Warrants and Specificity of Locations: Part 4

by | Feb 4, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, New Jersey

In State v. Keyes, the Court held that a confidential informant’s tip could serve as the basis for issuing a warrant if there is “substantial evidence in the record to support the informant’s statements.” Although police could not observe the informant enter the home in that case, under the totality of the circumstances, there was a sufficient basis to issue the warrant based on the controlled drug buy. The Court 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. Because police had that corroborating evidence and the informant’s tip linking the defendant to the apartment, the Court held that the warrant had a sufficient basis.

Here, no independent documentary evidence, such as a voting record, utility bill, or lease, was offered to corroborate Boone’s address. No neighbor, informant, or controlled transaction demonstrated that defendant lived in Unit 4A. Police failed to provide the issuing judge a basis of knowledge from which to conclude that contraband would be found in the apartment. That is true regardless of whether the warrant application provided a basis for defendant’s arrest because, as noted, probable cause to arrest a suspect is not synonymous with probable cause to search that suspect’s apartment. Police lacked the facts important in Keyes, namely a reliable informant who could identify where defendant lived. Police here listed Boone’s apartment unit as the targeted property in a conclusory manner, without any evidential basis as to how they knew that specific unit in a thirty-unit building contained contraband. The Court recognizes that the error here was likely an innocent oversight by the police. However, because New Jersey does not recognize an officer’s good faith alone as an exception to the warrant requirement, the error demands reversal.

Because the State’s warrant application did not include specific evidence as to why a judge should issue a search warrant for a specific apartment unit, the search warrant issued based on that application was invalid. And, because the police search of Unit 4A was not supported by a valid warrant or justified by an exception to the warrant requirement, the search was unconstitutional. Therefore, the Court suppresses all evidence seized from defendant’s apartment. The Court emphasizes that judges issuing search warrants must scrutinize the warrant application and tie specific evidence to the persons, property, or items the State seeks to search. Without that specificity and connection to the facts, the application must fail. The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed, and Boone’s convictions are vacated.

The assistant prosecutor tasked with reviewing the warrant application must have been asleep at the switch in this case. It is doubtful that most judges even bother to read the details of search warrant applications.

Occupants of apartment buildings and multi-family units typically have lesser expectations of privacy and less privacy rights, at least in their buildings’ “common areas.” Here, the fact that Boone lived in a multi-unit building was a benefit to him.