Johnston Update: Were the Judge's Warrant Signatures Forged?

Over at Volokh, Orin Kerr says the judge's signatures on the warrants and affidavits look surprisingly similar, suggesting that they may have been photocopied.  I agree.  So does reader Fernando Colina.  Colina put the four signatures that appear on the warrants into an animation.  He writes:

The only adjustment I have made is to scale the first signature, which appears to have been scanned at a different resolution.

You will note that the signatures look awfully similar.  The first one is at an slightly different angle, but this can be explained by the fact that the scanned page was also slightly crooked. There is a slight compression between pictures 2 or 3.  The last signature seems a bit faded, possibly because the document may have been copied more than once.  The question is if this is due to the copying and scanning mechanism  [that would have been used to create forgeries] or to the fact that they may be different signatures.

They are remarkably similar.  Have a look:

Someone in the comments of Kerr's post suggest that perhaps the judge has an electronic PDF of his signatures pasted into warrant applications, or that he uses a stamp signature.  That would mean that my criticism in Overkill of judicial review of these warrants as little more than a "rubber stamp exercise" is dead-on -- both figuratively and literally.

I'd now like to see some other warrants this judge has signed, both from this particular narcotics officer, and from others.  Of course, it would also be nice to hear from the judge himself.  Does he remember signing this warrant?  He ought to answer some questions, too.  

If he did sign the warrant, someone should ask him how much scrutiny he gave it.  Did he ask the officer any questions?  Did he ask for specifics on how reliable the informant has been in the past?  Why did he sign a no-knock warrant based only on a single buy from an informant?  Why didn't he send the police back out to do more investigation first?

I know that prosecutors and judges are going to say that I'm crazy.  Judges hardly ever exercise that kind of scrutiny for search warrant requests, even for no-knocks.  

But you know what?  Maybe they should.

UPDATE to this post here.

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  • Dan Rather||

    Here we go again...

  • ||

    If they forged a judge's signature, that's a felony.

    A death results during the commission of a felony.

    You know what we call that?

  • Rhywun||

    Courage, judge!

  • ||

    It would be interesting to see if that is a forgery and if that would result in a felony homicide charge. I doubt it, the raid and the killing maybe though, if the raid became a B&E.

    I doubt they forged the judge's warrant. He probably just rubber stamped it.

  • ||

    At Volokh commenter Andy Treese explains that the identical-looking sigs are most likely the result of electronic office procedures.

  • thoreau||

    The identical sigs don't necessarily bother me. There's nothing wrong with a judge who reviews something, makes a decision, then tells his secretary to do the paperwork and stamp his signature.

    What bothers me is the decisions that a lot of people made, not the method by which a signature was placed on those decisions.

    This thing is awful on so many levels.

  • ||

    The interesting thing is why they obsessed over this woman's house. There seems to be no real evidence the woman was doing anything. More importantly, the woman had no previous contact with police. I can see where the police would pressure an informant to lie about someone they were after. The police think "we know this guy is selling drugs but we don't have enough for a warrant, lets call informant dirt bag and get him to give us the affidavit we need". I would not be surprised that this kind of thing goes on in a lot of places. But that is not what happened here. The police seemed to have chosen a house at random and strong armed their informant into giving them probable cause to run a search. Why? The only explanation I can think of is that the police needed a bust and were planning to kick down a door and plant drugs in some house, any house to get a good bust that month. Of course, they didn't count on the house being the home of a grandmother with a shotgun. Think about it, you go to the right poor neighborhood, you could bust in any house and probably find some young, poor black people who are going to be unable to put up much of a fight in court and will pad your numbers. Who knows, they might even have drugs there already alleviating the need to plant them.

  • ||

    The identical sigs don't necessarily bother me. There's nothing wrong with a judge who reviews something, makes a decision, then tells his secretary to do the paperwork and stamp his signature.

    If he's too lazy to bother to sign his own name with ink, he's probably too lazy to do a lot of other things, like question the police. This is the kind of thing that's NOT supposed to be rubber-stamped. But then again, having a rubber-stamp/electronic sig procedure is nice CYA should something go wrong.

  • R C Dean||

    See, putting a real signature on every warrant serves an actual purpose - it is evidence that the judge actually had the warrant in front of him and signed it.

    With what we have in this case, there is no reason to believe that the narcotics squad doesn't just manufacture its own warrants. A real signature on every warrant would at least rule that abuse.

  • ||

    Joe,

    Oooh! I know! I know! The Felony Murder rule (also second degree murder in some states)! Right?

    But I think this only applies where the non-murder felony is likely to result in physical harm, e.g., armed robbery. Forgery is usually not going to result in a violent death.

    Still, extra points for creative thinking.

  • NYU 2L||

    Radley, you might want to fix some pronouns, because the magistrate here is Kimberly Warden. See:

    http://www.georgiacourts.org/courts/fulton/judges.html#magistrate

    which lists Fulton County magistrates. She's the only "K. Warden" listed on their bench.

    Now you know who to contact--you have the press credentials that I don't. Make the call!

