Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Taylor: NIT Warrant Violated Rule 41(b), Federal Magistrates Act, and Fourth Amendment, but Good-Faith Exception Applied

In United States v. Taylor, No. 17-14915 (Aug. 28, 2019) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Antoon), the Court upheld the denial of a suppression motion based on the good-faith exception.

At issue was a warrant authorizing the government's use of the Network Investigative Technique ("NIT"), a technique that allowed the government to unmask the IP addresses of those who visited a child pornography site on the dark web.  The warrant was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, but the government used the NIT with respect to the defendant, whose computer was located in Alabama.  As a result, and joining several other circuits, the Court agreed that the NIT warrant violated Rule 41(b) (NIT did not fall into an exception for extraterritorial "tracking device" warrants), the scope of the magistrate's authority under the Federal Magistrates Act, and ultimately the Fourth Amendment.  

However, and joining every circuit to address the question, the Court found that the good-faith exception applied, because the exclusionary rule applied to a warrant that was void ab initio just as it did to other defective warrants.  From the perspective of deterring officer misconduct, relying on a facially valid warrant that later turns out to have been void is no different than relying on a facially valid warrant that later turns to have been based on a dubious probable-cause determination.  Finally, as to the facts of this case, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the good-faith exception should not apply because the warrant application misled the magistrate that the property to be search was located in the Eastern District of Virginia.  The Court found that, on the facts here, the officers sufficiently disclosed the scope of their intended search.

Judge Tjoflat dissented solely on the last point, arguing that, on the facts of this case, the officers knew or should have known that there was an issue with jurisdiction and that their search would occur outside the district, yet they repeatedly told the magistrate that the search would take place in the district.  A few quotes from his lengthy dissent: "If the law condones this conduct, it makes a mockery of the warrant process." "[W]e should demand the utmost candor in warrant applications.  Before today, I thought we did. . .  I'm not advocating to change the law—the law already requires candor in warrant applications.  I'm asking courts to take this requirement seriously."  "I recognize that my decision would have an unfortunate result. . . . Such a result is the price we pay to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of the public.  Therefore, we must follow the law even when faced with unpleasant outcomes."