The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Cruz on Monday, December 22, 2014.
Raul Cruz was convicted by a jury of knowingly and intentionally possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute and sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Cruz subsequently filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, alleging his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence uncovered during the search of his residence pursuant to an unsigned search warrant. The district court denied relief on this assertion, and Cruz appealed.
The Tenth Circuit found, upon examination of the record, that the affidavit and warrant had been presented to a New Mexico district judge on March 26th, 2010. The judge signed the signature lines on the affidavit but neglected to sign the warrant at that time. Officers executed the warrant on March 29, 2010, and found methamphetamine, horse steroids, cash, and false identification. Officers found no evidence of drug use in the home or by Cruz. Cruz admitted to possession of the drugs but not intent to distribute. Approximately a month later, the judge signed the warrant, dated it March 26, 2010, and wrote “Nunc Pro Tunc on this April 23, 2010″ below the date line.
Cruz asserted that his counsel should have moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search of his residence, as well as his subsequent statements to police about the fruits of the search, because the unsigned warrant was not “issued” by a judge. Cruz claims that such motion would have been meritorious and would ultimately have led either to dismissal of the charges against him or his acquittal at trial. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding instead that nothing in the text of the Fourth Amendment conditions the validity of a warrant on its being signed. The First Circuit recently dealt with surprisingly similar facts and rejected the defendant’s argument, concluding that nothing in the Fourth Amendment required the judge who made the probable cause determination to also sign the warrant. The Tenth Circuit exhaustingly examined the meaning of the term “issue” under the Fourth Amendment, and found no reason to impose conditions on a validity of a warrant that were not set forth by the Fourth Amendment itself. The Tenth Circuit therefore concluded that there was no support for an inference that Cruz’s counsel’s motion to suppress would have been meritorious, and found no deficient performance of his counsel.
The district court’s judgment was affirmed.