People v. Ross, 2017 IL App (4th) 170121 (December). Episode 444 (Duration 9:50)
Police put the wrong address on the search warrant. Now what happens?
The State charged defendants, James A. Ross and Ryan A. Schriefer, with unlawful possession with intent to deliver cannabis while within 1000 feet of a school (720 ILCS 550/5.2, 5(e) (West 2014)) and the unauthorized production or possession of cannabis sativa plants (720 ILCS 550/8(d) (West 2014)).
Law enforcement officers searched a structure on property located at the northeastern corner of Greely and Chestnut Streets in Monticello, Illinois, pursuant to a search warrant issued earlier the same day.
Both defendants filed motions seeking to suppress evidence they argued was improperly obtained as the result of a defective search warrant. The trial court granted defendants’ motions.
On appeal, the State argues the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions to suppress based on “a discrepancy in the address” contained in the search warrant.
It contends that despite the error as to the target residence’s street address, the search warrant’s description of that residence was otherwise sufficient to allow law enforcement officers to know where to conduct the search.
The record reflects the property at issue was a single lot with two buildings—a tan, two-story house and a blue, barn-shaped building that, at some point, had been used as a residence.
The search at issue was of the tan house, which had a front door that faced Chestnut Street and the numbers 1002 displayed on the front of the home. The barn was associated with a street address of 817 North Greely Street in Monticello and was located north of the tan house.
The Search Warrant
The search warrant set forth the street address of the property to be searched as 817 North Greely Street and further described it as follows:
“A single family, tan, two[-]story dwelling located on the east side of North Greely Street with the number 817 displayed on the front, a detached barn to the north of the residence[.]”
During the search, law enforcement officers discovered cannabis and cannabis production materials.
Turns out the structure searched—the tan house—was a residence located at 1002 East Chestnut Street, but the search warrant referenced only a residence at the location of 817 North Greely Street in Monticello, Illinois.
The residence at issue was located northeast of the intersection, and police agreed it was a tan building.
Reports from the neighbors were that the tan residence was the problem. Police could also smell burnt cannabis coming from the home. They did not “actually go check the numbers” that were affixed to the front of the target residence.
How Did It Happen?
The officer who drafted the search warrant did not go to the location.
He was told to do it because he was good with search warrants. Russell testified he researched the address and stated his “research indicated that the residence was underneath one address, 817 N. Greely.” Russell testified he drafted a search warrant based on the officers’ observations of the location. He did not personally visit the address in question prior to preparing the complaint for a search warrant.
Russell testified, later, he looked up records associated with 1002 East Chestnut Street. He stated he went to the clerk’s office “to determine why it showed 817 on the computer, and they explained it was two different properties consolidated into one.”
Russell also learned that separate Monticello city water and Ameren Illinois Power accounts existed for 1002 East Chestnut. Russell testified that to determine the address for the target residence, he went to the “Piatt County tax assessment web site” that another deputy was familiar with. He “clicked on” property that he knew the target residence sat upon and the address that was given was “817 N. Greely.”
Russell testified that there was a building to the north of the target residence, which he described as “a barn that at one point in time used to be a residence.” He stated that building “generally was shaped like a barn” and was associated with the 817 N. Greely Street address.
Further, he stated that the previously identified information in his complaint for a search warrant, which did not apply to the target residence, actually applied to the barn. Russell asserted that the target residence and the barn were “basically two buildings on the same tract of property.” He stated it was his understanding that title to the “whole property[,] both 1002 and 817,” was transferred by a corporate warranty deed. At the hearing, Russell identified a copy of a corporation warranty deed showing that property with a “Common Address” of “817 N. Greely and 1002 E. Chestnut-Monticello, IL 61856” was transferred to Ryan Spomer by Central Financial Loan Corporation in 2011.
Russell also identified a document entitled “PTAX203 Illinois Real Estate Transfer Declaration” that contained property and sale information and which listed the street address of the property at issue as “817 N. Greely (and 1002 E. Chestnut)” in Monticello.
