Double take: Warrants in Le case are sealed

Although Raymond Clark III was served four warrants Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in the investigation into the murder of Annie Le GRD ’13, the public has yet to see any of them.

After police served Clark with search warrants Tuesday night to search his Middletown, Conn., apartment and take a DNA sample, he was taken away in handcuffs and then released at 3 a.m. Two hours later, two more search warrants were signed to search his car and more of his property.

But at 9 a.m., when reporters asked to see those warrants, New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington refused to disclose even the name of the judge who signed them. Dearington said the warrants were sealed because releasing them could compromise an ongoing investigation.

“This goes on all over the country all the time; there’s nothing unusual about it,” he said. “It’s as commonly accepted as the validity of the U.S. Constitution.”

Asked for at least a redacted version of the warrant, Dearington offered to fetch five blank pages.

“You should be honored that I came out here,” he said.

Paul Butler ’82, a law professor at George Washington University and a former prosecutor, affirmed that it’s not unusual to seal an affidavit during an ongoing investigation, especially in a high-profile case like this one.

But Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz LAW ’62, whose legal career has focused on criminal law, said authorities must at least release the name of the judge who signed the warrants, even if the warrants are sealed.

“They cannot keep secret the name of the judge,” Dershowitz said in an interview Wednesday evening. “There’s no conceivable reason for that. That sounds like Iran. That’s not America.”

Dershowitz also questioned how Clark could have been handcuffed on a mere search warrant. Compelling someone to go from their home to a police station in handcuffs is an arrest, he said, which requires an arrest warrant.

“If they went to the judge and said, ‘Look, we have no proof but we want a warrant for a search,’ then this is a completely and totally unconstitutional search and seizure,” he said. “If there are handcuffs, then it has to be an arrest, which has to be based on probable cause and can’t be based on being a person of interest.”

He added that it is unclear — without knowing what is in that warrant — whether the arrest was constitutional or whether evidence seized in its course might have to be excluded should the case stand trial.

Yale Law professor Steven Duke LAW ’61, who specializes in criminal procedure, offered another opinion: that if the search warrant authorized police to take Clark into custody, it would be standard procedure to handcuff him. Legally, though, once the handcuffs are on, he’s under arrest, even if the police are still only publicly calling him a person of interest.

“The distinction between being in custody and being under arrest is thinner than an onion skin,” he said.


  • goldenhinde

    I live on the West Coast, and have followed this case in the N.Y.T. and
    other media. Your above aritcle by Arnsdorf & Needham is the best discussion
    to date of the legalities of this case.I used to think of A.Dershowitz as flamboyant but he sure has a lucid analysis here. The Yale Daily News carries the day!

  • It’s Too Late

    It’s too late to apologize,
    It’s too late,
    It’s too late.

  • James C.

    The defense lawyers can get creative about challenging certain evidence as tainted by police mishandeling, etc. However, the remedy would simply be to declare the tainted evidence inadmissable, but the remaining evidence gets in. Given the strength and number of items with evidentiary value, such as Blood/DNA, video, card-key records, defensive wounds, evidence tampering after the fact, its almost certain that most of this will be admissable at trial. This may also limit the defense option’s in terms of a possible settlement given the strength of the DA’s case. Over 90% of this legal battle will occure during the pre-trial stages. Once it is clear certain evidence will be admitted, the trial will become a moot point. James C. Berkeley, LAW 93′