In a recent drugs and marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police received a tip of illegal drug activity at a particular apartment. They conducted surveillance on the apartment and observed what they considered to be suspicious activity. They ultimately obtained a search warrant to search the apartment for drugs. The conducted the search and found marijuana and guns inside.
The criminal defense lawyer challenged the search because the search warrant had several errors in it. A search warrant must describe the place to be searched with specificity. In this case, the search warrant had the wrong street number, the wrong street name and the wrong directions to the apartment. The police presumably were still able to locate and search the correct apartment because the police were familiar with it from previous surveillance.
The purpose of requiring a proper and specific description of the place to be searched in a search warrant is to make sure the police do not have a general license to go searching a wide range of places with one warrant. A specific location is included in the warrant so it is clear that the police are only permitted to search that one specific place. Additionally, the description is important so the police actually search the correct place. If the description or other parts of the search warrant are inaccurate, the search warrant may get thrown out. If that happens, the evidence the police found as a result of the search may not be used against the defendant in court.
In this case, the appellate court decided that the search warrant was good enough. Despite the obvious errors, the court determined that the risk of searching the wrong place or searching beyond the scope of the search warrant was limited because the police were familiar with the right location through prior surveillance and experience with this apartment. The court also noted that the police did, in fact, search the correct apartment. However, if the police get a pass with a faulty warrant just based on a “no harm, no foul” type of analysis, it denigrates the important requirement that search warrants are specific and accurate.