Shadwick v. City of Tampa 8212 5445

Decision Date19 June 1972
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
Citation92 S.Ct. 2119,407 U.S. 345,32 L.Ed.2d 783
PartiesGerald SHADWICK, Appellant, v. CITY OF TAMPA. —5445
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

City charter provision authorizing municipal court clerks to issue arrest warrants for breach of municipal ordinances held to comport with requirements of the Fourth Amendment that warrants be issued by a neutral and detached magistrate who must be capable of determining whether probable cause exists for issuance of the warrant. The clerks, though laymen, worked within the judicial branch under supervision of municipal court judges and were qualified to make the determination whether there is probable cause to believe that a municipal code violation has occurred.

250 So.2d 4, affirmed.

Daniel A. Rezneck, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Gerald H. Bee, Tampa, for appellee.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The charter of Tampa, Florida, authorizes the issuance of certain arrest warrants by clerks of the Tampa Municipal Court.1 The sole question in this case is whether these clerks qualify as neutral and detached magistrates for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. We hold that they do.

Appellant was arrested for impaired driving on a warrant issued by a clerk of the municipal court. He moved the court to quash the warrnt on the ground that it was issued by a nonjudicial officer in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. When the motion was denied, he initiated proceedings in the Florida courts by means of that State's writ of common-law certiorari. The state proceedings culminated in the holding of the Florida Supreme Court that '(t)he clerk and deputy clerks of the municipal court of the City of Tampa are neutral and detached 'magistrates' . . . for the purpse of issuing arrest warrants within the requirements of the United States Constitution . . .' 250 So.2d 4, 5 (1971). We noted probable jurisdiction, 404 U.S. 1014, 92 S.Ct. 697, 30 L.Ed.2d 660 (1972).


A clerk of the municipal court is appointed by the city clerk from a classified list of civil servants and assigned to work in the municipal court. The statute does not specify the qualifications necessary for this job, but no law degree or special legal training is required. The clerk's duties are to receive traffic fines, prepare the court's dockets and records, fill out commitment papers and perform other routine clerical tasks. Apparently he may issue subpoenas. He may not, however, sit as a judge, and he may not issue a search warrant or even a felony or misdemeanor arrest warrant for violations of state laws. The only warrants he may issue are for the arrest of those charged with having breached municipal ordinances of the city of Tampa.2

Appellant, contending that the Fourth Amendment requires that warrants be issued by 'judicial officers,' argues that even this limited warrant authority is constitutionally invalid. He reasons that warrant applications of whatever nature cannot be assured the discerning, independent review compelled by the Fourth Amendment when the review is performed by less than a judicial officer. 3 It is less than clear, however, as to who would qualify as a 'judicial officer' under appellant's theory. There is some suggestion in appellant's brief that a judicial officer must be a lawyer or the municipal court judge himself.4 A more complete portrayal of appellant's position would be that the Tampa clerks are disqualified as judicial officers not merely because they are not lawyers or judges, but because they lack the institutional independence associated with the judiciary in that they are members of the civil service, appointed by the city clerk, 'an executive official,' and enjoy no statutorily specified tenure in office.5


Past decisions of the Court has mentioned review by a 'judicial officer' prior to issuance of a warrant, Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 564, 91 S.Ct. 1031, 1035, 28 L.Ed.2d 306 (1971); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 356, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967); Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 481—482, 83 S.Ct. 407, 414, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963); Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 270, 80 S.Ct. 725, 735, 4 L.Ed.2d 697 (1960); Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14, 68 S.Ct. 367, 369, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948). In some cases the term 'judicial officer' appears to have been used interchangeably with that of 'magistrate.' Katz v. United States, supra, and Johnson v. United States, supra. In others, it was intended simply to underscore the now accepted fact that someone independent of the police and prosecution must determine probable cause. Jones v. United States, supra; Wong Sun v. United States, supra. The very term 'judicial officer' implies, of course, some connection with the judicial branch. But it has never been held that only a lawyer or judge could grant a warrant, regardless of the court system or the type of warrant involved. In Jones, supra, at 270—271 of 362 U.S., at 735—736 of 80 S.Ct., the Court implied that United States Commissioners, many of whom were not lawyers or judges, were nonetheless 'independent judicial officers.'6

