Search Warrants are subject to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Without “probable cause,” a search is ordinarily deemed “unreasonable” and therefore improper. As is the case with many legal issues involving criminal charges, there are certain exceptions.
Searches of a home or residence invite additional scrutiny by Courts, given there is a substantial expectation of privacy within “hearth and home.”
Indeed, the Common Law Castle Doctrine is an extension of the legal precept that one’s home is sacred.
“Et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium”
Each man’s home is his safest refuge. Under Common Law, a man’s house is his castle.
As such, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a person’s abode, unlike places that are not exclusive in control or otherwise open to the public.
Probable Cause for Search Warrants
Appeals from a legal ruling on Probable Cause by a Superior Court Judge, during a session of criminal court, are limited.
But for an abuse of discretion, the finding there exists sufficient evidence to support the issuance of a Search Warrant, will not be overturned.
Even if the NC Court of Appeals or Supreme Court might come to another conclusion, given the fact pattern at hand, the trial court’s ruling normally would stand.
The standard of review regarding a denial of a motion to suppress evidence is whether:
- The trial court’s Finding of Fact are supported by competent evidence; and,
- The Conclusions of Law are supported by the Findings of Fact.
Violations of Constitutional Rights
The Declaration of Rights of the North Carolina State Constitution requires particularity in warrants. General Warrants and those unsupported by evidence, pursuant to Article 1, Section 20 are:
“Dangerous to liberty and shall not be granted”
Unreasonable seizures and searches are prohibited. Probable cause demands things like:
- Reasonably trustworthy information
- Prudence in belief
Probable cause does not require absolute certainty or even overwhelming evidence that a suspect was committing a criminal offense or the accused had in fact broken a criminal law.
Certainty is not a condition precedent of Probable Cause. A substantial chance or probability of criminal activity is enough. North Carolina v. McKinney, 368 N.C. 161 (2015).
In reviewing the facts surrounding probable cause, the Court considers the totality of the circumstances.
Magistrates in North Carolina may issue a Search Warrant. They are given broad discretion in their legal rulings. Appellate Courts do not conduct a de novo review of their conclusions of law.
Affidavits supporting an application for a Search Warrant ordinarily establish a connection or nexus between the place to be searched and the objects expected to be found. North Carolina v. McCoy, 100 N.C. App. 574 (1990) **
The legal determination is whether the magistrate possessed, given the evidence presented in the supporting affidavit, a substantial basis in concluding there existed probable cause.
Appellate courts give such legal rulings, “great deference.” North Carolina v. Allman, 369 N.C. 292 (2016)
** Criminal defense lawyers in Charlotte often refer to case rulings as “State v. [the Defendant’s last name],” rather than formally naming the “State of North Carolina.”
Given the number of appellate court opinions throughout the United States and the similarity of last names, regarding the informational materials herein, “North Carolina” is used to remind readers to review the laws of the state of North Carolina.
The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled linking a crime via direct evidence is not required. There need not be direct evidence showing a link between the alleged crime and the location to be searched.
A reasonable inference is considered in the totality of the circumstances. “Common sense” inferences are allowed by the magistrate in issuing a Search Warrant.
Related Legal Issues
Examples of Search Warrants
The accused is charged with the felony offenses of second-degree kidnapping, robbery with a firearm, and conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm.
During a first date with the victim, the defendant and the victim are robbed at gunpoint.
Evidence is later uncovered that the Defendant resides with the gunman. Law enforcement deduces the Defendant participated in and conspired with her co-Defendant in planning the robbery.
Detectives obtained a Search Warrant from a Mecklenburg County Magistrate, supported by sworn testimony and affidavit, alleging the Defendant and the victim went to high school with one another and had not seen each other for years.
The Defendant reached out to the victim via Facebook Messenger, stating, “I know it’s been a long time. It looks like you’ve been successful in life. Let’s go see a movie or something.”
While in the parking lot of the movie theater, the victim receives a text message and immediately states, “I need to tie my shoes.” The victim notices the Defendant’s shoes are both tied.
As the Defendant bends down to tie her shoe, a man appears from a line of bushes. He wears a grey hoodie, dark pants, and has a blue bandana covering his nose and mouth. He also points a 40 caliber semi-automatic pistol at the victim.
While placing the gun in the victim’s back, he orders the Defendant and the victim to walk towards the line of bushes. The gunman thereafter takes the victim’s new Samsung phone, credit cards, and watch.
Nothing is taken from the Defendant. She is described as calm, if not unsurprised. After the robbery, she tells the victim, “Why call the police? They’ll never catch him. He was wearing a mask. I don’t know who he was.”
Law enforcement officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department conduct an investigation and thereafter apply for Search Warrants of the Defendant’s apartment and vehicle.
In an affidavit supporting the Search Warrant, the charging officer (the detective) sets forth the fact pattern as described. A Magistrate in Charlotte issues the warrant, indicating, “Sufficient grounds exist to believe a robbery and kidnapping took place.”
A search of the Defendant’s home results in securing the victim’s cell phone and credit cards. The victim’s watch is found in the search of vehicle.
Substantial circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon exists. Probable cause exists to issue a Search Warrant in North Carolina. See a similar case/fact pattern in North Carolina v. Sparks, N.C. Court of Appeals 18-1102.
Charlotte Criminal Lawyers – Powers Law Firm PA
If you’ve been accused of a crime, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor charge, we may be able to help.
Search and seizure laws can be complicated. Take immediate action. Retain legal representation without delay.
Our criminal defense law firm provides a confidential consultation, for criminal charges, free of charge.
Everything we discuss during the consultation is subject to attorney-client privilege. That’s true even if you decide to proceed on your own behalf (pro se), retain another defense attorney, or use the services of a Mecklenburg County Public Defender.
Call now: 704-342-4357 or email Bill Powers at Bill@CarolinaAttorneys.com