Why is a search warrant so important? What do the police need to put in a search warrant to get into my house? How can the police search my house? What do the police need to tell a judge to get a search warrant? My house was searched and i don’t have the search warrant?
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
The key to this decision is the police officers’ obligation to provide a full and complete description of the house they want to search in their affidavit in support of the search warrant they are requesting the court issue for a home.
In this case the police did not identify the specific house/apartment by apartment number, color of the door, numbers on the side of the house, the description of the apartment being between two different units in the application for a search warrant being reviewed by the court when the police were asking the court to issue a search warrant. here the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that there was not enough information for the trial court judge who issued the search warrant to rely upon when the search warrant was issued. Specifically in this case, the building identified in the search warrant request was a large apartment building with many units in it and the police did not describe the specific apartment unit number where the defendant was actually living . Although the police in another section of the affidavit identified that the apartment number where this defendant lived, the descriptive nature of the specific apartment was not provided to the trial judge in the affidavit request. This New Jersey Supreme Court found that that was not adequate enough for the trial judge to issue the search warrant of one specific apartment especially in a multi unit apartment building.
The court addressed several different issues including, A) good faith exception of the police, and b) independent verification of the defendant’s actual residence via bills, mail check, and landlord verification. The court stated the police’s failure to perform these independent address verifications which would have been used to support and reinforce the officer’s direct observations of where the defendant was coming and going from in this large apartment building with many units were fatal mistakes that caused the search warrant request to be invalid!
Next the New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed the threshold issues concerning what the police must put in a search warrant for an apartment complex specifically based on prior case law. The court stated:
The application for a warrant must satisfy the issuing authority “that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, or is being committed, at a specific location or that evidence of a crime is at the place sought to be searched.” State v. Jones, 179 N.J. 377, 388 (2004) (emphases added) (quoting State v. Sullivan, 169 N.J. 204, 210 (2001)). A neutral magistrate, not the police, should determine whether an application for a search warrant is based on sufficient probable cause. State v. Chippero, 201 N.J. 14, 26 (2009). The “requirement for a search warrant is not a mere formality,” and the showing necessary to secure one should be based “not merely [on] belief or suspicion, but [on] underlying facts or circumstances which would warrant a prudent man in believing that the law was being violated.”
A search that is executed pursuant to a warrant is “presumptively valid,” and a defendant challenging the issuance of that warrant has the burden of proof to establish a lack of probable cause “or that the search was otherwise unreasonable.” Watts, 223 N.J. at 513-14 (quoting State v. Keyes, 184 N.J. 541, 554 (2005)). Reviewing courts “accord substantial deference to the discretionary determination resulting in the issuance of the[search] warrant.” Jones, 179 N.J. at 388 (quoting Sullivan, 169 N.J. at 211 (alteration in original)). Courts consider the “totality of the circumstances” and should sustain the validity of a search only if the finding of probable cause relies on adequate facts. Id. at 388-89. “[T]he probable cause determination must be . . . based on the information contained within the four corners of the supporting affidavit, assupplemented by sworn testimony before the issuing judge that is recorded contemporaneously.” State v. Marshall, 199 N.J. 602, 611 (2009) (quoting Schneider v. Simonini, 163 N.J. 336, 363 (2000)). As this Court recognized in Chippero, the analysis into sufficient probable cause to issue a warrant for an arrest or for a search involves two separate inquiries. 201 N.J. at 28. In adopting Professor LaFave’s language, we noted that [t]wo conclusions necessary to the issuance of the [search] warrant must be supported by substantial evidence: that the items sought are in fact seizable by virtue of being connected with criminal activity, and that the items will be found in the place to be searched. By comparison, the right of arrest arises only when a crime is committed orattempted in the presence of the arresting officer or when the officer has “reasonable grounds to believe” — sometimes stated “probable cause to believe” — that a felony has been committed by the person to be arrested. Although it would appear that the conclusions which justify either arrest or the issuance of a search warrant must be supported by evidence of the same degree of probity, it is clear that the conclusions themselves arenot identical. Ultimately, we determined that “a probable cause determination to search a home where the suspect lives may be valid irrespective of whether probable cause to arrest that particular individual has crystallized.” Id. at 31. We have upheld the issuance of a search warrant for an apartment unit based only on an informant’s description of that unit. Keyes, 184 N.J. at 548-49, 555. There, police conducted surveillance of a housing project but could not view the entrance of a suspected drug house where an informant engaged in a controlled narcotics buy. Id. at 548-49. An informant provided the description of a “two (2) story red brick apartment row home . . . . 236 Rosemont Place is a one story apartment and is on the ground floor.” Id. at 549. The police included the informant’s statement in their warrant application, which was granted by the municipal court. Id. at 550. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress, holding that, among other reasons, police did not independently verify the informant’s description of the property and did not actually observe him entering the defendant’s apartment. Id. at 551. In Keyes we reversed, holding that a confidential informant’s tip could serve as the basis for issuing a warrant provided that there is “substantial evidence in the record to support the informant’s statements.” Id. at 555. Although police could not observe the informant enter the home, under the totality of the circumstances, there was a sufficient basis to issue the warrant based on the controlled drug buy. Id. at 559- 60. We credited the informant’s past contributions to drug sale arrests, his description of the defendant, the controlled buy, and the fact that known drug users were entering and exiting the area as contributing to the totality of the circumstances. Id. at 558-60. Because police had that corroborating evidence and the informant’s tip linking the defendant to the apartment, we held that the warrant had a sufficient basis. Id. at 560.
In this case, yes, the police stated they did not put the specific unit in the affidavit request for the search warrant. Unfortunately, this court also ruled as a matter of fact, that there was NO independent verifying information of this defendant’s address and domicile! Because the police did not have any undercover informant who had previously purchased drugs from this defendant on numerous occasions at this location, not verified the address via any official means (DMV, Housing Authority, lease, bills, phone records, voting records, the affidavit was fatal and the issuing judge could not find probable cause to issue the search warrant for any one specific unit. This court also rejected the ‘totality of the circumstances’ as a good faith exception measuring stick for the police’s action!