Search Warrants

The Federal Docket

Caniglia v. Strom (U.S. Supreme Court, May 2021)

In a case where police officers had entered a man’s house and seized his firearms after responding to calls that the man was possibly suicidal, the Supreme Court unanimously held that there is no “community caretaking” exception the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Several of the justices issued concurring opinions, however, emphasizing that the Court’s holding does not affect the exigency exception to the requirement.

United States v. Jose Antonio Morales (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged a search warrant that led to his arrest and conviction for marijuana distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court held that, even if the search warrant was not supported by probable cause based on officers finding small quantities of marijuana in the defendant’s trash, the good faith exception applied. The Court also reiterated that a failure to allege the knowledge element for a 922(g) charge under Rehaif does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.

DOJ and FBI Announce FISA Reforms

The DOJ and FBI have announced several measures to “build a more robust internal compliance program” overseeing the FBI’s applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Spurred by the president’s criticisms of FISA and an Inspector General report critical of the FBI’s use of FISA warrants, the reforms seek to “ensure the accuracy of FISA applications, as well as the active oversight of applications targeting elected officials, candidates for federal elected offices, and their staffs.”

United States v. Joseph Ward III (6th Cir. July 2020)

The Sixth Circuit upheld a search warrant under the good faith exception in Leon where there was no probable cause and the affidavit only relied on undated text messages between the defendant and a drug purchaser, loose marijuana and untested substances found in the defendant’s trash, and the defendant’s prior criminal history.

United States v. Robert Warren Scully (5th Cir. March 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the good faith exception applied to law enforcement’s search of two separate addresses despite only identifying one address in the search warrant. The Court noted that the lack of signs distinguishing the two addresses and their proximity made it reasonable for the officers to treat the two addresses as one.

United States v. Demontae Bell (7th Cir. June 2019)

The Court held that the officer violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right by opening his phone after the defendant’s arrest, where the officer saw a picture of a firearm, but affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress under the independent source doctrine, since the officers had already seen the picture on another occasion, and since there was probable cause notwithstanding the tainted picture.

United States v. Jacob Lickers (7th Cir. June 2019)

The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress based on a federal search warrant that was based on a defective state warrant. Though the Court agreed with the defendant that “any probable cause deficiency with the state search warrant would, as a matter of law and logic on these facts, heavily inform any conclusion we reach about the sufficiency of probable cause in the federal warrant application,” the Court upheld denial of the motion to suppress since the federal agents acted in good faith when they relied on the state warrant. The Court held that the focus should have been on the federal agents, who had no reason to question the integrity of the state proceedings, though the Court acknowledged that the result may have been different if the record reflected that the FBI had more knowledge about the state court proceedings

United States v. Paul Huskisson (7th Cir. June 2019)

The Court held that a warrant obtained after an illegal entry was an independent legal source for the drug evidence where the warrant application was supported by probable cause without the tainted information, and the Government’s decision to seek the warrant was not motivated by the illegal entry, despite inconsistent testimony from the agent at the suppression hearing and the agents’ decision to confirm the presence of methamphetamine before seeking a warrant. 

United States v. Charles Fulton Sr. (5th Cir. June 2019), On Petition for Rehearing

The Court agreed that the initial warrant by local law enforcement failed to particularize that computers, electronics, or phones were to be seized, so the seizure of the phone was improper. However, the Court held that the evidence was admissible under the good faith exception, since the federal agents that later acquired the phone from the local police and executed a search warrant did not know the police seized it unlawfully (as they had held on to the phone for a year) and since the applicability of the warrant to cell phones was a close question.

United States v. Sergio Diaz-Ortiz (8th Cir. June 2019)

The Court held that a knock-and-talk violation does not mandate suppression when a valid search warrant exists and the knock-and-announce violation has “nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence.” Here, the warrant was valid, and officers would have executed it and seized the evidence regardless of the alleged violation.

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