Rule 4.1 Complaint, Warrant, or Summons by Telephone or Other Reliable Electronic Means

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(a) In General. A magistrate judge may consider information communicated by telephone or other reliable electronic means when reviewing a complaint or deciding whether to issue a warrant or summons.

(b) Procedures. If a magistrate judge decides to proceed under this rule, the following procedures apply:

(1) Taking Testimony Under Oath. The judge must place under oath — and may examine — the applicant and any person on whose testimony the application is based.

(2) Creating a Record of the Testimony and Exhibits.

(A) Testimony Limited to Attestation. If the applicant does no more than attest to the contents of a written affidavit submitted by reliable electronic means, the judge must acknowledge the attestation in writing on the affidavit.

(B) Additional Testimony or Exhibits. If the judge considers additional testimony or exhibits, the judge must:

(i) have the testimony recorded verbatim by an electronic recording device, by a court reporter, or in writing;

(ii) have any recording or reporter’s notes transcribed, have the transcription certified as accurate, and file it;

(iii) sign any other written record, certify its accuracy, and file it; and

(iv) make sure that the exhibits are filed.

(3) Preparing a Proposed Duplicate Original of a Complaint, Warrant, or Summons. The applicant must prepare a proposed duplicate original of a complaint, warrant, or summons, and must read or otherwise transmit its contents verbatim to the judge.

(4) Preparing an Original Complaint, Warrant, or Summons. If the applicant reads the contents of the proposed duplicate original, the judge must enter those contents into an original complaint, warrant, or summons. If the applicant transmits the contents by reliable electronic means, the transmission received by the judge may serve as the original.

(5) Modification. The judge may modify the complaint, warrant, or summons. The judge must then:

(A) transmit the modified version to the applicant by reliable electronic means; or

(B) file the modified original and direct the applicant to modify the proposed duplicate original accordingly.

(6) Issuance. To issue the warrant or summons, the judge must:

(A) sign the original documents;

(B) enter the date and time of issuance on the warrant or summons; and

(C) transmit the warrant or summons by reliable electronic means to the applicant or direct the applicant to sign the judge’s name and enter the date and time on the duplicate original.

(c) Suppression Limited. Absent a finding of bad faith, evidence obtained from a warrant issued under this rule is not subject to suppression on the ground that issuing the warrant in this manner was unreasonable under the circumstances.


(Added Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

New Rule 4.1 brings together in one rule the procedures for using a telephone or other reliable electronic means for reviewing complaints and applying for and issuing warrants and summonses. In drafting Rule 4.1, the Committee recognized that modern technological developments have improved access to judicial officers, thereby reducing the necessity of government action without prior judicial approval. Rule 4.1 prescribes uniform procedures and ensures an accurate record.

The procedures that have governed search warrants “by telephonic or other means,” formerly in Rule 41(d)(3) and (e)(3), have been relocated to this rule, reordered for easier application, and extended to arrest warrants, complaints, and summonses. Successful experience using electronic applications for search warrants under Rule 41, combined with increased access to reliable electronic communication, support the extension of these procedures to arrest warrants, complaints, and summonses.

With one exception noted in the next paragraph, the new rule preserves the procedures formerly in Rule 41 without change. By using the term “magistrate judge,” the rule continues to require, as did former Rule 41(d)(3) and (e)(3), that a federal judge (and not a state judge) handle electronic applications, approvals, and issuances. The rule continues to require that the judge place an applicant under oath over the telephone, and permits the judge to examine the applicant, as Rule 41 had provided. Rule 4.1(b) continues to require that when electronic means are used to issue the warrant, the magistrate judge retain the original warrant. Minor changes in wording and reorganization of the language formerly in Rule 41 were made to aid in application of the rules, with no intended change in meaning.

The only substantive change to the procedures formerly in Rule 41(d)(3) and (e)(3) appears in new Rule 4.1(b)(2)(A). Former Rule 41(d)(3)(B)(ii) required the magistrate judge to make a verbatim record of the entire conversation with the applicant. New Rule 4.1(b)(2)(A) provides that when a warrant application and affidavit are sent electronically to the magistrate judge and the telephone conversation between the magistrate judge and affiant is limited to attesting to those written documents, a verbatim record of the entire conversation is no longer required. Rather, the magistrate judge should simply acknowledge in writing the attestation on the affidavit. This may be done, for example, by signing the jurat included on the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts form. Rule 4.1(b)(2)(B) carries forward the requirements formerly in Rule 41 to cases in which the magistrate judge considers testimony or exhibits in addition to the affidavit. In addition, Rule 4.1(b)(6) specifies that in order to issue a warrant or summons the magistrate judge must sign all of the original documents and enter the date and time of issuance on the warrant or summons. This procedure will create and maintain a complete record of the warrant application process.

Changes Made to Proposed Amendment Released for Public Comment

Published subdivision (a) referred to the action of a magistrate judge as “deciding whether to approve a complaint.” To accurately describe the judge’s action, it was rephrased to refer to the judge “reviewing a complaint.”

Subdivisions (b)(2) and (3) were combined into subdivisions (b)(2)(A) and (B) to clarify the procedures applicable when the applicant does no more than attest to the contents of a written affidavit and those applicable when additional testimony or exhibits are presented. The clauses in subparagraph (B) were reordered and further divided into items (i) through (iv). Subsequent subdivisions were renumbered because of the merger of (b)(2) and (3).

In subdivision (b)(5), language was added requiring the judge to file the modified original if the judge has directed an applicant to modify a duplicate original. This will ensure that a complete record is preserved. Additionally, the clauses in this subdivision were broken out into subparagraphs (A) and (B).

In subdivision (b)(6), introductory language erroneously referring to a judge’s approval of a complaint was deleted, and the rule was revised to refer only to the steps necessary to issue a warrant or summons, which are the actions taken by the judicial officer.

In subdivision (b)(6)(A), the requirement that the judge “sign the original” was amended to require signing of “the original documents.” This is broad enough to encompass signing a summons, an arrest or search warrant, and the current practice of the judge signing the jurat on complaint forms. Depending on the nature of the case, it might also include many other kinds of documents, such as the jurat on affidavits, the certifications of written records supplementing the transmitted affidavit, or papers that correct or modify affidavits or complaints.

In subdivision (b)(6)(B), the superfluous and anachronistic reference to the “face” of a document was deleted, and rephrasing clarified that the action is the entry of the date and time of “the approval of a warrant or summons.” Additionally, subdivision (b)(6)(C) was modified to require that the judge must direct the applicant not only to sign the duplicate original with the judge’s name, but also to note the date and time.