What if a search warrant contains an error or incorrect address?
UPDATED: February 6, 2012
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A search warrant is a document signed by a judge that gives the police the authority to enter your home and search through your belongings. A valid search warrant must provide a detailed description of the location to be searched. Several years ago, many law enforcement agencies complied with this requirement by simply listing the general address of the house they intended to search. This descriptive approach faced obstacles when search warrant documents contained incorrect address information. As a result, law enforcement began using a longer list of descriptors to identify the location to be searched. Regardless of a typo in the listed mailing address, the other details and descriptors used to identify the search warrant location will determine whether or not a search was invalid.
An Incorrect Address on a Search Warrant
Years ago when the police were cracking down on drug houses, law enforcement would list a specific address in their search warrant as per the general search warrant requirements. A few clever drug dealers decided to swap out the house numbers, or change a house number from 606 to 609, in order to intentionally mislead law enforcement. The police would show up to the new 606 street address, conduct the search, and seize evidence. At a later motion to suppress hearing, the defense would enter city records showing that the actual street number for the residence was 609, not 606. The records would sometimes include a new and improved photo of the house with the correct street numbers on the outside. Several drug cases had evidence suppressed during this time period.
Current Guidelines for Search Warrant Typos
The police countered these issues by adding more descriptive elements to search warrant documents. Not only do many agencies now list the house number, they also outline specific turn-by-turn directions on how to get to the house, a residential description that includes the house color and trim, and the official lot descriptions on file for the house. The more details outlined in a warrant, the more likely the search will be upheld, even if the physical address listed in the warrant is wrong.
To determine whether a description is sufficient despite an incorrect address, a general guideline is used. If the judge can still find the house without the address, then the validity of the search will be upheld. If the search warrant description is so vague that no one could reasonably decide which house was to be searched, then the search will more likely be suppressed and the evidence thrown out.