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Crowne: Warrantless searches are illegal and Young’s defence is misleading

“In the context [of the police searches of homes in the Gulf View area, National Security Minister Stuart Young’s] words are, with respect, equivocal and misleading…”

The following Letter to the Editor on recent warrantless searches by the Police Service was submitted to Wired868 by attorneys, Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul, Jason Jones:

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) and Minister of National Security Stuart Young.
(Copyright TTPS)

A warrantless search of one’s home is illegal. Such searches are prima facie unreasonable, lack legal authority and breach the constitutional right ‘of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law’ (ss. 4 (a)) and ‘the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life.’ (ss. 4 (c)).

That the State defends the legality of such searches is troubling.

For instance the Minister of National Security, the Honourable Stuart Young, is quoted as saying that: “… if you are a law enforcement officer doing your duty and there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is being committed, is about to be committed or is in the process of being committed, they have the authority to enter premises and to do what needs to be done to investigate that and prevent it.”

On its own the statement may be true. However, Minister Young was speaking with specific reference to the searches of several homes in the Gulf View area. In that context his words are, with respect, equivocal and misleading.

Section 46 of the Police Service Act sets out the grounds for effecting a warrantless arrest.

The statutory grounds largely codify the common law powers of the police, and others, to enter a home to effect an arrest. Namely: (1) to prevent a murder; (2) to arrest a felon who has been followed into the house; (3) to prevent the commission of a felony; and (4) the right of the police to follow an offender running away from them (Dana Seetahal, Commonwealth Caribbean Criminal Practice and Procedure, 4th ed, Routledge 2014 at p 38 (citing Swales v Cox, [1981] 1 All ER 1115)). As Seetahal notes, the first three common law powers of entry are enjoyed by citizens generally.

Photo: (From left to right) Attorneys Jason Jones, Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle and Crystal Paul.
(Courtesy New City Chambers)

There are, however, no comparable grounds under the Police Service Act for the warrantless search of premises per se.

Similarly, section 16 of the Anti-Gang Act appears to authorise warrantless searches, but it too is of no assistance to the State. Sub-section 16 (3) of that Act provides that:

“A police officer may enter without a warrant and search a place or premises not used as a dwelling house including a building, ship, vessel, carriage, box or receptacle, if he has reasonable cause to believe that a gang leader, gang member or a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe has committed an offence under this Act may be found in that place or premises.” (emphasis added)

The authority to conduct a warrantless search under the Anti-Gang Act therefore expressly excludes private homes.

Aside from the common law powers of entry identified above (none of which are applicable to the present situation), the common law jealously guards against any State intrusion into our homes. The starting point for the inviolability of one’s home is Semayne’s Case, [1604] All ER Rep 62, where Sir Edward Cooke famously stated that ‘the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose’ (see further, Entick v Carrington, [1765] EWHC KB J98).

The common law power of search incident to arrest and the common law power of search incident to lawful investigative detention are also not applicable to the present situation, since the searches themselves were the dominant activity and not ‘incidental.’

Photo: Police Commissioner Gary Griffith (second from left) accompanies Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez (far right) and DOMA president Gregory Aboud (centre) on a walkthrough the capital in December 2018.
(Copyright TTPS)

Similarly, the common law power to search in exigent circumstances is also inapplicable as there was no ‘imminent danger of the loss, removal, destruction or disappearance of the evidence if the search or seizure [was] delayed’ nor any apparent threat to police safety (see generally, R v Paterson, 2017 SCC 15 at paras 32-33).

In sum, warrantless searches of private homes cannot continue. They are illegal and a dangerous intrusion into our constitutionally protected rights. To defend such searches is both irresponsible and troubling. Homeowners would be entirely within their right to refuse such search requests without a valid warrant.

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81 comments

  1. Israel Khan Sc said in article it is not illegal to have a warrantless search, and some circumstances provide for it

    • Israel Khan invented the law or wot? Lol.

      • Having read through the majority of the comments, I can see where those commenting are confusing themselves with two separate issues.

        The lesser issue, and which this column is not about is about people being gunned down by the police. That is a separate matter which is not addressed in this article in any manner whatsoever.

        The issue is about searches, and the circumstances where a warrant is needed, and circumstances where warrants are not needed. The article clearly gives both of the circumstances. For a warrantless search, circumstances are very limited. In practice, it usually means that a crime is about to happen, or happening at that very moment, or, has just happened. We’re talking about the instant moment, literally. Perhaps some of the commentators might want to reflect what that means.

        Remember that incident where police shot a man who was in the act of chopping his wife? That is a warrantless circumstance. Searching a neighbourhood in early hours of the morning, a warrant must be produced. Searching Radio Jaagriti, also a warrant must be issued.

