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Court Discusses Search Warrant


This case is about the validity of a search warrant which authorized a search of the premises where defendant resided, and also of another residential unit distantly located. A New York Criminal Lawyer said whether the warrant itself is sufficient; and whether by collateral estoppel the infirmity of the warrant may be argued or applied to the other residence; has to be determined by the Court.

On September 10, 1985, a New York City Police officer applied by telephone to a Queens County Criminal Court Judge for a search warrant for two premises in Queens: 155-47 116th Avenue; and the second floor of a two family dwelling at 116-66 231st Street. The application was based on the information provided to the Police Officer by an unregistered and unidentified informant, who had provided information in the past. According to the informant, there were two black males who had been abducted, beaten and were near death from a ruined drug crime transaction (drug possession) at the 116th Avenue location. The informant also said to the Police Officer that he had just left the location twenty minutes earlier and that he had been in the company of three of the suspects who were going to the 231st Street location, at about 8:00 P.M., in order to cut and distribute drugs.

The judge authorized a “no-knock” search of both premises and authorized the arrest of all persons found therein, as well as the seizure of any contraband found. The search of the 116th Avenue location resulted in the arrest of seven people and the recovery of misdemeanor quantities of narcotics and several rifles. The search of the 231st Street location, which is defendant’s home, resulted in the arrest of defendant and five others, and the recovery of substantial amount of narcotics, handguns, cash, and drug paraphernalia.

A Queens Criminal Lawyer said the persons arrested at the 116th Avenue location were charged with misdemeanors before the Queens County Criminal Court. They moved to controvert the search warrant issued and alleged that no probable cause existed to issue the warrant. The said Court granted the motion to controvert the warrant and suppressed all of the contraband seized. The said Court ruled that under the “totality of the circumstances” test, the undetailed hearsay information supplied by the informant was insufficient to establish probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. The information could not be corroborated and the reliability of the informant was not established by past performance or personal knowledge.

Defendant and the others arrested at the 231st Street location were indicted by a Special Narcotics Grand Jury on drug and weapon charges before the Supreme Court, New York County, for prosecution. Defendant moved to controvert the warrant and to suppress the contraband seized thereby.

The Court noted that the subject warrant was issued on the basis of the hearsay statement of the Police Officer given to the Criminal Court Judge over the telephone. It is well settled that to establish probable cause to support a warrant based on such hearsay information; the police must demonstrate: (1) that the informant had some basis for the knowledge he transmitted; and (2) that the informant was reliable.

The Court noted that the informant’s description was so general and indefinite that it fails to meet that test. Nor was the informant’s reliability sufficiently demonstrated. Accordingly, under the two-pronged test for probable cause established by jurisprudence, which remains controlling as a matter of this state’s constitutional law, the failure to establish either the informant’s “basis of knowledge” or his “reliability” would be fatal to the warrant in question. Here, there has been a failure on both issues. Moreover, the same result would obtain even if we were to apply the less stringent “totality of the circumstances” test. Under any analysis, the “totality of the circumstances” of the information conclusorily provided by the Police Officer in applying for the warrant would not provide a “substantial basis”, considering the vagueness of the unverified and uncorroborated tip, for concluding that probable cause existed.

With respect to the issue as to whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel should have been applied here, the court held in the affirmative. Collateral estoppel arises from a long-recognized equitable reaction against allowing a party to relitigate issues which have already been decided against him.

The findings of fact and conclusions of law which fully detail the basis upon which the Queens Criminal Court reached its decision on the motion to controvert the search warrant, leaves no doubt that the relevant issues were decided without any reference to the parties defendant in that case. The determination as to the warrant’s underlying validity was founded solely on the basis of the police testimony, just as a similar determination here would necessarily be founded, irrespective of the identity of any particular defendant arrested pursuant to that warrant. The Prosecution already had an ample opportunity to fully litigate the question of the warrant’s validity, fundamental fairness and equity dictate that they be estopped from relitigating that issue in this case, which has already been decided against them.

Allow our competent New York Criminal Lawyers from Stephen Bilkis and Associates to stand by your case during this difficult time, whether you have been charged with drug possession, sex crimes or theft.. It has offices conveniently located within New York Metropolitan area, including Corona, New York.

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