  • NYU 2L||

    Additionally, on the felony murder question: Georgia has a pretty broad felony murder provision. O.C.G.A. sec. 16-5-1(c):

    "A person also commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice."

    The case law is even more fun: Baker v. State, 236 Ga. 754, 758 (1976) states that the Georgia felony murder statute is meant to encompass all felonies, not just dangerous ones. But that case was actually dealing with a dangerous felony.

    The problem here is that you'd be hard pressed to say that the death was caused "in the commission of" forgery--the statute says "in the commission of" rather than just "by" the felony.

  • ||

    Definitely looks like an e-signature.

    While I doubt they went so far as to forge a warrant, I also doubt that the judge exercised any degree of oversight. More likely it was something like:

    Cops: "We have a warrant..."

    Judge: [Waving her hand.] "Fine, just have my clerk put my signature on it. Next!"

    It will be interesting to see what statement the judge makes, if any.

  • ||

    This is far more interesting than my class at the moment...

    Here's the controlling law: You have to directly cause the death to be convicted of felony murder in Georgia. Hyman v. State, 272 Ga. 492 (2000). Hyman v. State in particular reversed a felony murder conviction where the underlying felony was making a false statement. So no felony murder conviction here, unless--you can convict a police officer of a felony for invading a home without a warrant. But you won't get them on felony murder based on the forgery.

  • Billy Beck||

    "The interesting thing is why they obsessed over this woman's house.

    [...]

    The only explanation I can think of is that the police needed a bust and were planning to kick down a door and plant drugs in some house, any house to get a good bust that month."


    How many people here are old enough to remember when cops started preening and posing in front of cameras with their dope-bust hauls?

    Back when I first started seeing that, the first thing that occurred to me was the "body count" approach to gauging military efficacy in Vietnam, and/or the "sortie count" approach to the air war. It was all about making it look like it was working: the Labor Theory of Value, applied to these endeavors.

    Look at it. Look at Radley's work on this stuff. We're into real body-counts now, in the War on Drugs.

  • ||

    That Georgia case law would probably also include language to the effect that acts committed "in furtherance of" the felony are included, since that's part of the usual common law interpretation. But I don't see that scenario here.

    Of course, Georgia is where they put Ray Lewis on trial for murder, and their basis for that was that anyone involved in a fight where somebody ends up dead can be charged with murder, so that suggests a broad interpretation of the felony-murder rule in that state.

    But like anything else, "broad interpretations" tend to be applicable only to defendants that prosecutors want to go after.

    The cops who shot Johnston do not seem at fault here. They had every reason to think that the situation was as they were told. They were fired on. What could they do?

    The informant along with whoever, if anyone, pressured him into giving the false information, if that in fact happened, are the ones to bear the responsibility here.

  • ||

    Cops: "We have a warrant..."

    Judge: [Waving her hand.] "Fine, just have my clerk put my signature on it. Next!"

    It will be interesting to see what statement the judge makes, if any.


    My impression is that judges are pretty lenient about issuing search warrants. They are hesitant to second guess investigators and being the political creatures they are do not want to be portrayed as "tying the hands of the police". In the event that there is anything flawed about the prima facie case originally presented they reason that the defense can get the search evidence suppressed at trial.

    For the most part many judges seem to be willing to sign anything their clerks put in front of them.

    However, one would hope that an application for a no-knock search with full SWAT presence would get a tad more scrutiny than your normal entry. Of course now that they're sending out SWAT teams to execute warrants for gambling and petty theft all bets are off.

  • ||

    "For the most part many judges seem to be willing to sign anything their clerks put in front of them."

    You have to remember that in most states the state court judges are elected or at least subject to recall. It is a risk analysis. It is very unlikely that a judge will ever loose his job over signing too many search warrents. If however a judge fails to sign a warrent and the subject of said warrent goes out and causes serious harm, the police are going to tell the media, "we could have caught this scumbag before he killed that woman but Judge so and so wouldn't give us the warrent". That is a one way ticket to unemployment for a judge. Further, the thing that most judges live in fear of is being reversed on appeal. Convictions, not faulty search warrents are reversed on appeal. Moreover, there are about a million ways to fix a bad search and get the evidence in anyway. I would imagine most judges sign whatever is put in front of them and leave it to the trial judge to sort it out.

  • ||

    John & Isaac

    You're probably right. Which gets down to the nub of the whole "drug war" thing: It's driven by politics and moralizing over the conduct of others.

    Radley:

    Have any of the Limbaugh/o'Reilly types made any noises on this one?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Do you know the history of the warrant document? For instance, did the searchwarrant.pdf file on coxnewsweb.com come from the courts or from Cox News or ???

  • Larry A||

    How many people here are old enough to remember when cops started preening and posing in front of cameras with their dope-bust hauls?

    Not many, if you count all the Eliot Ness photos.

  • Sam Franklin||

    Forgery is usually not going to result in a violent death.

    Depends on whether you are forging a Van Gogh, or no knock warrant. Not all forgeries are equally likely to result in violence.

    (Of course, forgery is not a real issue in this case as it is playing out, but still . . . joe had a point.

