Search Warrant Task Force Hears Securing Options

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Search Warrant Task Force met for the fifth time on Tuesday as they looked to recommend changes to the way police secure, review, and serve warrants. The effort follows calls for reform and passage of Senate Bill 4, a KLC initiative legislators passed in 2021 that limits the use of warrants that authorize entry without notice.

Jefferson County 30th District Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham updated the task force on findings of its Securing Committee, a subset evaluating how law enforcement obtains a warrant. KLC representative Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory serves on the committee. Judge Cunningham said the group encountered difficulties forming recommendations because data about search warrant applications is not uniformly kept across the state.

“So much of what happens with search warrants, particularly if they do not get served in a case that goes to court, we don’t have them at hand to compile them,” Judge Cunningham explained. “We have to have a way of keeping track of this stuff going forward.”

The Securing Committee likely will recommend that the full task force ask legislators to create a framework for compiling data on search warrant applications.

Cunningham described another hurdle in retrieving data: Not every county has the same process to secure a warrant. Some police investigators go directly to a judge; in other cases, they first consult a prosecutor. The Securing Committee will also likely recommend prosecutorial oversight.

“Prosecutors have better training on what would constitute probable cause, what would make sense during a current constitutional environment,” Cunningham said. “Police don’t often get training for that, but for some, it would be prudent to have a trained attorney who may have more experience in that part of the law before going to the judge.”

Concern about the burden that recommendation may place on prosecutors led the committee to question whether any change in the rules should only impact certain warrants. Which warrants would qualify is to be determined.

The committee will likely incorporate the age of information used to secure a search warrant within its recommendations. Cunningham explained, “We should, as a task force, come to a consensus or a recommendation that information beyond a certain date can’t be used or is not credible absent certain circumstances.”

Tuesday’s meeting spotlighted progress as the task force heads towards a deadline to complete its work by year’s end. Cameron has asked the group to reach recommendations before the General Assembly convenes in January. The task force will meet again on October 21.