By Hutchinson News, Feb. 14
A bill before the Kansas Legislature seeks to force law enforcement and prosecutors to make public the probable cause affidavits that support search warrants, which have been sealed since 1979.
And the family behind the legislation has good reason for pushing the change in the law. In April 2012, Johnson County sheriff’s deputies in full tactical gear raided the home of Leawood residents Robert and Adlynn Harte and their then 7- and 13-year-old children. During the raid, Robert Harte was held on the ground while an officer kept an assault rifle trained on him.
The fruitless raid was based on information from the Missouri Highway Patrol that the Hartes had visited a hydroponic store and left with a bag of indoor gardening merchandise. While the heavily armored and armed officers expected to find marijuana, what they found were two scared kids, some tea leaves and tomato and squash plants.
When the Hartes sought to uncover why the police needlessly raided their home, they met resistance, and it took nearly a year for the couple to learn that the baseless raid was founded on their visit to the gardening store and the three times police dug through their trash cans and found tea leaves they believed were marijuana.
House Bill 2555 would force law enforcement to open their supporting affidavits behind search and arrest warrants.
But more importantly, it would shine light on the work of law enforcement and require them to prove to the public that they have built enough of a case to justify violating someone’s home or putting them in jail.
The issue is more important than ever before as technology continues to advance in ways that allow law enforcement to remotely track and monitor individuals.
Naturally, the law enforcement community has responded that opening the records would add another layer of review and slow the time between investigations and court proceedings. That, however, is of little concern to families like the Hartes, who were the victims of a careless and weak investigation that never should have ended with a full-blown crack house-style raid in a suburban neighborhood.
The concerns of law enforcement do not trump the constitutional rights of the individual. And in an era when Americans have learned more about the extent and scope of domestic surveillance, we’ve also learned that the processes in place to protect us against unlawful search and seizure are not adequate protection.
Frankly, Kansans have no idea if supporting affidavits are even produced, whether judges critically review those documents or if legal authorities simply accept the word of an investigator who is in a hurry to make an arrest.
One sure protection, however, is to force law enforcement to become more open and accountable to the public. In the process, Kansas will end up with more thorough, complete investigations and less likelihood that innocent people will be targeted or that guilty people will be able to exploit weak investigations that never see the light of day until trial.