Lo-Ji Sales, Inc. v. New York, 442 U.S. 319 (1979)

In Lo-Ji, an officer obtained a warrant based on probable cause for the search and seizure of two obscene videos on sale at the defendant’s bookstore. The officer further alleged that additional obscene materials were in the store, and a second, blank warrant was issued for the seizure of these materials. The Town Justice actively participated in the search and allowed the police to seize materials without first determining their obscenity himself. More than 800 items were seized. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress all evidence seized under the second warrant. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, holding the warrant invalid because of not satisfying the particularity and neutrality requirements of the Fourth Amendment warrant clause.

In its analysis, the Court likened the warrant to ‘‘the general warrant or writ of assistance of the 18th century’’ and faulted it for not particularly describing the things to be seized, instead leaving the choice to the officers’ discretion. Because of First Amendment concerns, the Court held that the original videos, on their own, did not create probable cause for a general search, and because the search was intentionally so broad, the plain view doctrine also could not apply. The Court further invalidated the warrant for the Town Justice’s lack of neutrality,warning thatwarrant application and execution processes cannot be streamlined; they must remain distinct to preserve the neutrality that is the essence of Fourth Amendment warrants. Lo-Ji’s holding remains virtually undisturbed, although later cases have defined its outer limits.

SARA E. LINDENBAUM

References and Further Reading

  • Thomas, George C. III, The Poisoned Fruit of Pretrial Detention, NYU Law Review 61 (1986): 3: 413–461. 
  • Wilkins, Richard G, Defining the ‘Reasonable Expectation of Privacy’: An Emerging Tripartite Analysis, Vanderbilt Law Review 40 (1987): 5: 1077–1129.

See also Impartial Decisionmaker; Obscenity; Plain View; Probable Cause; Search (General Definition); Search Warrants; Seizures; Warrant Clause

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