        The writers of this column are lawyers. They know what the law is. Laypeople rarely do and argue from emotive ‘justification’ because they ‘feel’ a particular way.

        Israel Khan is right. Not all searches need a warrant, but the writers point out exactly how those searches are limited and restricted to particular circumstances.

    • Lasana Liburd go read the article nah🤔

    • Trini Don you read this one?

  2. Oh no its illegal when it was it was happening in Laventille and Carenage “no biggy”

  3. Anthony Deyal

    Very well done and timed. Appreciate.

  4. Is this why kiss bakery can continue illegally selling bread on the road

  5. Who confirmed the police had no warrNts to search the Gulf View homes?

  6. Is there a link to the recent Cocaine seizures?

  7. It’s only when criminals envade the homes of those against the police for doing their rightful duties,then they will see stop complaining. Many embraces lawlessness…

  8. Dealing with the article itself under the law warrantless searches are legal

  9. A nimble attempt to slow the repair of a fractured Trinidad and Tobago.

  10. Earl Best

    Just so that there is no confusion, please state categorically that the story on Page 5 of Thursday’s Express, (May 9, 2019), written by Rickie Ramdass and hëadlined “Israel Khan: Don’t assume a search without warrant is illegal” is to be completely ignored.

    It states, inter alia, that “The senior counsel explained that in some circumstances officers are required to act in haste and can therefore lawfully enter someone’s property without being in possession of a warrant.”

    The following paragraph says this: “If (the officers) have reasonable grounds to suspect they have the need to search a house…”

    Therefore, I think some clarification is needed.

  11. I didn’t hear these guys when ppl were getting gunned down in their home when the police knocked

    • Kyon Esdelle relevance?? Nexus??

    • basically allegations of abuse by the police service isn’t new

      What’s new is the commentary by some to defend the need for warrants for searches of people of means

      People without means However have been gunned down by police with filmsy reports at their own homes

      Warrants have never been seen in those cases

    • Brian Harry when those incidents happened I didn’t see hear or read from these commentators

    • Kyon Esdelle well you may not have heard from me either. When police enter shooting there are many unanswered questions . Frankly we generally don’t know if the oil e were shot at, entered those homes chasing a shooter, etc. so we rely on the evidence and answers from an investigation. Unless you can show a case where police kicked down a door and shot a person, just just so and that happen to be one of little means, then I would suggest that this situation is different and very different

    • Again I didn’t hear from these people when ppl were killed in the sanctity of their own homes

    • One incident stood out to me when residents said a man opened his door to the police and they shot him

      Police said he shot at them from inside the house

      The door had no bullet holes

    • Kyon Esdelle but still how are the two connected. Are you saying the when he shot from inside a search warrant was required before the police pursued and returned fire . Two different cases – totally

      BTW no one of us can fight every battle. We pick the ones we fight. You are equally as well prepared to take up any of those fights yourself – that’s how countries change

    • Im seeing ulterior motives clear as day

      If people are concerned about constitutional rights they don’t only question selectively

    • Kyon well I don’t see anything ulterior. I myself have questioned whether the searches were legal. I remember that even in the OJ Simpson trial there was significant debate in the courtroom about the admissibility of some evidence seized without a warrant. I remember Judge Ito’s ruling. This is a well established constitutional expectation. What you should be more worried about are the people who defend the searches – that’s where the ulterior motives reside.

    • im more concerned about loss of life than loss of privacy

      Seems some people only care about the rights of those with means

    • Kyon Esdelle this is irrelevant though. There was no search in effect or implied here. Maybe this is a fight you and your lawyer pals can take up

    • “Po­lice said around 3.15 am, a team of of­fi­cers from the In­ter-Agency Task Force, went to the home of a sus­pect at Tor­ring­ton Dri­ve to ex­e­cute a war­rant for arms and am­mu­ni­tion”

      You read the article? Or u just guessing?

    • Kyon Esdelle it’s not about privacy. It’s about my constitutional right to live in and enjoy my “castle” without intrusion or inconvenience.

    • Again u proving my point

      The death of a man is irrelevant against the embarrassment of a search in Gulf View

    • Even tho I didn’t think about the extreme of people being gunned down, it did occur to me that this noise – justified as it may be – is never heard when folks who are not of means suffer a similar fate at the hands of the police. Sometimes I wonder if those in authority paint these grey areas to create loopholes for those of means.

