Friday, December 21, 2018

Evidence from Trash Pull Not Enough for Warrant

USv. Lyles: Lyles’ phone number was in a murder victim’s cell phone. As a result, police thought he “might be relevant to that investigation” and went to his home to do a trash pull. From the trash they recovered “three unknown type plant stems, three empty packs of rolling papers,” and some mail. The stems, of course, were marijuana. Based only on that, a search warrant was issued for Lyles’ home (the warrant application didn’t even mention the murder victim), leading to the discovery of guns, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Lyles was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. However, the district court suppressed the firearm, finding that the warrant application did not sufficiently show “a fair probability that additional marijuana will be found within the home.”

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the suppression. The court noted that “trash pulls can be subject to abuse” and that therefore they should “be viewed with at least modest circumspection.” The court also noted that it was “anything but clear that a scintilla of marijuana residue or hint of marijuana use in a trash can should support a sweeping search of a residence.” As to the Government’s argument that the evidence in the warrant application was sufficient to prove that additional drugs “probably would have been found in Lyles’ home,” the court responded, “[w]ell perhaps, but not probably.” There was no evidence of ongoing activity, there having been only one trash pull and the amount of marijuana found was minimal. The court also called the warrant itself, which allowed for a search of just about everywhere in Lyles’ home, “astoundingly broad” and that, for instance, there was “insufficient reason to believe that any cell phone in the home, no matter who owns it, will reveal evidence pertinent to marijuana possession simply because three marijuana stems were found in a nearby trash bag.” The court also rejected the Government’s argument that the warrant was sought in good faith because it was reviewed both by a supervising officer and a prosecutor, noting that their review, “while unquestionably useful, ‘cannot be regarded as dispositive’ of the good faith inquiry.”

Congrats to the Defender office in Maryland on the win!

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