United States v. Meamen Nyah (8th Cir. 2019)
Fourth Amendment/Search Warrants – Law enforcement’s violation of Rule 41 did not warrant suppression, as the defendant was not prejudiced since probable cause continued to exist after the warrant’s time limit.
Meamen Nyah was convicted of possession of a firearm as an unlawful user of a controlled substance based in part on pictures on his Facebook of him posing with firearms and smoking what appeared to be marijuana. Officers sought and obtained a warrant to get the pictures from Facebook.
On appeal, Nyah argued that the warrant was not based on probable cause and that the officers had failed to “execute” the warrant within the 14 day time limit set forth in the warrant, as required by Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
First, the Court held that there was probable cause based on the officers observing the picture on Facebook and Nyah had been previously stopped in a car that contained marijuana. The Court also held that the probable cause was not based on false statements. The affidavit only stated that Nyah was “connected” to a gang based on his participation in a music video with a gang member and the only other allegedly false statement was “immaterial.”
The Court next held that, regardless of the alleged failure to execute the warrant within the time limit, a violation of Rule 41, absent any other “constitutional infirmity,” only calls for suppression if the defendant is prejudiced or if officers recklessly disregard the proper procedure. The defendant was not prejudiced since probable cause continued to exist after the time limit, so the warrant was not stale. Neither were the officers recklessly disregarding the proper procedure.
In focusing its holding on the available remedies under Rule 41, the Court side-stepped, but acknowledged, an issue circulating through several other circuits—whether law enforcement “executes” a warrant when it serves a warrant on a company or when it receives the responsive evidence from the company. The Court indicated that the language of the Rule supports the latter definition, as the text is based on the “seizure” of the evidence, and that agents should just seek a new warrant while a company is responding to the initial warrant. However, the Court ultimately left the issue for another day.
Judge Stras concurred with the majority’s holding that Rule 41 does not mandate suppression when there is no prejudice or recklessness, but argued that the Court should have left alone the “execution” issue.
Appeal from the Southern District of Iowa
Opinion by Colloton, joined by Shepherd
Concurring Opinion by Stras