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IPFS News Link • Fourth Amendment-Search and Seizure

FBI's safe deposit box searches and seizures violated owners' Fourth Amendment rights...

•, By Cassie B.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the FBI overstepped its authority when it tasked agents with searching through hundreds of safe deposit boxes and seizing their content without a warrant in California in 2021.

The incident involved a Beverly Hills safe deposit box company known as U.S. Private Vaults, who offered the boxes for rent to clients who value privacy and anonymity. While some may argue this attracted parties involved in illegal activities such as drug dealing, it also drew in customers who do not trust banks and wanted an alternative place to keep their most valuable possessions and documents.

Agents raided the business, believing that criminals were using it. Although their search warrants stated they could only open up the safe deposit boxes to take stock of their content and identify who owned them so they could return their property, the FBI instead went in with the intent to seize cash and brought drug-sniffing dogs with them for good measure.

In total, they went through around 700 safe deposit boxes, seizing tens of millions of dollars in cash along with personal effects, jewelry and documents like prenuptial agreements and wills.

The victims filed litigation arguing that the search "flagrantly" violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures. Although a trial judge ruled against them, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision in a unanimous ruling. The court maintained that the FBI had exceeded the bounds of the warrant they had obtained ahead of the raid as it never authorized "criminal search or seizure" of the content of the boxes.