    • Kyon Esdelle I’m staying that there is a disputed claim. They went to execute a warrant and the claim is that her shot at them, so heck they shot back. Take up the case

    • Brian is mentioning some imaginary constitutional right against “ intrusion “ when the actual text states privacy is a constitutional right

    • brian I’m saying the people in this article who took up this case maybe don’t care about constitutional rights of those that they previously didn’t try to protect

      But they care now

    • and I’m saying I smell ulterior motives

    • truth of the matter if a gulf view owner lost a hair follicle there would be a wave of posts in wired about their rights but ppl are being killed by police all over the country in their homes and not a peep from those now concerned until Gary Griffith was appointed CoP

    • As far as I’m concerned police should not have the right to storm anyone house and gun them down

    • Warren Solomon and so we leave the situation alone? Again, anyone can pick up any case they want to fight, so you and Lyon can pick up this one. I raised the question myself the same day of the searches. Why? Because with the overzealous nature of the crime chief I have observed that many rights are being trampled upon. Seven searches in one morning, in one small area and all without warrant perked my interest.

      So take up the fight . People can pick whatever battles they want to pick

    • Kyon Esdelle thus what’s your point? So you just arguing for what sake. Isn’t that what the article says. The article simply used that circumstance as an example as its topical. Now I really don’t get your point

    • Kyon Esdelle Wired868 has loads of stories about police killings of people without means. Would you like me to share a few?
      I’m hoping that won’t be necessary…

    • im talking about the specific authors of this article

    • Lasana Liburd it might be!! But given the depth of his conviction he may not be convinced.

    • So when these learned guys ask for the warrants when people are killed in their homes then I’ll proven wrong

    • Have anyone seen those warrants ? The killings in laventille and carenage

      Where the warrants ?

      The killing of a gangster who gave information on police officers when he “opened his door” where the warrant?

    • Basically the people who are advocates ignore the easy fruit and fight losing battles for public recognition

    • Why is it police cannot call lawyers or family members and say we have a warrant for your client or relative arrest please tell him to turn himself in peacefully

      Wild Wild West is history

    • Lasana Liburd If your correspondence is from ‘attorneys, Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle,’ etc., then it would be relevant to Kyon’s concern here. If not, your correspondence/articles do not relate, ok?

    • Brian, Lasana it’s not that I’m taking up a case to fight. I’m just saying that it occurred to me when reading the article that the outrage displayed by these respected lawyers – justified though it may be – is generally not shown by them and others of their stature when the small man/woman suffers a similar fate.

    • Not even a similar fate

      The small man have been killed in his own home

    • As far as I’m concerned it’s not necessary to kill a man while having a search warrant for drugs or ammunition

      No one ever sees that warrant

    • Kyon Esdelle thank you! It’s a big talking point because they executed searches by some rich people.

    • Warren Solomon yes but let’s be clear, Kyon or anyone else can pick up any battle they want. Emir wrote his article about general expectations according to the law. Yes the south incident is topical and therefore featured in the discussion. The hypocrisy is of this, also rests in the fact that none of your guys talking this stuff has stepped up to start a cause toward more even handed justice. So it’s just side talk and Sunday morning lawyering. Emir wrote his articles for it was a worthy contribution!!!

    • Brian with all due respect, it takes nothing to realize that there is an inherent bias present in courts against the poor and those deemed trouble by the police. Law is abused with impunity (section 34) with the wealthy being the beneficiaries while those deemed poor or charged with crimes though still not convicted are seen as deserving stays in remand yard and heavy bails they cannot afford.
      Given the bias is societal, it would take a change from the top. Fighting a case in our slow as molasses in snow judiciary would be ultimately frustrating. Add the possibility of them changing a date without notifying the plaintiff and the case can be dismissed on spurious grounds. We know of corrupt lawyers, judges and people granted Silk without real bench skills.

      To suggest real change by a law case is to romanticize what obtains among our legal professionals. SMH. I as a pragmatic realist won’t be holding my breath.

    • Chris Mark D I know about the bias only too well and frankly from personal experience. So I am not deluded at all. My point is that despite the bias, we need to be prepared to fight for our constitutional rights. I am all for that. I grew up in Laventille and I’ve seen the bias and the disadvantages of that underprivileged community. No lawyer has actively (to my memory) challenged this behavior before. Emir steps forward to do it. he’s doing it at a time when it happened to some wealthy and upper class individuals. Does that lessen the need for the challenge? No! Does that make his challenge disingenuous? No! He”s fighting a battle that is currently before us and it can only benefit all of us in the end. As I said my family dealt with this matter directly in 1976 – so I’m very clear about this and I support Emir’s efforts. Here in the USA in the OJ trial I remember several days when Cochrane was debating Marcia Clarke and Chris Darden before the judge use of some evidence acquired without a warrant. Judge Ito riled that the evidence was inadmissible.The same should be true in TT, but if the debate doesn’t start now when. Should he only debate it if he is also debating something that happen to a person in Laventille? Is that what makes the discussion valid. Honestly I think some of these challenges are useless. If I have a particular beef with an issue I will raise it – and that what I’ve said to Warren and Kyon.