The Court frequently has employed the term 'magistrate' to denote those who may issue warrants. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 449—453, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 2029—2031, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971); Whiteley v. Warden, supra, at 566 of 401 U.S., at 1036 of 91 S.Ct.; Katz v. United States, supra, at 356—357, of 389 U.S., at 514 of 88 S.Ct.; United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 108, 85 S.Ct. 741, 745, 13 L.Ed.2d 684 (1965); Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 486, 78 S.Ct. 1245, 1250, 3 L.Ed.2d 1503 (1958); Johnson v. United States, supra, at 13—14 of 333 U.S., at 368—369 of 68 S.Ct.; United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 464, 52 S.Ct. 420, 76 L.Ed. 877 (1932). Historically, a magistrate has been defined broadly as 'a public civil officer, possessing such power—legislative, executive, or judicial—as the government appointing him may ordain,' Compton v. Alabama, 214 U.S. 1, 7, 29 S.Ct. 605, 607, 53 L.Ed. 885 (1909), or, in a narrower sense 'an inferior judicial officer, such as a justice of the peace.' Ibid. More recent definitions have not much changed.7

An examination of the Court's decisions reveals that the terms 'magistrate' and 'judicial officer' have been used interchangeably. Little attempt was made to define either term, to distinguish the one from the other, or to advance one as the definitive Fourth Amendment requirement. We find no commendment in either term, however, that all warrant authority must reside exclusively in a lawyer or judge. Such a requirement would have been incongruous when even within the federal system warrants were until recently widely issued by nonlawyers.8

To attempt to extract further significance from the above terminology would be both unnecessary and futile. The substance of the Constitution's warrant requirements does not turn on the labeling of the issuing party. The warrant traditionally has represented an independent assurance that a search and arrest will not proceed without probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person or place named in the warrant is involved in the crime. Thus, an issuing magistrate must meet two tests. He must be neutral and detached, and he must be capable of determining whether probable cause exists for the requested arrest or search. This Court long has insisted that inferences of probable cause be drawn by 'a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime.' Johnson v. United States, supra, at 14 of 333 U.S., at 369 of 68 S.Ct.; Giordenello v. United States, supra, at 486 of 357 U.S., at 1250 of 78 S.Ct. In Coolidge v. New Hampshire, supra, the Court last Term voided a search warrant issued by the state attorney general 'who was actively in charge of the investigation and later was to be chief prosecutor at trial.' Id., at 450 of 403 U.S., at 2029 of 91 S.Ct. If, on the other hand, detachment and capacity do conjoin, the magistrate has satisfied the Fourth Amendment's purpose.


The requisite detachment is present in the case at hand. Whatever else neutrality and detachment might entail, it is clear that they require severance and disengagement from activities of law enforcement. There has been no showing whatever here of partiality, or affiliation of these clerks with prosecutors or police. The record shows no connection with any law enforcement activity or authority which would distort the independent judgment the Fourth Amendment requires. Appellant himself expressly refused to allege anything to that effect.9 The municipal court clerk is assigned not to the police or prosecutor but to the municipal court judge for whom he does much of his work. In this sense, he may well be termed a 'judicial officer.' While a statutorily specified term of office and appointment by someone other than 'an executive authority' might be desirable, the absence of such features is hardly disqualifying. Judges themselves take office under differing circumstances. Some are appointed, but many are elected by legislative bodies or by the people. Many enjoy but limited terms and are subject to re-appointment or re-election. Most depend for their salary level upon the legislative branch. We will not elevate requirements for the independence of a municipal clerk to a level higher than that prevailing with respect to many judges. The clerk's neutrality has not been impeached: he is removed from prosecutor or police and works within the judicial branch subject to the supervision of the municipal court judge.

Appellant likewise has failed to demonstrate that these clerks lack capacity to determine probable cause. The clerk's authority extends only to the issuance of arrest warrants for breach of municipal ordinances. We presume from the nature of the clerk's position that he would...

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