United States v. Javier Garcia (9th Cir. August 2020)

The Federal Docket

Fourth Amendment/Attenuation – Evidence obtained from defendant’s house after an initial, unlawful sweep by law enforcement resulted in discovery of the defendant having a condition of supervised release allowing searches at any time should have been suppressed because the attenuation doctrine did not apply. The temporal proximity between the prior unlawful sweep and second search and investigatory motive of the second search weighed against a finding of attenuation, and discovery of the supervised release condition was not a sufficient “intervening event.”

Javier Garcia was convicted and sentenced for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) after his motion to suppress evidence was denied.  Police conducted an unlawful search of Garcia’s home after chasing a suspect that ran into his house and exited out of a window. Despite not knowing anything about Garcia or whether he was connected to the suspect, they detained Garcia, handcuffed him, and removed him from a house. Officers then ran a background check revealing that Garcia was on supervised release with a condition requiring him to submit to a search at any time.  Police then went back inside the home as part of a second, discretionary search where they discovered methamphetamine.  Garcia was arrested and upon questioning made an incriminating statement that was used to convict him. Garcia argued unsuccessfully to the district court that this second search was tainted by the prior illegal search.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed Garcia’s motion to suppress evidence de novo to determine if the attenuation doctrine broke the causal chain between the prior illegal search and the discovery of evidence resulting from the second search. The Government conceded that the factor regarding temporary proximity, the time between the unlawful sweep and second search, weighed against attenuation. The Court concluded that the attenuation doctrine did not apply because the officer’s decision to conduct the second, discretionary search was a result of information he learned from the prior unlawful search and was motivated by investigating for evidence of a crime. The discovery of the supervised release condition allowing a suspicionless search was not a sufficient “intervening event” that attenuated the first unlawful sweep from the second search. The conviction and sentence were vacated and remanded with instruction to suppress the evidence found in Garcia’s home and his statement made following arrest.

Appeal from the Northern District of California

Opinion by Wardlaw, joined by Siler and Smith

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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