Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, February 05, 2021

Morales: Upholding Search Under Good Faith Exception

In United States v. Morales, No. 19-11934 (Feb. 5, 2021) (Jordan, Marcus, Ginsburg), the Court upheld a search conducted pursuant to a warrant based upon the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Law enforcement applied for and received a search warrant for defendant's home on the basis of contraband recovered after two trash pulls conducted three days apart.  Defendant moved to suppress the evidence recovered during the search of his home, arguing that law enforcement's affidavit in support of a search warrant did not establish probable cause because it did not explain the reasons for the trash pulls, reported only minimal amounts of marijuana, and made no mention of items linking the trash to the defendant's residence.  Defendant also argued that the affidavit deliberately or recklessly contained false information because not all the evidence described in the affidavit appeared in the photographs submitted with the affidavit, and the affidavit improperly omitted the fact that defendant's house abutted an open lot where marijuana use was common.   

The Court specifically avoided resolving the issue of whether trash pull evidence alone can support a finding of probable cause.  The Court held that even assuming the affidavit did not establish probable cause, law enforcement officers relied on the warrant in good faith, so defendant was not entitled to suppression.  Here, officers did everything they should have--obtained and relied on a warrant from a neutral magistrate and did not mislead the magistrate--so suppression would do nothing to deter future police misconduct.  No exceptions to the good faith rule applied, and law enforcement's reliance on the warrant was objectively reasonable.  In conducting its analysis of whether law enforcement's reliance on the warrant was objectively reasonable, the Court considered an unobjected-to fact from the PSI that trash pulls were conducted after law enforcement received an anonymous tip that defendant was selling narcotics from his home.     

The Court also denied defendant's challenge to the search warrant on staleness grounds.  The defendant argued that because the trash pulls were two weeks old by the time the warrant issued, the evidence was stale.  Reviewing for plain error, and finding no 11th Circuit or Supreme Court precedent holding that marijuana evidence found in two trash pulls conducted three days apart becomes stale after two weeks, the Court rejected the argument.

Judge Jordan concurred in part, and concurred in the judgment.  He joined the Court's opinion as to all but Part II.B.  He would not have considered the anonymous tip because it was not in the affidavit submitted to obtain the search warrant, the government did not disclose the tip in arguing the good-faith exception in the district court, neither the magistrate judge nor the district court relied on the tip in ruling on the suppression motion, and the existence of the tip only became known when the probation office prepared the PSI.  He reasoned that because the government bears the burden of establishing good faith, and it failed to bring the tip to the attention of the court below, it should not now benefit from its failure.