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Central to the ongoing flap between City Attorney Mike Aguirre and Police Chief Bill Lansdowne is this question: Can a law enforcement agency such as the San Diego Police Department decide whether it wants to carry out a search warrant or not?

Lansdowne contends it is his duty to vet warrants before executing them, and that he rightly exercised the discretion to not search Sunroad’s offices. But Aguirre said that once the police’s responsibility is to carry out a warrant because it is an order of a Superior Court judge.

We’ve been calling around to law professors to get their takes and caught up with Gerald Caplan, a law professor at University of Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law and former general counsel to the District of Columbia Police Department. He sided with Aguirre.

“The function of executive is not to evaluate the legitimacy of a warrant. The whole system is that the police execute the order of the judiciary,” said Caplan, who noted that the burden of a wrongful search would lie with the court and that the police have immunity to those charges. “On its face, this is peculiar and inappropriate,”

When told that Lansdowne sought opinions of the District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office and that both agreed with the chief, Caplan said, “He ought to get a third opinion.”

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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