U.S. v. White, No. 15-5793 (GRIFFIN, Gilman, Stranch).
After a narcotics officer watched the defendant sell marijuana to an undercover informant in the driveway of the defendant’s home, the officer sought a search warrant for the residence based on the witnessed drug deal, a confidential tip that the defendant was selling marijuana from the residence, the defendant’s previous drug offenses, and the fact that the defendant keeps pit bulls “at his residence.” The judge issued the search warrant, and the deputies executed the warrant and found drugs and a gun. The defendant was convicted of drug and gun offenses, and the issue on appeal is whether the information supporting the search warrant was so lacking in indicia of probable cause that no reasonable officer would rely on the warrant. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction, holding that, even if the warrant lacked probable cause, the “good-faith exception” applied.
The majority noted that a search warrant is not “bare bones” if the reviewing court is able to identify some connection between the illegal activity and the place to be searched. Official reliance on a search warrant that is not “bare bones” is reasonable, even if the warrant is not supported by probable cause. The majority held that there was a minimally sufficient nexus between the defendant’s drug-distribution activity and the defendant’s home because the officer received a tip that the defendant was selling drugs from the home, and the official verified that tip. The majority emphasized that an affidavit must be read holistically and reasonably, and should not be parsed line-by-line in a way that a reasonable officer would not read it.
Judge Stranch dissented, finding that the defendant’s selling “one baggie” of marijuana in the driveway of a residence provided no evidence that drugs would be found inside that residence, and therefore the affidavit was “bare bones” and the officers’ reliance on it was unreasonable.