NJ: Failure of affidavit for SW to say which apartment was def’s was fatal error under state const.

There was a reasonable basis for finding probable cause that drug sales were occurring from defendant’s house, but the affidavit for the warrant failed to show which apartment in a 30 unit complex was his. Since New Jersey doesn’t recognize a good faith exception, this warrant is fatally defective despite this being an innocent mistake. State v. Boone, 2017 N.J. LEXIS 1422 (Dec. 18, 2017). Syllabus by the court:

Because the warrant affidavit failed to provide specific information as to why defendant’s apartment and not other units should be searched, the warrant application was deficient.

1. The search-and-seizure provision in Article I, Paragraph 7 of New Jersey’s Constitution affords a higher level of protection for citizens than the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Searches without a warrant are presumed unreasonable unless they fall within an exception to the warrant requirement. (pp. 9-10)

2. 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. 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. (p. 10)

3. Reviewing courts accord substantial deference to the discretionary determination resulting in the issuance of the search warrant. 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. The probable cause determination must be based on the information contained within the four corners of the supporting affidavit, as supplemented by sworn testimony before the issuing judge that is recorded contemporaneously. The analysis into sufficient probable cause to issue a warrant for an arrest or for a search involves two separate inquiries. (pp. 10-12)

4. In State v. Keyes, the Court held 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.” 184 N.J. 541, 555, 878 A.2d 772 (2005). 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. Id. at 559-60, 878 A.2d 772. 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. Id. at 558-60, 878 A.2d 772. 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. (pp. 12-13)

5. 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 Boone 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 particular apartment. That is true regardless of whether the warrant application provided a basis for Boone’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 Boone 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. (pp. 13-16)

6. 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 on the basis of 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 Boone’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. (pp. 16-17)

This entry was posted in Good faith exception, Nexus, Probable cause, State constitution. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.