Police can search Denver bookstore's sales records, judge says
By The Associated Press
DENVER Police have the right to demand the bookstore purchase
records of a customer suspected of operating a drug lab, a state district judge
ruled Oct. 20.
Judge J. Stephen Phillips granted the North Metro Task Force limited
power to execute a search warrant at the Tattered Cover Book Store. Phillips
ruled police can demand to see what items are listed on a Tattered Cover
invoice that has been linked to an Adams County mobile home where a drug lab
Phillips denied a police request to see all the books purchased by the
suspect at the store.
Store owner Joyce Meskis said she might appeal.
"We fully support law enforcement," she said. "We are respectful of
their work, but we have competing rights. Here we have the First Amendment and
we feel it's our job to protect it. It's critically important to a
Meskis said releasing the records would have a chilling effect on
people and prevent many from reading books on taboo subjects.
"Just because you read a murder mystery doesn't make you a killer,"
Phillips said the investigators' request met a four-part test
balancing the government's needs and citizens' rights: The government has a
legitimate and significant interest in the material, there is a strong
connection between the material and the suspect, the government has no other
means of getting the information and the request is limited in scope.
"The existence of the (drug) laboratory is indisputable evidence of a
serious crime and the identity of these operators is of significant public
interest," he wrote.
Dan Recht, a lawyer for the Tattered Cover, said police did not show a
compelling need for the records. "They had so many ways to track down the
information that they shouldn't be coming after a bookstore," he said.
Recht said records of what people read are protected from
investigators in the same way medical records and priest-parishioner
During the raids on March 14 and 17, police found a methamphetamine
lab, handguns and two books, Advance Techniques of
Clandestine, Psychedelic and Amphetamine Manufacture and
Construction and Operation of Clandestine Drug
Police found an envelope from the Tattered Cover in a garbage can
outside the home. The envelope had only an invoice number printed on it and did
not name an individual.
Police are trying to establish which six people who either live or
frequently visit the house operated the lab.
After Adams County prosecutors declined to seek the search warrant,
police went through the Denver District Attorney's Office.
Bookstore records became an issue in 1998 during the investigation of
President Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Special counsel Ken Starr subpoenaed Lewinsky's purchase records from
the Washington bookstore Kramerbooks. After Kramerbooks challenged the
subpoena, Lewinsky's lawyers voluntarily turned over the records.
Bookstore fights order to turn over sales records
'If what we read today can result in a search warrant tomorrow, then fear replaces freedom,' attorney tells Colorado high court.
Denver bookstore's sales records sought in drug-lab investigation
A Denver bookstore and law enforcement officers seeking to tie a suspect to a methamphetamine laboratory will face off in court in early May in what is being cast as a First Amendment battle over the confidentiality of a person's reading habits.
Kramerbooks declares victory in subpoena battle
Agreement between D.C. bookseller and Starr comes two weeks after judge drops case against Barnes & Noble.