds of safe-deposit boxes during a raid on a Beverly Hills vault in 2021, a federal appellate court ruled Tuesday.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a lower court decision in favor of the FBI. The panel found that the agency’s cataloging of the contents of the privately rented boxes, without individual criminal warrants for each, violated the box holders’ 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling requires federal officials to destroy any inventory records they have kept on hundreds of box holders who have otherwise been found faultless and had their physical property returned. Officials must also destroy records that have been included in a criminal law enforcement database called Sentinel.

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