A recent appellate court decision from Essex County found that a warrant to search an entire three-story building was valid despite the fact that the structure contained more than one apartment. Although search warrants for multiple-unit buildings usually have to be limited to the specific apartments to be searched, the judge found that the warrant in this case was valid because the multiple-unit nature of the building was only discovered when the warrant was executed. State v. Davis, No. A-4412-11T2 (Nov. 6, 2013).
As the court explained, both the state and federal constitutions require search warrants to be based on probable cause and to “particularly describe” the property to be searched. The description mandated by this particularly requirement must be specific enough for police to locate the place to be searched and it must be narrow enough to prevent them from engaging in exploratory searches not supported by probable cause. In the context of multi-unit buildings, this means that search warrants typically have to identify the apartment to be searched and exclude all the other units.
However, an exception to the particularity requirement exists for apartment buildings when the police are unaware of and have no reason to suspect that the building contains more than one dwelling unit. This was exactly what occurred in this case, as the building appeared from the outside to be a single-family dwelling, with one doorknob, one street number, and one mail slot. Although a closer examination revealed that there were two doorbells and multiple gas meters, the police were unable to get close enough surveillance to observe these features prior to submitting the warrant application.
For more information about search and seizure law in New Jersey and to find out whether you could have a viable Fourth Amendment defense in your case, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, Esq., at 908-337-7353 for a free consultation.
Excerpt: A warrant to search an entire three-story building in Essex County was recently upheld even though the structure contained multiple apartments.