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May 14, 2010

New York Search Warrants and The Particularity Requirement

By Michael H. Joseph

New York criminal defense attorneys who represent clients with drug and gun cases often encounter issues concerning the validity of search warrants and the scope of the permitted search.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits warrantless entries by police unless the entry is authorized by a recognized exception to the warrant requirement. The New York and Federal Courts have required that a warrant must particularly describe the property and place to be searched. The Courts have recognized that if a warrant doesn’t describe with particularity the place to be searched, it is void.

A warrant authorizing a search of an apartment house will usually be invalid if it fails to describe the particular apartment to be searched with sufficient definiteness to preclude a search of other units located in the building and occupied by innocent persons. In New York City boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and the urban Westchester communities of White Plains, Yonkers and New Rochelle, a large amount of the population lives in apartment houses and these issues become common ones. The description must be sufficiently detailed that the officer can with reasonable effort ascertain and identify the place intended.

Recently, Courts have recognized that where the warrant is vague or ambiguous as to what it authorizes, the officers must suspend their search. Police Officers violate the Fourth Amendment when they rely on outside information to resolve an ambiguity in the warrant or simply guess.

Therefore New York criminal defense attorneys must continue to be diligent in analyzing the scope of warrants on behalf of our clients.

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