drug case was dealt a crippling blow when cocaine and drugs found in a man's
house were ruled to have been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment
to the United States Constitution. Seeking to search the home of Shakeel
Wiggins, New York City Police Detectives applied for a search warrant
and failed to disclose that the address housed two families. That fact
proved to be the undoing of a major federal drug case.
Almost every drug case presents a Fourth Amendment issue. The
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, with limited exceptions, holds that a search of a home, done without
a warrant, is presumptively invalid. The warrant must also state with
particularity, the place to be searched. Also, a warrant will be issued
only if there is probable cause to believe that seizable evidence will
be found on the premises to be searched. The particularity requirement
requires the government to specify where it wishes to search and what
items it seeks to seize. Here, the address listed in the warrant application
made the dwelling appear as though it was a single family residence. In
fact, the building was a multifamily residence that housed different families
on different floors of the building.
Evidentiary Hearing Pertaining To Drug Case
After holding an evidentiary hearing and considering the evidence presented,
U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein suppressed an assault rifle,
a handgun, and over 130 grams of cocaine base taken from Wiggins'
portion of the residence. Judge Weinstein suppressed the evidence because
the police officers who applied for the warrant failed to tell the issuing
judge they were searching a multifamily dwelling. Judge Weinstein said
that "the police should have known that the building was a multi-occupancy
structure." The police indicated in the warrant application that
the structure was a private three-story house. In fact, the property had
been converted into two separate residences. Wiggins occupied the first
floor, and another family leased the second and third floors. Judge Weinstein
noted that "properly conducted surveillance would have revealed that
multiple families live at the house." He continued, "there was
ample opportunity to notice the comings and goings of the upstairs family.
A failure by the police to observe these comings and goings is not credible."
The ruling, suppressing key items of the government's evidence, radically
increases the odds that the drug case against Wiggins will completely
fall apart. The ruling also underscores the importance of our constitutional
protections and the consequences to law enforcement if it violates those
Oronoz, Ericsson & Gaffney at 702-878-2889 today.