Question: When a magistrate judge grants a search warrant of a specific apartment, can officers expand that search to other nearby apartments?
Quick Answer: No, when officers enter an apartment not specified in a search warrant without additional probable cause, it is an unconstitutional search because they knowingly stepped beyond the bounds of the search they were authorized to conduct.
Facts: Federal agents received information that child pornography had been downloaded through a particular Internet Protocol (IP) address. The agents learned that the IP address was assigned to Andrei Voustianiouk and, according to the Internet service provider, he lived in Apartment 1. The agents went to Voustianiouk’s physical address and found a two-story building containing two apartments, one on the first floor and one on the second. The agents could not confirm which apartment was Voustianiouk’s. The agents eventually obtained a warrant to search the first-floor apartment only. The agents intentionally omitted Voustianiouk’s name from both the search warrant and the accompanying affidavit. When the agents arrived to conduct their search, they discovered that Voustianiouk lived in the second-floor apartment. The agents searched that apartment and discovered child pornography on Voustianiouk’s computers.
Why this case is important: When you execute a search warrant, you need to stay clearly within the bounds of the warrant. The search warrant and accompanying affidavit explicitly authorized the search of the first-floor apartment and made no mention of the second-floor dwelling. Nothing in the warrant or accompanying affidavit provided any reason for these agents to conclude that the magistrate judge had authorized them to search the building’s second floor, and neither document mentioned Voustianiouk as the occupant of the apartment that the agents were authorized to search.
Keep in mind: The agents should have gotten a new search warrant. Stepping outside the expressed scope of a search warrant increases the odds that the evidence will be suppressed and a criminal will go free.
Visit the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit website to read the entire opinion.