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Cannabis Evidence Not Admissible Because Search Warrant Did Not Extend to Warehouse

A recent Illinois Appellate Court decision highlights the obligation of law enforcement to abide by the letter of the search warrants they obtain, and the consequences of failing to do so. In that recent case, a fateful decision by police regarding when to execute a search warrant prevented the state from legally using the drugs obtained by police against a man in his possession of cannabis case. Since the warrant obtained by police covered only those vehicles or premises in which the drugs were located, and the police stopped the man while driving a forklift outside, the warrant did not allow them to also search a nearby warehouse.

A recent Illinois Appellate Court decision highlights the obligation of law enforcement to abide by the letter of the search warrants they obtain, and the consequences of failing to do so. In that recent case, a fateful decision by police regarding when to execute a search warrant prevented the state from legally using the drugs obtained by police against a man in his possession of cannabis case. Since the warrant obtained by police covered only those vehicles or premises in which the drugs were located, and the police stopped the man while driving a forklift outside, the warrant did not allow them to also search a nearby warehouse.

After being contacted by Missouri law enforcement and the US Drug Enforcement Agency regarding a large shipment of cannabis, Chicago police obtained an anticipatory warrant. It covered "any premises or vehicle containing the packages of suspect cannabis once they have been unloaded." After the truck transporting the drugs stopped outside a warehouse, Mario Diaz drove a forklift from the warehouse to the truck to begin unloading. While Diaz and his forklift were positioned near the truck, Chicago police intervened, and one officer began searching the warehouse. Inside the warehouse, the officer found boxes containing 146 pounds of cannabis.

At Diaz's trial, the jury found the man guilty, and he received a sentence of six years. Diaz obtained a reversal of that conviction on appeal, however. Why? The evidence obtained in the search of the warehouse should have been suppressed and excluded from evidence because the police exceeded the boundaries of the search warrant.

The problem was a matter of timing. When the police approached Diaz and the other men unloading the truck, he had some of the cannabis on his forklift, but he had not yet driven back into the warehouse. None of the boxes of drugs had made their way into the warehouse. The warrant covered only vehicles or premises containing the suspect boxes of drugs. Because of the timing of the police's movements and the language in the warrant, the warrant's authority allowed them to search only the forklift, since it had some of the boxes on it, but not the warehouse, since none of the boxes were in there.

The court rejected the state's contention that exigent circumstances existed that made the search legal. The state offered no proof that any circumstances would have been different, or that any evidence would have been lost, if the police simply would have waited for Diaz to drive his forklift back into the warehouse. Without this proof, the state had no basis for its exigent circumstances argument.

The court also rejected the state's alternate argument that Diaz had driven the forklift onto the premises where the warehouse was situated, so the officers technically did not exceed the authority granted in the warrant. Diaz and his forklift were more than 50 yards from the warehouse, situated just a short distance from the truck, which was parked on the street. The state tried unsuccessfully to persuade the court to adopt a broad view of what the warrant allowed the police to do. In Diaz's case, the state's interpretation was too broad. To offer an analogy regarding why the search was not permissible, the court opined that "[j]ust as probable cause to believe that a stolen lawnmower may be found in a garage will not support a warrant to search an upstairs bedroom," probable cause to believe that a forklift contains illicit drugs does not support the permissibility of a search of a warehouse 150 feet away from that forklift.

With drug cases, the evidence upon which the state relies is often obtained through a search, whether warrantless or with a warrant. Prevailing in your case may depend on your ability to suppress evidence obtained through an illegal search. For thoughtful advice and zealous advocacy regarding drug charges pending against you or a loved one, contact the DuPage County drug crimes attorneys at Martin & Kent. Putting our attorneys' extensive skills and experience on your side can help you ensure you receive a fair trial.

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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