Dirty Jersey – Sneak & Peek Warrants

Imagine coming home and finding your living room furniture arranged slightly different than you left it.  A glance at the carpet shows mud that wasn’t there before.  These are signs that an intruder has been in your house.  But hold on a second before you call the police.

It may have been the police.

A recent report on America’s Most Wanted featured the case of Luqman Abdullah.  You won’t see a picture of him here or too much detailed information.  Regardless of the charges or any opinions on his guilt/innocence, it’s not my intent to aid in his capture.

I’ll provide a little background though.

Abdullah basically walked on an attempted murder charge around 2006.  The authorities “suspected” that Abdullah was the leader of a drug operation but had no hard evidence.  Stuck at an impasse, the Union Township, NJ police did a “Sneak and Peek” on a stash house.

A sneak and peek search warrant (also called a covert entry search warrant or a surreptitious entry search warrant) is a search warrant authorizing the law enforcement officers executing it to effect physical entry into private premises without the owner’s or the occupant’s permission or knowledge and to clandestinely search the premises; usually, such entry requires a stealthy breaking and entering.

Allowed to take pictures and other surveillance, but not physically take anything, this procedure essentially gave them the evidence they needed to arrest Abdullah in 2009.  He was able to avoid them and has been on the run since.   What’s established is that when the police can’t prove our guilt by normal means they can break into our homes and get what they need.

How safe do you feel knowing this is legal?

Sneak and peek laws have been on the books and were heavily used starting in the 1980’s to combat drug activity.  The prominence of this legislation increased after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 with the passing of The Patriot Act.  It’s said that the same things that make you laugh, make you cry.  Using a sneak and peek warrant to find out if an individual has weapons of mass destruction in their apartment is a good thing.

Just the same, the cops can use sneak and peek warrants to gain entry into a private home for less obvious reasons.

A person suspects their Muslim neighbor is a terrorist because they see a group of worshipers gather for prayer.  The single woman up the street hosts a girl scout troop every Wednesday.  Is she a child molester?  Imagine if the police could break into your home anytime an overzealous neighbor suspected something.  What would they find?

It’s not an issue of illegal activity, but more about our privacy.

Of course these laws are protected by the idea of “reasonable cause,” but we’ve all watched enough police shows to see how reason can be manufactured at the drop of a dime.  Of course I want to be safe and there’s respect for the police who suit up each day.

At the same time, I don’t want my privacy invaded.  If cops can’t obtain the necessary evidence to get criminals off the street through good honest police work (surveillance, interviews, arrests) then what are we paying tax dollars for?

Contrary arguments to this issue will say that Abdullah is a drug dealing, gun-toting menace who needs to be taken down by any means possible.  Okay.  Just remember that when the police make an unannounced visit to your place.  We need laws but they should be enforced with the intent to protect and not to victimize.  In this post-9/11 world, it’s easy to make victims under the guise of keeping America safe.

Those who champion the widespread use of sneak and peek warrants should remember this creed: An unjust law is no law at all.

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