Today the N.J. Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that warrants must state the place to be searched with particularity. The Court also reaffirmed the concept that the Court cannot delegate to the police the detached, neutral assessment meant for magistrates to determine whether warrant requirements are met. The decision may be found here.
In State v. Quinn Marshall, the Court reviewed a challenge to a search warrant arising out of a narcotics investigation. There were controlled buys at a particular address, but it was unclear which of two apartments in a building was the location of the buys. That was important because probable cause existed to search only that apartment. In other words, there was no basis to believe that narcotics were stored and distributed from the uninvolved apartment.
So the police came up with a novel idea. The detective asked the issuing judge to grant the warrant but to condition the execution of the warrant upon the police obtaining corroborating information as to which of the two apartments was involved in the narcotics sales. The judge granted the warrant with that condition. The police thereafter arrested a codefendant who provided information suggestive that the first floor apartment was the proper target location.
The police executed the warrant at the first floor apartment. The police discovered narcotics as well as the defendant, Marshall, whom they arrested. Marshall moved to suppress the fruits of the search due to a fatally defective warrant. The Trial Court denied the motion to suppress. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division.
The issuing judge had improperly delegated to the police the discretion as to where they may execute the warrant. But warrants must describe with particularity where the police may enter. The police must be circumscribed in their entries. This is a constitutional requirement. Because the court had delegated that authority, through an unconstitutional condition, the warrant was not particularized.