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Legislative Memo: Administrative Search Warrants

This bill would permit local criminal courts, as well as city, town or village courts, to issue an “administrative search warrant” pursuant to which “public servants” obtain authority to enter private property for purposes of enforcing local laws or ordinances relating to public health or safety.

The administrative warrant shall issue based upon the personal knowledge of the applicant that “there is probable cause.” The bill, however, is unclear as to what probable cause refers.

Nor does the sponsor’s memorandum in support of the bill offer any finding that existing regulatory procedures and the provisions of the criminal procedure law are inadequate to facilitate public safety investigations. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure apply to administrative searches. (See See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541, 543-44 (1967)

Neither the public policy objective nor the procedures by which an “administrative search” would be executed are sufficiently clear to warrant passage of this bill. It can be said with some certainty, however, that, as presently drafted, the proposed law will be subject to misapplication and abuse.

For the foregoing reasons, the NYCLU opposes S.2396.

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