Law enforcement agencies are prevented from performing unreasonable searches of members of the public or their property by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. These constitutional protections extend to areas where a person has an expectation of privacy, including items that have been mailed through the U.S. Postal Service or third-party commercial carriers. Police usually must obtain a search warrant in order to open and search a piece of mail that they suspect may contain contraband or evidence of a crime. Failure to timely obtain a valid search warrant before opening and searching a piece of mail could render any evidence obtained in the search inadmissible at trial. The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division recently rejected a defendant’s appeal, which had claimed that the warrant used to search a piece of mail he had sent was not valid.
The defendant in the recently decided appeal was arrested after authorities obtained a search warrant and searched a piece of mail that he had dropped off at a post office, and drugs were found. According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the search warrant was issued on September 14, 2017. The defendant’s appeal was based on an affidavit from an investigator that stated the search was performed on September 12, 2017, two days prior to the issuance of the valid warrant. Before trial, the defendant attempted to suppress the evidence obtained in connection with the warrant based on this discrepancy and the apparent illegality of the search. The trial judge denied the defendant’s motion, finding multiple other sources of evidence in the record that stated the search actually was performed on September 14, 2017, after the warrant had been issued. The defendant was eventually convicted of drug and gun charges at trial.
The defendant appealed his conviction to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, arguing that the search appeared to have been performed two days prior to the issuance of the warrant and that the evidence obtained in the search was therefore inadmissible. The high court rejected the defendant’s claims, finding ample evidence in the record that the search was performed after the issuance of the warrant. The court determined that the singular reference to a search occurring two days before the warrant was issued was a typographical error and that the actual search occurred after the issuance of the warrant. As a result of the appellate decision, the defendant’s conviction will be upheld.