Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Phillips: Civil writ of bodily attachment is valid warrant under Fourth Amendment

In U.S. v. Phillips, No. 14-14660 (Aug. 23, 2016), the Court held that, under the Fourth Amendment, the police can validly arrest a person based on a civil writ of bodily attachment for unpaid child support. The Court noted that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to be “particular, sworn, and supported by probable cause.” The Florida writ in Phillips’ case met these requirements because it issued only after a person was found liable by a preponderance of the evidence for civil contempt for failure to pay child support. The Court rejected the argument that the warrant must be based on a crime, as opposed to a civil offense, pointing out that bench warrants based on civil contempt have been held not to present a problem under the Fourth Amendment. The Court also noted that even if material witness warrants might not satisfy the Fourth Amendment, this would not affect the decision because writs of bodily attachment, like bench warrants, are based on a “violation of law” – here, civil contempt. Turning to sentencing, the Court held that Phillips had waived his challenge to his 15-year sentence as an armed career criminal, because his plea agreement stated that he understood that the district court “must” impose a sentence of no less than 15 years, and at sentencing he affirmatively asked the district court to sentence him to 15 years.