Courts in Los Angeles and Orange County, Ca., have for years allowed police to keep the only version of the sealed affidavit they use to obtain a search warrant without filing a copy with the court, says the Los Angeles Times. Defense attorneys say the practice is rife with potential abuse. “It’s unheard of for the police to bring in an affidavit and then leave with it, saying we have to keep this secret, without the court having a record of it,” said law Prof. Gerald Uelmen of Santa Clara University. Vice President Ted Cassman of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the state’s largest organization of criminal defense lawyers, said the practice was “frightening” because officers could change the document after the search to make it fit the case. It would be impossible for the judge who issued the warrant to detect changes because the court would not have a copy.
The practice was so little-known that the Los Angeles County public defenders office, with one of the largest caseloads in the nation, did not learn about it until it was discussed in an appeals court ruling. “It’s news to us,” said Deputy Public Defender Albert Menaster. “It’s so weird I don’t know how to analyze it.”