409 F.3d 744 (6th Cir. 2005), 03-1202, United States v. Laughton

Docket Nº:03-1202.
Citation:409 F.3d 744
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James Howard LAUGHTON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 17, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 744

409 F.3d 744 (6th Cir. 2005)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


James Howard LAUGHTON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 03-1202.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 17, 2005

Argued: Nov. 30, 2004.

Page 745


Kenneth R. Sasse, Federal Defender's Office, Flint, Michigan, for Appellant.

James C. Mitchell, Assistant United States Attorney, Bay City, Michigan, for Appellee.


Kenneth R. Sasse, Federal Defender's Office, Flint, Michigan, for Appellant.

James C. Mitchell, Assistant United States Attorney, Bay City, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: DAUGHTREY and GILMAN, Circuit Judges; RICE, District Judge.[*]

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RICE, D.J., joined.

GILMAN, J. (pp. 752-53), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.


DAUGHTREY, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal, we are asked to review the district court's determination that the search of a house pursuant to a warrant issued without probable cause was nevertheless valid under the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule announced by the Supreme Court in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984). In doing so, we are faced with two issues: whether the affidavit submitted to the issuing magistrate was sufficient to support a finding of good faith simply because it was something more than "bare bones," and whether information known to the officer but not conveyed to the magistrate has any relevance to the validity of the search, a question that was left unanswered in our recent en banc decision in United States v. Carpenter, 360 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2004) (en banc). Because we conclude that the warrant failed to establish any nexus whatsoever between the residence to be searched and the criminal activity attributed to the defendant in the affidavit, we conclude that the district court's reliance on Leon cannot be sustained.


Following a tip from confidential informant Thomas Pell that he was able to purchase methamphetamine from the defendant, James Laughton, the Isabella County Sheriff's Department arranged for Pell to make a controlled buy under surveillance. On November 1, 2001, Deputy Sheriff Scott Clarke and two other officers met with Pell to conduct the purchase. They provided him with $100.00 in marked money and patted him down to make sure that he was not carrying any of his own money or any other narcotics. They also searched his vehicle. Pell then drove to a residence to meet the defendant, and the police followed. The police observed Pell enter the house and re-emerge 10 to 20 minutes later. After Pell left the house, he drove to an arranged location, followed by the police, where he turned over methamphetamine that he reportedly had bought from Laughton for $100.00. Pell also reported that he had seen firearms in the house. Police officers arranged with Pell to repeat this same sequence of events less than a week later. On November 7, 2001,officers observed defendant Laughton outside the house when Pell approached.

The next day, November 8, 2001, Clarke swore an affidavit in an application for a warrant to search the residence where the controlled buys had occurred. The facts contained in the affidavit were related in four paragraphs:

Your Affiant, Det. Scott Clarke is employed by the Isabella County Sheriff Department and has been so employed for 4 years and is currently assigned to BAYANET [Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team] narcotics team. During the course of Affiant's police career he has received extensive training in all aspects of law enforcement, including criminal investigation in regard to controlled substances. Affiant is familiar with the appearance of methamphetamine.

Currently your Affiant is involved with ongoing drug investigations in Clare County. Through the course of this investigation, your Affiant has worked with a Confidential Informant (CI), who has made multiple purchases of Methamphetamine in the last 48 hours. Affiant has observed this controlled purchase.

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Through the course of this investigation your Affiant has learned that James Howard Laughton will keep controlled substances/drugs in the crotch area of his pants and in his pants pockets. Further that there are various stashes around the home.

This CI is believed to be credible and reliable by the Affiant due to the fact that the CI has provided reliable information in the past which was corroborated by Affiant. CI has provided information that there is more controlled substances located at or in the residence or located on the person of James Howard Laughton due to the fact that he has observed these controlled substances.

A county prosecutor signed off on the affidavit, and a county court magistrate signed and issued the warrant. The police executed the search the next day, on November 9, and seized "methamphetamine, marijuana, firearms, and other evidence."

The defendant was charged in a six-count indictment with possession of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prior to his trial, Laughton moved to suppress the evidence seized under the warrant on the ground that the warrant was not supported by probable cause. The district court held a suppression hearing and ruled that the affidavit did not demonstrate probable cause and was therefore invalid. However, the court also found that the warrant had been executed in reasonable reliance on its issuance and that the evidence was therefore admissible under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The defendant was convicted on four of the six counts and sentenced to consecutive terms of incarceration totaling 97 months. He now appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress.


It is a basic principle of the Fourth Amendment that for a search warrant to issue there must be probable cause. U.S. Const. amend IV; United States v. Helton, 314 F.3d 812, 819 (6th Cir. 2003). In determining whether there is probable cause to issue a search warrant, the task of the issuing magistrate is "simply to make a practical, common sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, ... there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983). When reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we defer to a district court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, and we review the court's conclusions of law de novo. Carpenter, 360 F.3d at 594. "[T]he duty of a reviewing court is simply to ensure that the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. at 238-39, 103 S.Ct. 2317 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The warrant in this case failed to make any connection between the residence to be searched and the facts of criminal activity that the officer set out in his affidavit. That affidavit also failed to indicate any connection between the defendant and the address given or between the defendant and any of the criminal activity that occurred there. In order to establish probable cause, however, "[t]here must ... be a...

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