No Probable Cause, and No Good Faith

In United States v. Buffer, No. 12-5052 (unpublished), the Sixth Circuit was presented with the "unusual case" in which a search warrant affidavit was "so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable."

The affidavit alleged that police had received an anonymous tip that drugs were being sold from 2147 Turner Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.  Based on the tip, officers surveilled the residence and observed "several visits," each of which lasted "one to three minutes."  When police officers performed a traffic stop on one of the visitors who had "ma[de] a transaction" at the residence, they recovered 2.2 grams of marijuana. 

The court gave several reasons why these facts do not establish probable cause of illegal conduct at the residence.  First, the anonymous tip needed corroboration in order to support a finding of probable cause.  Second, the "observation of as few as three visits, lasting as little as one minute each, over a possible twenty-four-hour span, simply does not support a conclusion that there was a fair probability that evidence of drug trafficking would be found at the Residence."  Third, there was "no clear nexus" between the marijuana recovered during the traffic stop and the residence, given that the "small quantity" recovered "hardly suggests a recent drug sale," and that there was no admission or description of the "allegedly criminal nature of the 'transactions' that occurred."

That finding alone was not enough to justify suppression, however.  Under the "good faith" exception of United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 918 (1984), “suppression of evidence obtained pursuant to a warrant should be ordered only on a case-by-case basis and only in those unusual cases in which exclusion will further the purposes of the exclusionary rule.”  Given the paucity of information to corroborate the anonymous tip of drug activity, the court found that this case satisfies that difficult standard.

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