Officers obtained and executed a warrant to search the person of Lawrence McWebb and “the premises known as 2036 Park Avenue third floor apartment.” After an exterior examination and an inquiry of a 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. When 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 the defendant, who was standing in the hallway area. The police could see into the interior of both McWebb’s apartment to the left and the defendant’s to the right. Only after the defendant’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. As soon as they became aware of that fact, they discontinued their search. All of the officers believed that they were searching McWebb’s apartment
Was the warrant unreasonably vague & ambiguous, requiring evidence suppression?
No. The officers’ execution of this warrant was reasonable under the circumstances.
The Court held the officers acted reasonably when: (1) the warrant authorized a search of “the premises known as 2036 Park Avenue third floor apartment,” (2) the objective facts available to the officers at the time of the search suggested no distinction between the named person’s apartment and the entire third floor premises, (3) the officers discovered that the third floor was in fact divided into two separate apartments–only after they entered and found contraband in the apartment of the tenant not named in the warrant, and (4) they discontinued the search as soon as they made this discovery. Under these circumstances, the officers’ failure to realize the ambiguity of the warrant is objectively reasonable, and their execution of the warrant was proper whether the warrant is interpreted as authorizing a search of the entire third floor or a search limited to the named person’s apartment. The constitutionality of the officers’ conduct must be judged in the light of the information available to them at the time they request the warrant
480 U.S. 79, 107 S. Ct. 1013 (1987)