Friday, November 04, 2016

Omitted Information Doesn't Undermine Search Warrant

US v. Wharton: Wharton and her husband, John, were investigated for offenses related to the unlawful receipt of federal benefits (it involved the mismanagement of benefits received for their granddaughters). As part of the investigation, authorities executed a search warrant at their home which uncovered incriminating documentation. The warrant affidavit focused on John, rather than Wharton, although the evidence seized implicated them both. Wharton moved to suppress all the evidence seized, arguing that the affidavit omitted critical information, particularly that while Wharton and John shared the house, they had very separate bedrooms - Wharton's was on the second floor, while John's was in the basement. The district court granted the motion with respect to evidence found in Wharton's bedroom, but otherwise denied it. Wharton was convicted at trial of Social Security fraud, conspiracy, and embezzlement.

On appeal, Wharton argued that the district court erred by not suppressing all the evidence found in the house. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument and affirmed Wharton's conviction, finding that the omitted material did not undermine the warrant itself. Comparing the case to two recent cases that also involved withheld information, "correcting the affidavit to include the omitted information [in those cases] undermined the foundational core of the affidavit. Here, the inclusion of the omitted information does not do that." That was due to other statements in the affidavit (from earlier in the investigation) that Wharton and John had been married for 43 years, lived together, and John's payment of some of the utilities to the house "support the view that John Wharton had access to the common areas of the house" and supported probable cause, at least to search the common areas of the house.

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