  • ||

    Police can forge a judge's signature on a warrant, as long as they do so with a good faith belief that they have probable cause to execute the search/seizure and are reasonably certain a magistrate would not question them about further facts and would sign (or stamp) off on the warrant.

    To require the police to actually go before a magistrate and get a real signature is a waste of time, police and judicial resources, and will give criminals more opportunity to rape and kill babies and puppies. Every minute an officer wastes time to get a real signature from a real magistrate is another minute a white baby is buried underground, suffocating, next to a ticking atomic bomb.

    To require actual judicial oversight is simply unreasonable, and reasonability is the cornerstone of the 4th Amendment. A good faith forged signature on a reasonably acceptable warrant is more than sufficient... just ask Scalia, Thomas, or any member of the 5th Circuit.

  • ||

    Bruce -- you keep making statements like that, and I know a certain Attorney General of the United States who may want to sign you up to take Justice Stevens' seat on the High Court of Injustice.

    Seriously, your comment would be funny if it weren't so damn close to becoming true. Its scary-funny. On a related note, now that a violation of the knock and announce rule does not render evidence found suppressible, how many "normal" warrants will be executed no-knock style like this one? Reforming no-knock warrants will only reduce no-knock warrant applications, but the no knock entries will be carried on. Only this time by beat cops and routine narcs, as opposed to "highly trained SWAT teams" (whatever that means). Man this war on some drugs is getting old.

  • ||

    In engineering world, we have what is called a "wet stamp", which is stamped and signed by the project PE (Professional Engineer). It is not proper in our line of work to "rubber stamp" signatures. This shows the engineer personally reviewed the project and takes responsibility for it. I think judges should be held to the same standard of review. Just my 2 cents.

  • brucem||

    Kelvin: Yeah I have read judicial opinions just as bluntly pathetic, but 100% serious. I give the exclusionary rule another 10 years, and double jeopardy another 5 to 7. Any right that let's factually guilty people go free is just not tolerable in our police state, regardless of the rights violated.

    Here in Harris County, Texas, the grand juries all have rubber stamps for the foreman to rubber stamp his/her name on every indictment as a true bill. People are literally indicted with a rubber stamp here in the HC.

  • ||

    You really should check your facts before posting something like this. If you had done your homework you would have found that it IS a scanned signature (no surprise), because it was an electronic warrant. Ever hear of a video warrant? Fulton County, Georgia has been using a video warrant system for several years. The officer testifies via video and the warrant is signed electronically. The officer, using a unique password that is provided by the judge for that particular warrant, then prints out the warrant at the precinct. Additional warrants may be printed but they have a watermark "COPY" across them. No warrants can be changed once signed by the judge.

    Instead of looking for a conspiracy to cover up a tragic situation maybe you should use your time to consider that the informant is not telling the truth about the cops. There will be enough proof to show that he is misleading the public in order to jump on the bandwagon.

    And as far as no knock warrants go, the information that the house had cameras is enough for a judge to believe that the officers need to quickly enter the home to secure it for their safety. No knock provisions are for the officers safety and for the officers to be able to secure the evidence before it is destroyed (by the person watching them on a surveillance camera).

  • ||

    Hello, we have another situation dating back to 1999. Harbor Division L.A.P.D detective Marie P.Farrell "forged" the judges signature on a search and arrest warrant. In addition we have uncovered over one dozen additional forgeries. Independent experts all agree - signature is a forgery. Active court case now going on 10 years 7 months. Your input is needed as we do have the expert reports explaining the forgeries.Would like to post evidence on your site in addition to the addresses to the multimillion dollar homes the officers live in. This is a large conspiracy and needs exposure. We tried, but were threatened with incarceration and they(L.A.P.D) tried to kill/murder one of the plaintiffs twice. Contact number is cell #: 631 245 0425. Thank you.

  • ||

    Officer information; in connection to Tucker Case. The guilty and badge numbers are: Detectives Marie P. Farrell #25662,Pam Neil #24304, Juan Montes # 21279, Mattingly #14720,Garrett # 20778,A. Silver #22582,Officers J. Caraveo #24707, R. Brown #21557, M. Nua # 31681, R. Cordero # 25403, T. Cooper #17457, D. Thompson # 25595, E. Trujillo #24163, K. Higa # 26308, R. Mora # 27233, and Capt. Melton # 17047. Active participation in a conspiracy to conceal the truth.Participation in the forgery of a search and arrest warrant under the direction of Detective Marie P. Farrell(Olivo-maiden name, wife to capt. Clay Farrell-L.A.P.D)primary principal in the forgery of a judges signature on a search and arrest warrant.

  • ||

    not only are the aforementioned officers/detectives guilty, but Detective Marie P. Farrell's husband Clay Farrell of the L.A.P.D knew that his wife "forged" the judges signature on the May 05, 1999 Search and Arrest Warrant, but failed to take his wife into custody. He has an obligation to the law first, not their multi-million dollar life style starting from Palos Verdes California. But how oh so very odd, a multi-million dollar life style on a police officers salary, and what about the living trust ?

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