Additionally, Russell testified that his descriptions of the target residence in the complaint for a search warrant and the search warrant were accurate except for the assertions that the residence had “the number 817 displayed on the front.”
A valid search warrant must particularly describe the place or person to be searched and the things to be seized. 725 ILCS 5/108-3(a) (West 2014). “The purpose of this requirement is to prevent the use of general warrants that would give police broad discretion to search and seize.” People v. Burmeister, 313 Ill. App. 3d 152, 158, 728 N.E.2d 1260, 1266 (2000).
“Generally, an otherwise valid warrant will not be quashed due to technical errors not affecting the substantial rights of a defendant.” 725 ILCS 5/108-14 (West 2014) (“No warrant shall be quashed nor evidence suppressed because of technical irregularities not affecting the substantial rights of the accused.”).
“[E]rrors or omissions in addresses are not per se fatal to the validity of a search warrant” and “[a] warrant must simply identify the place to be searched to the exclusion of all others.” Burmeister, 313 Ill. App. 3d at 158, 728 N.E.2d at 1267. “A warrant is sufficiently descriptive if it enables the officer, with reasonable effort, to identify the place [to be searched].” People v. Watson, 26 Ill. 2d 203, 206, 186 N.E.2d 326, 327 (1962).
However, “where a search warrant raises a question in an officer’s mind as to which premises to search, the warrant should not be executed, because officers are prohibited from using their own discretion to determine which premises to search.” People v. Urbina, 393 Ill. App. 3d 1074, 1078, 916 N.E.2d 1, 6 (2009).
As described in the search warrant, the barn was located to the north of the residence, and the entire property was located on the east side of North Greely Street. Nothing in the record indicates law enforcement officers executing the search warrant were confused or doubtful about which building to search or that they exercised any discretion in determining where to search.
Similarly, no evidence showed that another similar property was located in the area, i.e., one with a “single family, tan, two[-]story dwelling” with “a detached barn to the north of the residence.” Further, the same officers who were involved in the investigation of the target residence were involved in the execution of the search warrant.
Additionally, the record shows the complaint and affidavit for a search warrant described the target residence as sitting “on the northeast corner of N. Greely and E. Chestnut Streets,” thereby more precisely describing the street location of the place to be searched. Technical descriptions are unnecessary and “[c]onstitutional requirements relating to searches are satisfied *** if the warrant describes the premises to be searched with reasonable certainty. If the property is sufficiently recognizable from the description to enable the officer to locate the premises with definiteness and certainty, it is adequate.
The description may be one used in the locality and known to the people; and by inquiry the officer may be as clearly guided to the place intended as if the legal record description were used. The constitutional safeguard is designed to require a description which particularly points to a definitely ascertainable place so as to exclude all others. See In Watson, 26 Ill. 2d at 205, 186 N.E.2d at 327 and People v. Powless, 199 Ill. App. 3d 952, 953, 557 N.E.2d 946, 947 (1990).
Like in Watson and Powless, the search warrant in this case was sufficiently descriptive so as to identify the correct place to be searched to the exclusion of all others. Additionally, the law enforcement officers involved in the search exhibited no doubt or confusion as to the house to be searched, nor did they exercise any discretion in determining where to search.
The officers knew what house was the subject of the search and searched only that residence. Here, although the warrant contained incorrect information as to the address of the house, it otherwise described the house to be searched in detail, providing information as to color, location, and other surrounding buildings. Thus, the house was described with particularity to the exclusion of all others, including the barn to which the 817 North Greely address actually applied.
Under the circumstances presented, although the technical address set forth in the warrant was incorrect, the warrant otherwise described the residence to be searched with particularity. Thus, it was sufficiently descriptive to permit law enforcement officers, with reasonable effort, to identify the residence to be searched.
In this instance we agree with the State’s contentions on appeal and find that, excluding the error as to street address, the search warrant was otherwise sufficiently descriptive.
In our de novo review, we find the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions to suppress evidence obtained in the search. For the reasons stated, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.