"John Doe" Warrants in Federal Court

United States v. Purham | 13-2475

July 2014

“John Doe” search warrants are commonplace in state prosecutions, and as federal prosecutors continue to adopt criminal cases investigated by state law enforcement officers, defense counsel will see more “John Doe” warrants being litigated in federal court. While “John Doe” warrants are not per se prohibited in federal court, United States v. Glover is an example of their limitations.

In Glover, a Chicago Police officer obtained a “John Doe Warrant” by bringing his informant before a state court judge and swearing out an affidavit detailing the information provided by the informant. While informants that serve as John Does often have sketchy backgrounds (e.g. gang membership, working off their own charges, etc.), part of the perceived reliability of the information is that John Doe is present before the reviewing state court judge. While the officer in Glover did just that (brought John Doe with him), the officer failed to include any detail about Doe’s background that would reflect on his credibility such as his gang membership, has status as a paid informant, his criminal background – all factors that were disclosed in the district court after the suppression issue was raised by counsel. Because of this complete lack of background information, the Seventh Circuit found the warrant constitutionally deficient. Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine whether Leon’s good faith exception applies.

Glover does not break new ground as much as it reflects the need to remain vigilante in identifying and advocating basic Fourth Amendment principles in district court proceedings.