Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Sixth Circuit Finds that District Court Erred in Suppressing Evidence

A confidential informant gave information to an ATF agent that “D” was selling cocaine out of a residence in Flint, Michigan.  The agent conducted surveillance and personally observed “D” (aka Dionte Jones) leave the specified house in a car registered to the owner of the residence, drive to a prearranged drug deal, and sell cocaine to the informant.  Thirty-six hours after the arranged drug transaction, the agent obtained a search warrant for the house based on the informant’s tip and the agent’s personal observations.  During the search, law enforcement officers located cocaine, guns, scales and currency.   

Dionte Jones was subsequently indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).   Defense counsel sought suppression of the evidence and the district court granted the motion finding that the agent’s affidavit in support of the warrant did not support a finding of probable cause.    On an appeal brought by the government, the Sixth Circuit disagreed and reversed the district court’s suppression order.  See United States v. Dionte Jones (15-1791).

The Sixth Circuit reasoned a good indication Jones had a “substantial connection” to the residence was that he got into the car registered to the owner of the home.  “A mere dinner guest, for example, typically does not drive off in the family car.”    Also, a good indication he was a drug dealer was that he sold drugs to the informant immediately after leaving the house. 

The Sixth Circuit considered three concerns addressed by the district court regarding the affidavit and warrant.  First, the district court found that the agent’s affidavit did not describe in detail his two-year relationship with the confidential informant.  The Sixth Circuit found this concern misplaced because the affidavit provided probable cause with the combination of the agent’s personal observations and the informant’s tip.   

Second, the district court was concerned that the warrant lacked dates of drug transactions.  The Sixth Circuit disagreed because the affidavit provided that the relevant drug transaction occurred thirty-six hours prior to the submission of the warrant application.    

Third, the district court was troubled that the affidavit merely referenced  the defendant as a “black male” and did not further describe him as a “large man.”  The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the man’s size was irrelevant.  He could have simply been described as a “person” and “yet - based on the other information in the affidavit - there would have been probable cause to search the house.” The Sixth Circuit held that his appearance was not at issue. Rather, the issue was truly that he left the particular address and drove straight to a drug deal and was the seller.  

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