What You Should Know About Invalid Search Warrant

PA landing search siezure

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution stops the government from authorizing unreasonable searches and seizures within our homes and our persons. As anyone who has been served a search warrant knows, the government does authorize searches, and there’s little one can do to stop police armed with a search warrant.

However, because of how they are obtained, some search warrants are invalid. When your attorney can show that a search warrant was improperly granted, the court may throw out the evidence obtained using the invalid search warrant. This may go a long way toward derailing the prosecution’s case and may even lead to charges being dropped.

If you have been arrested on criminal charges in New Jersey and police used a search warrant to find evidence against you, the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall may be able to help you. Our firm’s attorneys are former New Jersey prosecutors and public defenders who have spent decades dealing with cases that hinged on evidence seized in searches. We have a thorough knowledge of what is legally required to obtain a search warrant and what can make a search warrant invalid.

You can count on our New Jersey criminal defense law firm to provide you with a strong legal defense based on our:

  • 200+ years of combined experience in courtrooms across New Jersey defending individuals charged with a wide range of criminal charges
  • 10 defense lawyers solely dedicated to representing the accused
  • Certification as criminal trial attorneys, which fewer than 2% of New Jersey lawyers have
  • Countless trials litigated with charges against our clients dismissed
  • Successful litigation of numerous white-collar crime and federal cases in U.S. District Courts in Trenton, Camden and Newark, N.J.
  • 24/7 availability to respond to your need for legal representation from law offices across New Jersey.

Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall at (877) 450-8301 for a prompt and attentive response to your legal needs. We’ll provide you with a free initial consultation with a highly accomplished New Jersey criminal defense lawyer.

An attorney from the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can take quick and aggressive action to help you. If charges against you grew out of an invalid search warrant, we would move immediately to have the charges dismissed.

How and Why Police Were Able to Get a Search Warrant

Anyone would be upset by police handing them an official-looking document and then tearing apart their house or apartment. No one wants strangers rummaging through their things. But a properly issued search warrant authorizes the police to search a specified place for evidence without the occupant’s consent.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

To obtain a warrant, police must provide sworn statements (affidavits) of their belief of probable cause to a neutral judge or magistrate capable of determining whether probable cause exists. Affidavits may be based on their own observations or the observations of others, including informants.

When issuing a search warrant, the judge may define how and when the police may conduct their search. However, police can search beyond what is in the search warrant if it’s necessary to ensure their own safety or the safety of others.

Police can search beyond the scope of a warrant to stop the destruction of evidence, if their initial search reveals the potential for additional evidence in other locations on the same property, or to find more evidence indicated by what is in plain view.

Normally, police officers executing a search warrant must first knock and announce their identity and intent. They must wait a reasonable amount of time to allow an occupant to open the door. Only after waiting may the police force entry.

On the other hand, police may sometimes disregard this knock-and-announce rule. The Supreme Court held in Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997), that a no-knock entry is justified when, under the circumstances, knocking and announcing their presence “would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime.”

Police do not need a search warrant if they have the property owner’s or resident’s consent or:

  • In an emergency, such as when pursuing a suspect who may put others at risk.
  • Incident to an arrest. Once you have been arrested, police may search you and your immediate surroundings for weapons.
  • Evidence is in plain view. Police may seize evidence if it is in plain view to them while they are in a location where they are authorized to be. This includes inside your home if they are there under the authorization of a search warrant.

What is Probable Cause in New Jersey?

Although the Fourth Amendment refers specifically to probable cause, the Constitution does not specify what “probable cause” actually means. What is considered probable cause in New Jersey is based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings as well as cases decided in New Jersey.

Probable cause is a common-sense, practical standard that is supposed to be flexible. To obtain a warrant, the standard is met when there is a well-grounded suspicion that would lead a reasonable person to believe the law has been or is about to be violated.

The existence of probable cause is judged by a standard of objective reasonableness based on the totality of facts existing at the time that the affidavits seeking a warrant are filed. Probable cause requires a showing of facts. Assertions made by police that are simply beliefs are not enough to support a search warrant. Police sometimes cite outdated or stale information when seeking a search warrant. Probable cause does not exist if the facts presented to support a finding are stale or outdated.

How to Win a ‘Franks Hearing’ and Suppress Evidence from a Search Warrant

Considering the broad flexibility available to find probable cause and issue a search warrant, a more promising approach to getting a search warrant ruled invalid is often to assert that police lied, omitted facts or simply didn’t check the facts used to get the warrant.

A suppression motion to argue that a search warrant was not valid is heard in a “Franks Hearing,” so named for the landmark case of Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).

In Franks v. Delaware, the Supreme Court held that: “Where the defendant makes a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit, and if the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause, the Fourth Amendment, as incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment, requires that a hearing be held at the defendant’s request.”

In our motion, we would show that the police officer, in the affidavit submitted to obtain a search warrant, knowingly and intentionally swore to false information or did so with reckless disregard for the truth, or without checking into allegations that should have been questioned.

However, a New Jersey case, State v. Goldberg 214 N.J. Super 401, 408 (App Div. 1986), creates another hurdle. It says that if there is sufficient unchallenged information to establish probable cause apart from the challenged statement, no Franks Hearing is necessary.

The key is the term “necessary.” The petitioner – the defendant asking for a search warrant and therefore evidence found to be ruled invalid – must persuade the judge to hear their evidence. Then, in the Franks Hearing, they need to convince the judge that police acted in bad faith when they sought the search warrant. If the judge is so convinced, he or she will necessarily rule that evidence found during an illegal search is “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be suppressed.

Winning a Franks Hearing requires experienced criminal defense attorneys who can identify and present specific evidence showing that one or more statements in the officer’s affidavit are false and that the officer’s intent was dishonest or amounted to a reckless disregard for the truth.

Contact Our New Jersey Defense Attorneys Today

If you face criminal charges based on evidence police found after issuing a search warrant, you may be able to challenge the validity of the search warrant and have the evidence dismissed. This likely requires you to have knowledge of dishonesty or recklessness by the law enforcement officer involved.

The defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you challenge a search warrant if there is evidence that favors you. Because our attorneys have decades of experience in the criminal justice system and have built professional relationships in courts across New Jersey, we can make sure that your side of the case is duly considered by the court hearing it.

Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall at (877) 450-8301 as soon as possible for a free initial consultation about your case. We have offices throughout New Jersey and are ready to assist you anywhere in the state.