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U.S. Constitution. 

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

— Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 2016, Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Anthony Hardy in Indianapolis for drug possession with the intent to distribute. Hardy immediately cut a deal with DEA agents, providing names of other drug dealers, including Paul Huskisson.

According to Hardy, Huskisson was expecting a large shipment of methamphetamine the day after Hardy’s arrest. DEA agents recorded phone calls between a cooperative Hardy and Huskisson about the shipment.

Hardy and Huskisson met the next day. With DEA agents nearby, Hardy went inside, obtained the drugs, left and signaled DEA agents, who immediately stormed Huskisson’s home, uncovered 10 pounds of methamphetamine and arrested Huskisson. But the DEA’s efforts were conducted without a warrant.

Huskisson’s lawyers argued that the evidence obtained through the police’s illegal entry into their client’s home should not have been admissible, but he was found guilty. A three-judge appellate court from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (two appointed by Bill Clinton, one by Donald Trump) recently ruled against Huskisson, declaring the DEA’s actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Court stated: “All agree: the DEA entry team entered Huskisson’s house unlawfully. We do not condone this illegal behavior by law enforcement; the better practice is to obtain a warrant before entering a home. Ordinarily, the evidence found here would be excluded. But because the government had so much other evidence of probable cause, and had already planned to apply for a warrant before the illegal entry, the evidence is admissible.”

I will lose no sleep over Huskisson’s incarceration. He participated in a vile enterprise that has caused untold damage.

But constitutional interpretation is not based on the outcome; it is a set of guiding principles for the benefit of the innocent as well as the malefactor. The Bill of Rights was written expressly to protect the individual against government encroachment.

The Fourth Amendment was drafted in response to British abuses of power. Writs of Assistance were general warrants that had no expiration date that granted agents of the Empire the authority to search a colonist’s home at will. Writs required no probable cause; any innuendo that supported British suppositions would suffice.

Do we want to become a nation where obtaining a warrant before entering someone’s home is optional? If so, doesn’t the ruling by the three judge appellate court suggest closer alignment with writs of assistance than the Fourth Amendment? It certainly marks a regression on what is defined as “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The DEA should not be rewarded for sloppy administrative work. The application for a search warrant was sought after Huskisson’s arrest. If the Constitution has any bearing, the drugs obtained from Huskisson’s home were inadmissible.

Securing a search warrant would have been impractical if Huskisson was being frisked, searched, gave his consent, if the evidence was in plain view, or part of a protective sweep following an arrest or an emergency exception whereby obtaining a warrant would be unreasonable. According to the reporting, none of these circumstances were applicable.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Riley v. California that the warrantless search and seizure of digital contents of a cell phone during an arrest is unconstitutional. But in 2019, the three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the failure to secure a warrant 24 hours before the raid on Huskisson’s home did not violate his constitutional rights.

If DEA agents did not violate Huskisson’s constitutional rights, who among us is safe? Is this not an example of government infringement? The outcome serves as the tempter that allows us to conveniently disregard the Constitution.

If our understanding of the Constitution is prejudiced by the circumstances and outcome, then Huskisson truly got was he deserved. But can our sacred document long endure under the weight of such subjectivity?

Our constitutional inheritance demands that we adhere to the maxim attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “That it is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” Sometimes it is the unpopular outcome that exacts the largest toll on our constitutional commitment.

If this ruling against Huskisson is allowed to stand, it will mark a severe departure from the Fourth Amendment, chipping away at our constitutional norms.

As repulsive as reasonable people may find Huskisson’s actions, the end cannot justify the means, not if we are to remain a republic in good standing.

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The Rev. Byron Williams (byron@publicmorality.org), a writer and the host of “The Public Morality” on WSNC 90.5, lives in Winston-Salem.

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