New York's highest court ruled yesterday that police departments cannot use general warrants that apply to a specific location to search every person they find there unless there is probable cause to believe that a particular person is involved in criminal activity, the New York Times reports. The unanimous ruling could have broad implications because “all-persons-present” warrants are so often used by the police.
The New York Court of Appeals said that an all-persons-present warrant used by the police in Syracuse during a drug raid at an apartment in 2006 did not give them enough evidence to strip-search a man who was in the home. The court ordered the dismissal of drug possession charges that the man had been facing. The court also said that even if the warrant did give the police reason to search Mothersell, a strip-search was so intrusive that it violated his rights under the federal and state constitutions. The police said they found a bag of cocaine between Mothersell's buttocks. The ruling is a “heartening development for privacy,” said Richard Emery, a New York City lawyer who recently won a settlement of a lawsuit against the city over illegal strip searches of thousands of nonviolent prisoners at the Rikers Island jail. “This is a slap to wake up police departments,” he said.