Wake County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Don Stephens and Chief District Court Judge Robert Rader have signed a new administrative order relating to search warrants and the procedures for sealing warrants. See Order: Wake Order re Sealing The administrative order makes clear: “Search warrants are public records and will not be routinely sealed in the absence of compelling evidence that a temporary sealing is necessary and is required to preserve the integrity of the investigation.” By statute, warrants become public once they are served or returned or after 48 hours has expired, whichever comes first.
If law enforcement believes circumstances call for sealing a warrant, they must notify the district attorney who must file a motion to seal. “No order to seal should be signed in the absence of a written motion by the District Attorney.” The administrative order provides that sealing orders must state the specific duration of the seal, and that time may be no longer than 90 days. “No warrant shall be indefinitely sealed.”
The clerk of court must establish a log, listing by caption search warrants that have been sealed, the date the order to seal was signed, the date the order expires and the name of the assistant district attorney assigned to the case. The log will be available for public inspection. The clerk shall also maintain a copy of the order sealing the search warrant on file. The administrative order states that the sealing order itself, along with the search warrant, shall be “safeguarded” by the clerk “and held in a confidential room.”
The administrative order provides that the clerk of court will notify the district attorney’s office on the date the sealing order expires and return the search warrant to the criminal division to be filed with non-sealed search warrants. If the district attorney wants to extend the sealing order, a motion must be filed prior to the expiration of the existing sealing order, and the DA must serve that motion on an attorney designated by local news organizations who shall be permitted to file a response to the motion. The motion to extend may only be heard by the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge or his designee.
The administrative order signed by Judges Stephens and Rader on April 28, 2016, replaces a prior administrative order.