View Full Version : Search Warrants

Al Stevens
07-08-2012, 11:31 PM
Here's the setup. A suburban subdivision, tract housing, lower middle class, State of Maryland. About 100 houses. Most are "underwater" and have been abandoned and foreclosed upon. Probably some have occupants--homeless, runaways, crack houses, and maybe some holders-on--but most are vacant, owned by the banks, with for sale signs. Gradually, the nighttime scavengers are stripping them of appliances and anything else of value. There is no way to tell from the exteriors which houses are occupied.

This describes a real neighborhood a few miles from where I live and probably many others across the country.

Now to the problem. The cops have sufficient probable cause to believe that a serial killer is using one of the houses to imprison and torture his victims before killing them. (Think Buffalo Bill in SOTL, but not quite.) But they don't know which house. The (weak) probable cause is that an expensive and unusual car of the kind known to be driven by the killer was seen going into the subdivision.

The cops know that the killer has a hostage and, according to his established MO, has probably not killed her yet.

What do the cops need in the way of search warrants to break into and search all 100 houses? Would a judge issue a blanket warrant? Would exigent circumstances obviate the need for warrants?

Thanks in advance.

07-09-2012, 12:33 AM
A blanket search of 100 houses without a warrant? That sound you heard is millions of civil rights lawyers screaming and then going silent ... as they prepare their lawsuits.

Even with extigent circumstances, ie the life of the victim being in jeopardy, there's no way that would legally justify the warrantless search of 100 houses. If they did do it, and in the unlikely chance they found the killer (because how would they search 100 houses at once? And anything less would tip him off), any judge in his right mind would toss all the evidence related to that search.

As to getting a warrant, just knowing that a car similiar to the killer's car was seen in the area is not enough to get a blanket warrant for 100 houses. (It might be good enough for a specific house, if they can tie that house to that car, and the car was unusual enough to be not only distinctive but unlikey for it to be anyone else's car. A '69 Charger is not distinctive enough, but a '69 Charger painted like the General Lee from the Duke's of Hazard would be)

As to "what would the cops need to get a warrant for 100 houses." I can't think of anything that would get them that blanket warrant for 100 houses. They'd have to narrow it down. You might be able to justify multiple houses, if they can show it pretty much HAS to be "this house, or that house, or that house", especially with a life on the line, but 100 houses? No way.

At that point, if they are pretty sure it has to be one of those 100 houses, they'd be wracking their brains trying to figure out a way to narrow it down for a warrant.

They also could, and likely would, attempt to ask for "consent searches" of as many houses as they could. Remember, a cop doesn't have to have a warrant to merely knock on your door and ask if he can come in. If you consent to letting him in, the search is legal. The difference is, if the homeowner or the person in control of the property says, "No," the police can not legally enter without first getting that warrant. This is where the old "We just want to look around to make sure it's not you" and "If you have nothing to hide, why don't you let us in?" type ploy comes into play.

In addition to asking for consent searches, they could also try to stretch the truth and manufacture extigent circumstances to get access to specific houses. Basically use some essentially made up reason to justify a search without a warrant. That would be EXTREMELY risky legally, and the risk increases the more they do it, but if many of the houses are either abandoned and totally emtpy, or are occupied by squatters, that might be something they'd consider.

EDIT: I did just think of something. I know in some manhunts, like for an escaped convinct in a certain area, the cops will go door to door to look for the bad guy. I don't know if they conduct warrantless searches in each house, or ask for consent, or what, but it does involve searching multiple houses in an unusual situation. If you look into that a little there might be something you could use if the circumstances match up enough.

Al Stevens
07-09-2012, 02:55 AM
Thank you so much. The way you described it is the way I had written it. But I wanted to make sure because I was only guessing.

07-09-2012, 04:06 AM
They'd probably stake bunch of houses at a time, scan them for infrared signatures, listen with sophisticated amplifiers, place motion detectors, etc. Spotting the one house when the whole place should be empty is realively easy when you have SWAT gear. Once they know which house(s) needs invasive investigation, then issueing warrants should be straightforward.