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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Drug-Yielding Search Went Too Far, Court Says

(CN) - An Oklahoma special ranger exceeded the scope of a search warrant by taking marijuana from the home of a rancher suspected of selling his cattle under his mother and son's names to avoid repaying bank loans, the 10th Circuit ruled.

Danny Bowling had used his livestock as collateral for loans with the Farmers Exchange Bank. When the bank discovered 800 to 850 cattle missing, it filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the rancher, claiming Bowling refused to let the bank inspect his cattle.

At deposition, Bowling explained, "I have lost some cattle, yes ... I would assume the bank has taken it, what I have missing."

Bank president Dennis Buss called Joe Rector, a special ranger with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, and told him that Bowling had been selling his cattle under his mother and son's names to avoid repaying the bank.

Rector agreed that it was "pretty obvious a crime had been committed" when Bowling "didn't sell the cattle in his name so that the bank could receive the proceeds." He obtained a warrant to search Bowling's house and cars for evidence of the alleged fraud.

Rector enlisted the help of Tonkawa police officers to execute the warrant, since the Kay County sheriff's office was short-staffed.

They found marijuana under a couch, a bag of frozen mushrooms, two marijuana pipes, plastic bags with syringes and $4,400 in $100 bills, in addition to the financial documents they were after.

Bowling sued in federal court, claiming Rector and the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, he argued that Rector had gotten the search warrant outside his jurisdiction and had improperly executed it.

The district court sided with Bowling on both claims, but the 10th Circuit partially reversed.

Though Judge Ebel found the warrant valid, it agreed with the lower court's finding that Rector had seized several items that were not "fairly encompassed in the description of items to be seized."

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