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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

September 10, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant Tavarie William's Motion to Suppress Evidence and Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Doc. No. 34, “the Motion”), to which the Government has responded (Doc. No. 48). Via the Motion, Defendant raised seven separate issues.[1] The Court previously resolved five of those seven issues (Doc. Nos. 76 & 90), and only two remain: (1) whether the search warrant affidavit provided probable cause for the search of Room 264 (“Issue Six”); and (2) whether the DNA sample was obtained pursuant to a warrant that allegedly failed to provide an adequate justification for a buccal swab of Defendant (“Issue Seven”).

         I. Probable Cause and the Leon Good-Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

         “Probable cause ‘requires only a probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing of such activity.'” United States v. Christian, 925 F.3d 305, 311 (6th Cir. 2019) (en banc) (citing United States v. Tagg, 886 F.3d 579, 585 (6th Cir. 2018)). In its recent en banc decision in Christian, the Sixth Circuit instructed that probable cause should be determined “[v]iewing the ‘totality of the circumstances,' Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237, 244 [] (2013), through the ‘lens of common sense,' as the Supreme Court has instructed, id. at 248[.]” Id. at 309. The court further explained:

Time and again the Supreme Court has emphasized that [p]robable cause is not a high bar to clear. Where, as here, a magistrate has issued a search warrant based on probable cause, we do[ ] not write on a blank slate. Rather, the magistrate's probable-cause determination should be paid great deference, and we overturn that decision only if the magistrate arbitrarily exercised his or her authority. We are not permitted to attempt a de novo review of probable cause.

Id. at 311 (citations and quotation marks omitted). The “‘haste of a criminal investigation' under which officers often draft an affidavit supporting a search warrant” is also relevant to a probable cause analysis. Id. at 310. Courts should keep in mind that “police officers are mostly non-lawyers who must draft search-warrant affidavits ‘on the basis of nontechnical, common-sense judgments[.]'” Id. (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 235-36 (1983)).

         Even if a search warrant is determined not to have been supported by probable cause, such that the search was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the fruits of the search are not necessarily suppressible. Pursuant to United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 905 (1984), “the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is permitted in criminal trials when the evidence is ‘obtained in the reasonable good-faith belief that a search or seizure was in accord with the Fourth Amendment.'” United States v. Moorehead, 912 F.3d 963, 968 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Leon, 468 U.S. at 909). A search warrant affidavit is insufficient for police to rely upon in good-faith if it is “bare bones.” But if an affidavit is not bare-bones, it is one upon which an officer can rely in good-faith. Christian, 925 F.3d at 312.

         “[T]o be considered bare bones, an affidavit must be ‘so lacking in indicia of probable cause' as to make an officer's ‘belief in its existence [] objectively unreasonable.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Laughton, 409 F.3d 744, 748 (6th Cir. 2005))). An affidavit is barebones only if it “merely ‘states suspicions, or conclusions, without providing some underlying factual circumstances regarding veracity, reliability, and basis of knowledge.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Washington, 380 F.3d 236, 241 n.4 (6th Cir. 2004))). Further, “[t]he exclusionary rule is designed to deter police misconduct rather than to punish the errors of judges and magistrates.” Id. at 313 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Issue Six: The Room 264 Search Warrant

         After arresting Defendant, law enforcement obtained a search warrant to search Defendant's hotel room (Room 264). (Doc. No. 34-2). Defendant asserts that the search conducted pursuant to this warrant violated Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. No. 34 at 6). The entirety of Defendant's argument is as follows:

[The warrant affidavit] was based mainly on information obtained through illegal actions described [elsewhere in the Motion to Suppress]. That information must be redacted from the warrant affidavit. After that redaction, the warrant establishes only that [the alleged juvenile victim] ran away from home and texted her relatives recently. After that redaction, the requisite nexus between the suspicion and the place to be searched is utterly lacking. . . . Thus, the search warrant was plainly invalid, and the search of Room 264 was unconstitutional.

(Id.) (citations omitted).

         Defendants argument is effectively moot. The Court has ruled that the alleged “illegal actions” described elsewhere in the Motion were lawful. (Doc. Nos. 76 & 90). This means that nothing should or will be redacted from the affidavit for purposes of assessing the adequacy of its showing of probable cause. Thus, because Defendant does not challenge the adequacy of the warrant affidavit without the redactions he urges, [2] the Motion with respect to Issue Six is denied.

         II. Issue Seven: The ...

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