480 U.S. 79 (1987), 85-769, Maryland v. Garrison

Docket Nº:No. 85-769
Citation:480 U.S. 79, 107 S.Ct. 1013, 94 L.Ed.2d 72, 55 U.S.L.W. 4190
Party Name:Maryland v. Garrison
Case Date:February 24, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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480 U.S. 79 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1013, 94 L.Ed.2d 72, 55 U.S.L.W. 4190

Maryland

v.

Garrison

No. 85-769

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1987

Argued November 6, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND

Syllabus

Baltimore police officers obtained and executed a warrant to search the person of one McWebb and "the premises known as 2036 Park Avenue third floor apartment" for controlled substances and related paraphernalia. The police reasonably believed that there was only one apartment on the described premises, but in fact the third floor was divided into two apartment, one occupied by McWebb and one by respondent. Before the officers became aware that they were in respondent's apartment, they discovered the contraband that provided the basis for respondent's conviction for violating Maryland's Controlled Substances Act. The trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence, and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Held:

1. On the basis of the information that the officers disclosed, or had a duty to discover and to disclose, to the issuing Magistrate, the warrant, insofar as it authorized a search that turned out to be ambiguous in scope, was valid when it issued. The validity of the warrant must be judged in light of the information available to the officers at the time they obtained the warrant. The discovery of facts demonstrating that a valid warrant was unnecessarily broad does not retroactively invalidate the warrant. Pp. 84-86.

2. The execution of the warrant did not violate respondent's rights under the Fourth Amendment. The validity of the search of his apartment pursuant to the warrant depends on whether the officers' failure to realize the overbreadth of the warrant was objectively understandable and reasonable, and it unquestionably was. The objective facts available to the officers at the time suggested no distinction between McWebb's apartment and the third-floor premises. Whether the premises described in the warrant are interpreted as the entire third floor or as McWebb's apartment, the officers' conduct was consistent with a reasonable effort to ascertain and identify the place intended to be searched within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 86-89.

303 Md. 385, 494 A.2d 193, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN,

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J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 89.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Baltimore police officers obtained and executed a warrant to search the person of Lawrence McWebb and "the premises known as 2036 Park Avenue third floor apartment."1 When the police applied for the warrant and when they conducted the search pursuant to the warrant, they reasonably believed that there was only one apartment on the premises described in the warrant. In fact, the third floor was divided into two apartments, one occupied by McWebb and one by respondent Garrison. Before the officers executing the warrant became aware that they were in a separate apartment occupied by respondent, they had discovered the contraband that provided the basis for respondent's conviction for violating Maryland's Controlled Substances Act. The question presented is whether the seizure of that contraband was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

[107 S.Ct. 1015] The trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence seized from his apartment, App. 46, and the Maryland

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Court of Special Appeals affirmed. 58 Md.App. 417, 473 A.2d 514 (1984). The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed and remanded with instructions to remand the case for a new trial. 303 Md. 385, 494 A.2d 193 (1985).

There is no question that the warrant was valid and was supported by probable cause. Id. at 392, 494 A.2d at 196. The trial court found, and the two appellate courts did not dispute, that, after making a reasonable investigation, including a verification of information obtained from a reliable informant, an exterior examination of the three-story building at 2036 Park Avenue, and an inquiry of the utility company, the officer who obtained the warrant reasonably concluded that there was only one apartment on the third floor, and that it was occupied by McWebb. App. 41; 58 Md.App. at 433, 473 A.2d at 522; 303 Md., at 387-390, 494 A.2d at 194-195. When six Baltimore police officers executed the warrant, they fortuitously encountered McWebb in front of the building and used his key to gain admittance to the first-floor hallway and to the locked door at the top of the stairs to the third floor. As they entered the vestibule on the third floor, they encountered respondent, who was standing in the hallway area. The police could see into the interior of both McWebb's apartment to the left and respondent's to the right, for the doors to both were open. Only after respondent's apartment had been entered and heroin, cash, and drug paraphernalia had been found did any of the officers realize that the third floor contained two apartments. App. 41-46. As soon as they became aware of that fact, the search was discontinued. Id. at 32, 39. All of the officers reasonably believed that they were searching McWebb's apartment.2 No further search of respondent's apartment was made.

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The matter on which there is a difference of opinion concerns the proper interpretation of the warrant. A literal reading of its plain language, as well as the language used in the application for the warrant, indicates that it was intended to authorize a search of the entire third floor.3 This is the construction adopted by the intermediate appellate court, see 58 Md.App. at 419, 473 A.2d at 515, and it also appears to be the construction adopted by the trial judge. See App. 41. One sentence in the trial judge's oral opinion, however, lends support to the construction adopted by the Court of Appeals, namely, that the warrant authorized a search of McWebb's apartment only.4 Under that [107 S.Ct. 1016] interpretation, the Court of

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Appeals concluded that the warrant did not authorize the search of respondent's apartment and the police had no justification for making a warrantless entry into his premises.5

The opinion of the Maryland Court of Appeals relies on Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights6 and Maryland cases as well as the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution and federal cases. Rather than containing any "plain statement" that the decision rests upon adequate and independent state grounds, see Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1042 (1983), the opinion indicates that the Maryland constitutional provision is construed in pari materia with the

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Fourth Amendment.7 We therefore have jurisdiction. Because the result that the Court of Appeals reached did not appear to be required by the Fourth Amendment, we granted certiorari. 475 U.S. 1009 (1986). We reverse.

In our view, the case presents two separate constitutional issues, one concerning the validity of the warrant and the other concerning the reasonableness of the manner in which it was executed. See Dalia v. United States, 441 U.S. 238, 258 (1979). We shall discuss the questions separately.

I

The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment categorically prohibits the issuance of any warrant except one "particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized." The manifest purpose of this particularity requirement was to prevent general searches. By limiting the authorization to search to the specific areas and things for which there is probable cause to search, the requirement ensures that the search will be carefully tailored to its justifications, and will not take on the character of the wide-ranging exploratory searches the Framers intended to prohibit.8 Thus, the scope of a lawful search is

defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found. Just as probable cause to believe that a stolen lawnmower may be found in a garage will not support a warrant to [107 S.Ct. 1017] search an upstairs bedroom, probable cause to believe that undocumented aliens are being transported in a van will not justify a warrantless

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search of a suitcase.

United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 824 (1982).

In this case, there is no claim that the "persons or things to be seized" were inadequately described or that there was no probable cause to believe that those things might be found in "the place to be searched" as it was described in the warrant. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we now know that the description of that place was broader than appropriate because it was based on the mistaken belief that there was only one apartment on the third floor of the building at 2036 Park Avenue. The question is whether that factual mistake invalidated a warrant that undoubtedly would have been valid if it had reflected a completely accurate understanding of the building's floor plan.

Plainly, if the officers had known, or even if they should have known, that there were two separate dwelling units on the third floor of 2036 Park Avenue, they would have been obligated to exclude respondent's apartment from the scope of the requested warrant. But we must judge the constitutionality of their conduct in light of the information available to them at the time they acted. Those items of evidence that emerge after the warrant is issued have no bearing on whether or not a warrant was validly issued.9 Just as the discovery of contraband cannot...

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