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

The Federal Docket

August 20, 2020

Probable Cause/Good Faith Exception – The good faith exception to suppression does not apply when a search warrant for a defendant’s house is not supported by probable cause and the affidavit only includes undated text messages with the defendant regarding a prior drug sale, an unidentified quantity of loose marijuana found in the defendant’s trash, and the defendant’s prior drug convictions.

Joseph Ward was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, hashish, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.

Officers found a man dead with a syringe and a cell phone. On the cell phone, officers found text messages between the deceased and “Joe,” whom the deceased asked for drugs. The text messages also indicated that Joe went to the deceased’s address. After officers discovered Joe’s identity, they went to his residence to conduct a trash pull. Although “the trash was not put on the curbside,” the officers conducted a trash pull and found drugs. They obtained a search warrant for Ward’s residence, where they discovered heroin, cocaine, hashish, various drug paraphernalia, firearms, and ammunition.

Ward filed a motion to suppress, which was granted in part. The district court held that the search warrant for Ward’s residence “was not supported by probable cause but did not explicitly” discuss the applicability of the good faith exception. The government appealed the district court’s ruling.

The Court held that the good faith exception did not apply. The Court first noted that, because the government did not argue that the warrant was supported by probable cause, it would assume “that the affidavit does not establish probable cause.” The Court held the affidavit “failed to provide minimally sufficient nexus between drug-trafficking and Ward’s residence” because “undated text messages” indicating a drug sale, “an unidentified quantity of ‘loose marihuana, cigar wrappers’ . . . and purportedly illicit substance” found in Ward’s trash, and Ward’s previous drug and weapon convictions do not imply the existence of drug operations or drugs stored at Ward’s residence.

Judge Griffin dissented, holding that the good faith exception applied because the affidavit established an extensive, lengthy criminal history and fresh evidence of marijuana in Ward’s trash.

Appeal from the Southern District of Ohio

Opinion by Merritt, joined by Clay. Dissent by Griffin

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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