Judge Sides with Small Business Owner, Declares Police Search Warrant Invalid

Date: October 22, 2019

Businesses are subject to inspections all the time. Usually business owners are concerned about the routine, administrative variety, like health and building code inspections. These types of inspections are so routine that we have covered what you need to know previously. But when the police come knocking on your business’ door with a search warrant in hand, that’s a much more serious matter.

            That’s exactly what happened to one NFIB member, Fernando M. Smith, former owner of Pristine Pre-Owned Auto Sales. After receiving a complaint from a disgruntled customer, the West Virginia police investigated his business and seized all his financial documents, business records, computers, and any other electronic data-storing devices – in short, critical pieces of a business’ day-to-day operation. But a judge recently ruled that the search warrant that the police used to search Mr. Smith’s business was invalid.

            In the search warrant application, the police officer omitted key details, mischaracterized facts, and failed to first investigate publicly available leads before intruding on Mr. Smith’s business. As a result, the police did not have probable cause to believe that Mr. Smith had committed any crime. The judge declared the search warrant invalid and suppressed any evidence that the police obtained in their search of Pristine Auto, ultimately leading to the criminal case against Mr. Smith to be dismissed.

            Although the judgment was a favorable result, it was too little too late for Mr. Smith’s business. The police began their investigation in 2014. The judge’s ruling siding with Mr. Smith was not released until 2018. In the meantime, Mr. Smith’s titles and computers were locked away in police custody. Unable to access his property, Mr. Smith was unable to continue his business and was forced to close his doors. All of this has led Mr. Smith to file a civil lawsuit against the police department seeking to recover damages for his lost business. You can read more about his lawsuit here.


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