3

Suppose the police have probable cause that there is evidence of a crime in an apartment that is part of a complex, but they can't figure out which apartment it is. Can they search all of them with a warrant?

5

If the police can get a warrant from a judge confirming that they have probable cause, they could, and that finding would probably be confirmed in a subsequent suppression hearing alleging that the warrant was issued without probable cause.

But, it would be unlikely that a judge would issue a warrant that covered multiple apartments if there was not probable cause to indicate that evidence of the crime was in a particular apartment.

I could imagine a situation where a judge might do so (e.g. the evidence was strapped onto a rat that had the ability to move from apartment to apartment in a wing of four adjacent apartments in the same wing of the building through the crawl space in the ceiling), but in any reasonably normal fact pattern, a judge would be unlikely to grant a warrant in a situation where probable cause had not narrowed down the particular apartment where the evidence was believed to be located due to insufficient investigation by the police.

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  • What about an apartment shared by multiple people? Could someone who is subletting a room end up getting it searched for the actions of another housemate? – faustus Jun 21 '18 at 2:00
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    @faustus This often happens. The warrant needs to describe the place to be searched with particularity, but usually a street address is considered sufficient. – ohwilleke Jun 21 '18 at 2:26
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    +1; it also probably matters if the crime is committed by the resident/occupant of the the apartment or the owner, and if the apartments to be searched are occupied or vacant. I've been told judges (by family member police officers) tend to be more stringent on warrants in homes, and less so in commercial spaces (e.g. an unoccupied apartment). – sharur Jun 25 '18 at 18:46
  • What if there is probable cause to believe the landlord committed the crime and is using some random lessee's apartment to hide the evidence? Does this discovery now make the search legal? – moonman239 Jun 29 '18 at 2:54
  • The decision is fact specific. But, knowing that the evidence is in "some random lessee's apartment" is unlikely to be good enough, particularly if there are lots of possible apartments as opposed to two or three. – ohwilleke Jun 29 '18 at 17:31

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