People v. Drury Duval


Issues before the Court: (1) Under Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551 (2004), a court may not rely on materials not expressly incorporated on the face of a search warrant to cure any defects in particularity.  Where a warrant authorizes the search of a “private residence” at a designated street address, but the dwelling is, in fact, a three-unit dwelling, does Groh or the NY Constitution authorize a court to refer to unincorporated materials (in this case, a sealed warrant application) to clarify which “private residence” was to be searched?; and (2) was Supreme Court’s summary denial of the motion to controvert the warrant without a hearing – whether based upon unincorporated materials or not – proper?

Holding/Reasoning:  (1) The Groh rule does not apply where the defect is not facially obvious – in that case, a court may refer to unincorporated materials to clarify the scope of the authorized search; and (2) under these facts, defendant failed to adequately support his motion with sworn allegations of fact that the building was, in fact, multi-family, despite counsel’s expressly averring to this fact and that an unrelated family lived on the second floor, and appending up-to-date HPD documents reflecting the multi-unit registration, as well as an affidavit from defendant’s mother specifying defendant’s family lived on the third floor, while she separately resided on the ground floor.  Either the defendant or another witness must provide an affidavit supporting his particularity challenge with exact language establishing the dwelling is multiple unit.

Discussion/CAL Observes:  Results-oriented jurisprudence at its finest.  Here, the COA had no interest in even ordering a hearing because that would have involved revealing sealed materials to the defense.  Thus, contrary to most post-Groh precedents, which have, consistent with Groh’s sweeping language, read the decision broadly, the Court was constrained to limit Groh to its facts.  The Court likewise ignored the many reasons the defense asserted for recognizing a broader state constitutional rule – i.e., in a state with an exceptional number of multi-unit dwellings, strictly requiring incorporation for warrants involving such dwellings (a marked contrast from its companion particularity case, People v. Tyrone Gordon, decided days later on similarly reasoned state grounds).  Worse was the Court’s refusal to order a hearing despite the omnibus pleading – the adequacy of which was uncontested below – containing ample factual averments about the dwelling, including counsel’s sworn statements and attached evidentiary material.

While this case can largely be cabined to its facts, trial practitioners should take note of the Court’s signaling a possible retreat from the more permissive pleading standards reflected in its prior cases regarding motion practice (not to mention the C.P.L.), at least where it perceives the defense has more to offer.  Defense counsel at all levels should be on alert for potential Groh issues, and not hesitate to raise them even where not raised below (the incorporation issue was not raised in Duval’s motion, but that did not hinder either appellate court from reaching the merits).  As NY courts have now read Groh extremely narrowly compared to other jurisdictions, this area is ripe for federal review.