On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 05-02-0140.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern, C.S. Fisher and C.L. Miniman.
Constitutional principles require that a search warrant issue only upon a finding of probable cause by a neutral and detached magistrate. We find the warrant in question unconstitutional because it issued despite the judge's implicit finding that the place to be searched was not sufficiently described and because the judge thereafter directed the police to ascertain the facts needed to accurately describe the place to be searched without further judicial oversight or review.
Defendant was indicted and charged with various drug and weapons offenses. Following a hearing and the denial of his suppression motion, defendant pled guilty to first-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with the intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1). He was sentenced to a twelve-year prison term with a four-year period of parole ineligibility.
In this appeal, defendant seeks our review of the denial of his motion to suppress as well as the sentence imposed. Because we agree that the search warrant was invalid, we reverse and remand. As a result, we need not reach defendant's arguments regarding the sentence he received.
The charges asserted against defendant emanated from a police investigation of Allen Daniels, who was suspected of distributing CDS in the Trenton area. After conducting several controlled buys, the police had cause to believe that Daniels was operating a drug distribution business out of locations on Hoffman Street and Sanhican Drive in Trenton, and out of an apartment in the Avalon Run Apartments in Lawrence Township. The police obtained warrants to search those premises.
Before executing those warrants, detectives arranged to have a confidential informant meet with Daniels to make another purchase of CDS. The informant contacted Daniels and met him at the Hoffman Avenue location; from there they drove to Wayne Avenue in Trenton. Daniels exited the vehicle and entered 105 Wayne Avenue. Soon thereafter, the officers observed Daniels and an unknown black male walk out of 105 Wayne Avenue, enter the car, and drive away. The informant later advised the police that the other person in the car was Daniels' cousin, defendant Quinn Marshall.
Based on this information, the police applied to a superior court judge for a search warrant. The supporting affidavit averred, however, that "[i]nformation received . . . reveals that there are two separate units inside 105 Wayne Avenue, Trenton," and it was not then known, and could not be learned "through normal surveillance efforts," which of the two apartments was being used by Daniels. Nevertheless, the police "request[ed] that a search warrant be issued for the apartment within the premises of 105 Wayne Avenue to which [Daniels] has possession, custody, control or access as previously described."
Based on this factual presentation, the judge issued a search warrant, which permitted a search of the 105 Wayne Avenue apartment that was in Daniels' "possession, custody, control or access," but "if and only if" probable cause could be established after the police "secured [Daniels] outside 105 Wayne Avenue" and "a search of [Daniels] reveals documentation or keys which identify the specific unit inside 105 Wayne Avenue to which [Daniels] has possession, custody, control, or access, or if he divulges such information to the officers executing the search warrant for his person." The warrant also commanded the police that "[i]n the event [they were] unable to identify the premises utilized by [Daniels] through the above mentioned means, this premises warrant [for 105 Wayne Avenue] will not be executed."
Thereafter, the police executed the previously obtained search warrant on the Avalon Run apartment. There they found Daniels. They advised Daniels of his Miranda*fn1 rights and questioned him about 105 Wayne Avenue; a police officer later testified at the suppression hearing that Daniels eventually revealed that defendant stayed in the first floor apartment. The officer who interrogated Daniels at the Avalon Run apartment relayed this information to other officers. Those officers then executed the ...