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

The Federal Docket

March 17, 2020

Fourth Amendment – The good faith exception applied to law enforcement exceeding the scope of a search warrant by searching an address not identified in the warrant because the address was on the same lot as the target address and there were no signs or markings distinguishing the two addresses.

The Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for wire fraud and other crimes. On appeal, the defendant challenged several aspects of his trial, conviction, and sentence, including a challenge to law enforcement’s search of his home office.

Law enforcement’s search warrant identified the address for the defendant’s residence, which had a standalone smaller office on the property. The home office and residence had separate street addresses (1015 East Cliff Drive and 1015½ East Cliff Drive), and the physical description of the property in the warrant only described the residence, not the office. Utilities were also separate based on the separate addresses. Neither agent involved in investigating or drafting the application for the warrant checked whether the two buildings had separate addresses, and both testified that they treated the buildings as part of the same location during the search.

The district court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Ostensibly, the parties did not dispute that the search exceeded the scope of the warrant, and the issue on appeal was whether the good faith exception applied. The Court held that it did, citing a number of prior cases applying the good faith exception for officers searching two separate addresses despite only having a warrant to search one.

Here, the Court credited the officers efforts to look up the business’s address, though noted that they “could have done more and with additional research may have discovered the separate addresses.” The Court also noted that there were not markings or signs distinguishing the 1015½ address from the 1015, and both addresses were on a lot within a fenced area.

Appeal from the Western District of Texas

Opinion by Dennis, joined by Higginbotham and Ho

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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