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United States v. Holtzclaw

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 26, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
AARON DARIUS HOLTZCLAW

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE

         As part of an investigation into a fatal shooting, law enforcement sought and received a search warrant from a Magistrate in Rowan County authorizing a search of 1508 Lakewood Drive, Salisbury, North Carolina, on December 4, 2016. (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress, Ex. A, Search Warrant (Doc. 14-1).) The warrant was issued on the application and affidavit of an officer with the Salisbury Police Department. (Id.) Defendant Aaron Darius Holtzclaw (“Defendant”) challenged the search warrant on the basis that it fails to establish probable cause for the search. This court previously found that the facts contained in the affidavit underlying the search warrant application “fall short of providing probable cause to search Defendant's alleged residence at 1508 Lakewood Drive for ‘[c]ell phones, other electronic media devices,' ‘[a]ny weapons, to include handguns,' and ‘[a]ny clothing that contains blood for the purpose of DNA.'” (Mem. Op. & Order (Doc. 21) at 11 (quoting Mot. to Suppress, Ex. A, Search Warrant (Doc. 14-1) at 4).) This court not only found probable cause absent, but also found that the affidavit failed to provide a nexus between the items to be seized and the property to be searched. (Id.)

         The Government contends:

Even if this Court were to determine that probable cause did not exist to support the issuance of the search warrant, that finding would be unavailing to the defendant. Leon directs that a court should not suppress the fruits of a search . . . unless “a reasonably well-trained officer would have known the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization.”

(Government's Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Suppress (“Government's Resp.”) (Doc. 17) at 9 (citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922 & n.23 (1984)). In response, Defendant argues that “[t]he affidavit supporting the search warrant cannot be saved by the Leon good faith exception.” (Def. Holtzclaw's Suppl. Br. (“Def.'s Suppl. Br.”) (Doc. 24) at 1.)

         I. LEGAL FRAMEWORK

         In United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), the Supreme Court established the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

The Court identified four circumstances in which the good-faith exception would not apply: (1) “if the magistrate or judge in issuing a warrant was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth;” (2) if “the issuing magistrate wholly abandoned his judicial role in the manner condemned in Lo-Ji Sales, Inc. v. New York”; (3) if the affidavit supporting the warrant is “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable;” and (4) if under the circumstances of the case the warrant is “so facially deficient - i.e., in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized - that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.”

United States v. DeQuasie, 373 F.3d 509, 519 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations and footnote omitted). Under any of those circumstances, the good-faith exception does not apply, and any evidence gathered pursuant to the deficient warrant must be excluded from trial. United States v. Andrews, 577 F.3d 231, 236 (4th Cir. 2009).

         In making a determination as to the good-faith exception under Leon, it is appropriate to look outside an affidavit in determining whether the officer's reliance was objectively reasonable because Leon notes that the good-faith exception is determined “in light of all the circumstances.” United States v. McKenzie-Gude, 671 F.3d 452, 459 (4th Cir. 2011); cf. United States v. Bynum, 293 F.3d 192, 197-98 (4th Cir. 2002) (information not presented in affidavit but known to officer about informant's credibility rendered reliance on warrant reasonable).

         The burden of proof is on the Government to establish objectively reasonable reliance under Leon. See United States v. Voustianiouk, 685 F.3d 206, 215 (2d Cir. 2012); United States v. Corral-Corral, 899 F.2d 927, 932 (10th Cir. 1990); United States v. Michaelian, 803 F.2d 1042, 1048 (9th Cir. 1986); United States v. Maggitt, 778 F.2d 1029, 1034 (5th Cir. 1985); see also Leon, 468 U.S. at 924 (“When officers have acted pursuant to a warrant, the prosecution should ordinarily be able to establish objective good faith without a substantial expenditure of judicial time.”).

         “In the Leon context, we begin with the assumption that there was not a substantial basis for finding probable cause; the only question is whether reliance on a warrant that lacks such a ‘substantial basis' was nevertheless reasonable.” Andrews, 577 F.3d at 236 n.1; see also United States v. Doyle, 650 F.3d 460, 470 (4th Cir. 2011).

         I. ANALYSIS

         The affidavit in this case establishes that a shooting occurred at the Firewater Restaurant and Lounge on December 4, 2016, and one victim was killed. (Mot. to Suppress, Ex. A, Search Warrant (Doc. 14-1) at 6-7.) Thereafter, the affidavit provides in relevant part:

During the investigation Salisbury Police obtained information from multiple witnesses that Aaron Darius Holtzclaw was present during the shooting and is a suspect of the shooting.
Salsibury [sic] Police Detectives located Aaron Darius Holtzclaw at his residence, 1508 Lakewood Dr. Salisbury NC. Aaron Darius Holtzclaw agreed to go with Salisbury Police Detectives to the Salisbury Police Department to be interviewed, he was informed he was not under arrest and he would be coming under his own free will. Holtzclaw said he understood and agreed to go with the Detectives.
While at Holtzclaw's residence, 1508 Lakewood Dr., Holtzclaw stated that he was at Firewater at the time of the shooting and that he was driving a black 2016 Jeep Patriot (NC# DMT9138), which is a rental car from Enterprise. Holtzclaw stated that the black jeep was shot into during the shooting at Firewater. Detectives verified this and observed a bullet hole in the drivers side of the windshield of the ...

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