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.

More Detailed Reasons Need to Exclude Grand Jury Evidence

US v. McTeague: McTeague and her codefendants were indicted on charges related to their alleged importation of undocumented workers to work at their restaurant as well as the treatment of those workers. After returning a superseding indictment that included allegations of witness tampering, the Government went back to the grand jury and obtained an indictment against some others involved in the witness tampering scheme. McTeague moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the Government had improperly used the proceedings leading to the third indictment to continue to investigate the offenses already charged. While the district court found no such prosecutorial misconduct, it nonetheless limited the Government's use of such evidence at trial due to the "unique combination of circumstances" in the case which made it "fundamentally unfair."

The Government took an interlocutory appeal to the Fourth Circuit. The court vacated the district court's order, but didn't go so far as the Government asked. Specifically, the Government argued that the kind of sanctions levied by the district court could only come after a finding of prosecutorial misconduct, which didn't happen in this case. The court declined to adopt such a bright line rule, but found that the district court's explanation of its sanctions was so sparse that it abused its discretion by imposing the sanctions. Without a finding of prosecutorial misconduct, it is "particularly incumbent upon the district court to explain both the reasoning for and the parameters of any exclusion of evidence derived from grand jury proceedings." The court therefore vacated the district court's decision and remanded for further proceedings.