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10th Cir: Good Faith Exception Enough, Even Without Probable Cause

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By Betty Wang, JD on November 05, 2013 2:59 PM

The Tenth Circuit has ruled that, even without probable cause, the good faith exception applies to a search warrant.

Julio Ponce appealed the Oklahoma district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant that Ponce alleges was issued without valid probable cause.

The Initial Investigation

A Tulsa police officer submitted an affidavit for a search warrant to search Ponce's residence in 2011. After he'd received information from an informant that Ponce was selling meth from his home, the officer verified this information by conducting his own surveillance. He also walked a drug dog, Buster, along Ponce's garage door where Buster supposedly gave a positive alert for the odor of narcotics. To verify this, the police officers walked Buster along other garage doors in the neighborhood, where no reaction was incited from him.

After the affidavit was submitted, the magistrate issued a search warrant which led to the discovery of large quantities of cash, meth, firearms, and other illegal items in Ponce's residence.

Ponce's appeal argues that the information in the affidavit was not enough to amount to probable cause under the Fourth.

The Good Faith Exception

The court, under United States v. Leon, still found that the good faith exception applied in this case. In Leon, evidence obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate qualified under the good faith exception, regardless of whether or not the warrant was ultimately invalid or what it was based on.

In this case, the Tenth found that the officer had an objectively reasonable belief that the dog's drug sniff was permissible. He had reasonably used a qualified dog, led the dog to the door where he then "provided sufficient corroboration of the veracity and reliability of his informants justifying the issuance of the search warrant."

Therefore, even if the warrant was defective in this case, the police weren't in a position where they should have known that. The good faith exception applied, making the evidence admissible, and Ponce's conviction was upheld.

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