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A warehouse is a single structure with several divided units separated by concrete walls. These units have different sequential addresses;

  • 1000 Fake St (unit A)
  • 1001 Fake St (unit B)
  • 1002 Fake St (unit C)
  • 1003 Fake St (unit D)

Lets say a person is selling marijuana from unit C. Police get a search warrant for unit C but mistakenly enter the wrong one (unit B). Inside of unit B, Police find 1 lb of marijuana.

  • Can this evidence be used against the suspect who is listed as the renter/owner of unit c?
  • Can the renter/owner of unit b, be charged for the marijuana?
  • Is this evidence even admissible in court?
  • In a situation where a judge doesn't allow the submission of this evidence in any case. Can the rightful owner of the marijuana ask for it to be returned even thou it is illegal in the state?
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  • Illegal goods don't become okay just because they shouldn't have been found.
    – user4657
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 5:23
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    Obviously illegal items don't become legal. Of course there are often times when illegal items are not admitted as evidence in court. So while @Nij could get a point for brevity, that's about it.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 10:58
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    @Nij Illegally obtained evidence is often inadmissible in court. See Fruit of the poisonous tree. But I don't know if this case falls in that category. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:10
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    The case where the warrant is already for the wrong apartment seems to be admissible due to the good faith exception. Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement, Volume 1 By Larry E. Sullivan - pg. 651 Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:21
  • I wasn't able to see any content at the link, @CodesInChaos. However, I think the good faith exception would apply to Unit B (the wrongly-entered unit that the police in good faith thought was the correct unit), but not applicable to Unit C (the unit they had the warrant for). Of course, nothing would stop them from, after mistakenly executing the warrant on Unit B and realizing their mistake, subsequently executing the warrant on the correct unit.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:57

2 Answers 2

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Here is an excellent (and extensive) explanation of jurisprudence regarding the "good faith exception" to the admissibility of evidence found due to an error. In short: Yes, the contraband found in Unit B would be evidence admissible in court.

(Of course, evidence found in Unit B would only support charges against whomever had a nexus to that property. If the owner of Unit C had no access to Unit B, then evidence in Unit B would not per se implicate him in a crime.)

Law enforcement will not return seized property if it believes the property is "contraband." As an example, in Pennsylvania a person can petition a court for return of property seized by law enforcement: Rule 588 requires the petitioner to establish entitlement to lawful possession of the property, but the motion will be rejected if the State successfully argues that the property is contraband, or "derivative contraband" (which has been defined in case law to mean there is "a specific nexus between the property and criminal activity").

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    Where it gets complicated is when someone is, according to state law, in lawful possession, but the property is contraband under federal law. There was a California court decision ordering police to return marijuana that had been illegally seized, even though the police argued that they would be violating federal law in doing so. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 20:49
  • The link doesn't make clear whether the "good faith" exception includes cases where police officers fail to exercise reasonable care to ensure that they are in fact searching the right address. To my mind, if police fail to exercise reasonable care on such an issue, that would almost by definition make the search unreasonable.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 18:44
  • It irks me that the notion of "good faith" is often treated as purely a matter of law, ignoring the factual question of whether officials tell the truth about their state of mind. If a jury that was given evidence regarding an officer's actions and state of mind would conclude that the officer is a liar who was acting in bad faith, they should have a recognized right and duty to treat any evidence gathered in bad faith as unreliable. To be sure, jurors might still interpret such evidence in a manner prejudicial to the defendant if they view the defendant as sufficiently dangerous...
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 19:52
  • ...to society, but if police knew that they had to be perceived by jurors as posing less of a danger to society than the suspects they were arresting, that would probably cut down on some of the more outrageous forms of abuse.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 19:53
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There was a case where the police in the USA had a warrant to search the flat on the top (third) floor on a building. Nobody realised that there were two flats, so they searched the wrong one, and found a gun. Which was admissible as evidence.

I think this is covered up to the point where they realise their mistake, and then the police has to leave immediately.

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