STATE v. DONALD SATURNO, SC 19602
Judicial District of Stamford
Criminal; Whether Trial Court had Authority to Issue Administrative Warrant Allowing City Officials to Enter Premises; Whether Administrative Warrant Supported by Probable Cause. The Stamford health department applied to the Superior Court for an administrative warrant allowing it to enter a residential building located at 172 Vine Road in connection with allegations of housing and health code violations. The health department claimed that it had been refused access to the building on three prior occasions. The trial court issued the warrant, and it was executed by members of the city’s health, zoning and fire departments accompanied by two Stamford police officers. When the officials discovered what appeared to be the makings of a pipe bomb in the basement, the police secured the home and obtained a criminal search warrant for the property, and the ensuing search yielded bomb making materials and computers containing child pornography. The defendant was charged with illegal manufacture of a bomb and possession of child pornography, and he filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was seized following the administrative entry. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the administrative warrant was supported by probable cause. The trial court also found that the police were at the premises only to insure the safety of the town officials, that they did not participate in the initial inspection and that, after what looked like a bomb was discovered, they were justified in searching the premises under the emergency exception to the warrant requirement. The defendant then pleaded nolo contendere to the charges, conditioned on his right to bring this appeal from the denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal, the defendant argues that the search of his home was illegal because there is no statutory authority for an administrative search warrant, because there was no probable cause to support the warrant here, and because an administrative search warrant should not issue ex parte. He claims that the legislature has yet to authorize an administrative warrant by statute, and he points out that the warrant here was obtained using a form that refers only to the criminal warrant statute, General Statutes § 54-33a. The state argues that, even absent a specific grant of legislative authority, the judges of the Superior Court have the inherent power to issue administrative search warrants.