Your Government in Action

Your Government in Action Outrageous and unnecessary conduct By Stephen P. Prentice October 2000 Every law student can recite Article IV of our Constitution by heart simply because it is one of the most important articles. Remember...

Your Government in Action

Outrageous and unnecessary conduct

Stephen P. PrenticeBy Stephen P. Prentice

October 2000

Every law student can recite Article IV of our Constitution by heart simply because it is one of the most important articles. Remember your history. Back when the redcoats controlled the Colonies, it was routine to simply walk into a colonist's home or business, search at will, take what they wanted, and in some cases, house soldiers in the home.
It is interesting to note further that a Federal Appeals Court, citing strong support for the Fourth Amendment, recently slapped law enforcement for even invading the homes of probationers (ie. convicted criminals) under the guise of pursuing new crimes. This was held to be illegal.
The founding fathers of this country, and as noted, most of today's federal judges, feel strongly that Government should not be allowed to enter a home or business except under very narrow circumstances and then only when approved by a judge. They wanted a Judge to look into the reasons for any search to make sure there was probable cause that a crime had been committed and that evidence would be found at the site covered by the warrant. In addition, any data presented to a Judge should be from a competent and sworn source. So much for the law.

The event
It's nine-o'clock in the morning and you see some trucks and vans pulling up in front of your business. You wonder aloud about the traffic but assume it is nothing out of the ordinary. In short order, armed men come crashing through your doors and into your business, and loudly announce that they are U.S. officers and they have a court order (commonly called a search warrant) to search your business and seize things. When an employee asked to see the warrant, they stated it would be provided later. Now mind you, this was not a drug den or a gambling hall or some other illegal activity. It was an ongoing business establishment. Yes, a fixed base operation, with repair shops, offices, hangars and a large number of employees.
The employees were intimidated and told to stand against the wall. There were some 60 agents, including drug sniffing dogs, present. They were on the business premises all day collecting every piece of paper, computer data, and photo that they could find.
In the hangar, all the records of aircraft being worked on were confiscated. Repair orders and work sheets were included. Technicians' toolboxes, work stands, and roll-aways were searched and every piece of paper was collected, including pictures and other personal items. In one case, personal training records were taken.
Employees were taken aside and interrogated. Needless to say, no company or personal lawyers were invited by the agents to counsel the employees or at least be present.
This business was, for all practical purposes, shut down. They had no records with which to conduct daily business. They could not sell fuel, operate their shop, or conduct any flights. The warrant and actions in this case were tantamount to throwing these citizens against the wall like criminals.

The reasoning
The FBI agents and representatives of the DOT and Justice Department took the company officers aside and directed their attention to four aircraft on the premises. Since there had been a high profile accident with one of their aircraft, they accused the company of "cutting corners" on repairs. By cutting corners in the repair of their aircraft, the officers alleged that they were committing crimes and violating federal air regulations. The agents were politely told that the company did not own any of the aircraft and thus had no reason to cut corners on maintenance (ˆ la ValuJet, Alaska, and others). Aircraft were leased from owners - a common practice in the charter business. The Feds were surprised when they were told this since they thought they had another big case of shoddy maintenance practices.

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