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Lie-Riddled Search Warrant Survives Motion to Suppress

Police officers executed a search warrant for Jared Cardoza’s apartment and seized more than 200 grams of cocaine, more than 300 grams of marijuana, a Beretta 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol, a Colt .357 revolver, more than $100,000 in cash, and a variety of drug paraphernalia.

Yikes. You don’t want to be that guy, right?

After the government obtained a grand jury indictment against Cardoza for federal drug trafficking and firearm offenses, he moved to suppress the evidence found in his apartment. According to Cardoza, the police officer who prepared the search warrant affidavit made false statements in the affidavit with reckless disregard for the truth.

A district court agreed with Cardoza that, without those statements, the search warrant affidavit did not establish probable cause and the evidence seized from his apartment must be suppressed. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed that decision, concluding that, even with the contested statements excised, the remaining portions of the officer's affidavit demonstrated probable cause for the search warrant.

The Supreme Court held in U.S. v. Leon that suppression of evidence is generally not required when officers conduct a search in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate. The Franks exception says that the Leon rule does not apply when the officer seeking the search warrant knowingly or recklessly made false statements in the affidavit.

To exclude evidence under Franks, the defendant must two requirements. First, the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence "that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit." Second, "with the affidavit's false material set to one side, the affidavit's remaining content" must be "insufficient to establish probable cause."

The district court found that a police officer recklessly made four false statements in the affidavit for the Cardoza search warrant, and examined the affidavit without those statements. Finding that, absent the four false statements, the remaining material didn't give rise to probable cause, the court granted Cardoza's suppression motion.

The D.C. Circuit reversed, concluding that the remaining uncontested portions of the officer's affidavit established a "fair probability" of finding evidence of drugs in Cardoza's apartment. The appellate panel wrote, "Probable cause does not require certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court has stated that probable cause requires a fair probability ... That standard was satisfied here."

False statements don't guarantee suppression. If law enforcement officials misrepresent the facts in a search warrant affidavit targeting your client, it's possible that the court will admit the evidence anyway.

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