United States v. Lyles

Decision Date20 November 2017
Docket NumberCriminal Action No. TDC-17-0039
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Pending before the Court is Defendant Tyrone Ignaciou Lyles's Motion to Suppress Tangible and Derivative Evidence, in which Lyles seeks suppression of marijuana, firearms, and other evidence seized from his home pursuant to a search warrant on January 8, 2015. After briefing, the Court held a hearing on July 13, 2017, requested supplemental briefing, then held a second hearing on November 16, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.


On January 7, 2015, Detective Brian McCloskey of the Prince George's County Police Department ("PGCPD") submitted an Application and Affidavit for Search and Seizure Warrant to a judge of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. Detective McCloskey sought to search Lyles's residence, located in Fort Washington, Maryland, for marijuana, firearms, and other evidence of drug distribution. In his affidavit, Detective McCloskey first stated that during January 2015, members of the PGCPD became "aware of possible connections between [Lyles's] residence, its occupants, and unlawful activities." Search Warrant Affidavit ("Aff.") ¶ 4, Gov't Opp'n Mot. Suppress Ex. A, ECF No. 21-21. The affidavit provided no details about the nature of that information. Detective McCloskey then described the results of a trash pull conducted on January 5, 2015.1 He stated that he and another officer had observed four large green plastic bags abandoned at the curb outside Lyles's residence. The officers removed the bags, inspected their contents, and found three plant stems which later tested positive for marijuana, three empty packs of rolling papers, and one document addressed to Lyles's residence. Detective McCloskey stated that based on his knowledge, training, and experience, he was aware that users and distributors of marijuana are likely to store their marijuana in secured locations such as in a residence, and that they often dispose of packaging materials, stems, seeds, and paraphernalia in the trash outside locations where the marijuana is stored. Based on the investigation and the trash pull, as well his "knowledge, training, and experience," he believed that marijuana and handguns were being "stored, used, and/or sold" at Lyles's residence. Id. The affidavit provided no explanation for the conclusion that handguns were present inside the residence. Detective McCloskey then requested authorization to search for and seize 13 different categories of evidence, including:

1. Marijuana and any and all controlled dangerous substances ... and such paraphernalia that is used in the administration, preparation, and distribution or in conjunction with said illegal activities;
2. Any books, records, and documents relating to the acquisition, possession, or distribution of said controlled dangerous substances;
3. Any and all safes, locked boxes and receptacles that could contain any other items described in this warrant and ... all contents which pertain to the said illegal activities;
4. [A]ll non-commercially produced video recordings, digital video discs, and any other analog or digital media;
5. Any electronic equipment, such as computers, external hard drives, facsimile machines, digital pagers, cellular telephones, answering machines, surveillance equipment, and related manuals used to generate, record, and/orstore the information described in this exhibit, and the contents therein ... and computer software, tapes and discs, audio and video tapes and/or discs, and the content therein ... used in the aforementioned violations relating to the transportation, distribution, ordering, and purchasing of controlled dangerous substances.
6. Any and all appointment books, diaries, calendars, financial records, work schedules, computer records, or other documents that detail the aforementioned violations or individuals involved in the aforementioned violations;
7. Any and all financial documents that are related to the placement of monies used in the aforementioned violations;
8. Currency, precious metals, jewelry, and financial instruments, including stocks and bonds; and
9. Firearms, including but not limited to: handguns, pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and any and all other weapons, as well as ammunition.

Aff. ¶ 6.

The judge issued the warrant, authorizing a search of Lyles's residence for the items listed in the affidavit. On January 8, 2015, Detective McCloskey and other PGCPD officers executed the search and seized marijuana, drug paraphernalia, documents, cash, cell phones, other electronic devices, four firearms, and ammunition.

At the November 16, 2017 hearing, Detective McCloskey testified that at the time he sought the search warrant, he had been assisting with a homicide investigation and learned that Lyles's phone number had been found in the victim's cell phone. The lead homicide investigator informed Detective McCloskey that the investigator "had contact" with Lyles "earlier on in his career" and that Lyles "was a drug dealer." Nov. 16, 2017 Hrg. Tr. at 10. In his testimony, Detective McCloskey acknowledged that he chose not to include this information in the affidavit and that he had not inadvertently omitted it. Beyond this information and the results of the trash pull, Detective McCloskey had no other information to support a search of Lyles's residence.

On January 25, 2017, the Grand Jury returned a one-count indictment charging Lyles with possession of firearms and ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).


In his Motion to Suppress, Lyles argues that the evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution because the search warrant was not supported by probable cause to believe that marijuana and firearms would be found in the residence. The Government counters that the affidavit contained sufficient facts to establish probable cause and that even if it did not, the search and seizure should be upheld under the good faith exception of United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).

I. Legal Standard

To assess whether probable cause exists to issue a search warrant requested by law enforcement, a magistrate or other judicial officer must "make a practical, commonsense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit . . . 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 (1983). A reviewing court owes the magistrate's probable cause determination "great deference." Id. at 236. The reviewing court is to uphold the issuance of the search warrant if there was a "substantial basis" for concluding that probable cause existed. Id. For the issuing magistrate to have had a substantial basis for finding probable cause, "[s]ufficient information must be presented" to allow the judge "to determine probable cause"; the magistrate's action cannot be a "mere ratification of the bare conclusions of others." Id. at 239.

II. Marijuana

Lyles argues that the affidavit did not support a finding of probable cause because (1) Maryland has decriminalized possession of a limited quantity of marijuana; and (2) the evidence of marijuana possession was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause. Maryland has decriminalized the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, such that a limited quantity of marijuana would not constitute evidence of a crime. Under the Fourth Amendment, however, a search may be conducted if there is probable cause to believe that "contraband or evidence of a crime" will be found. Florida v. Harris, 133 S. Ct. 1050, 1055 (2013) (emphasis added). The Maryland Court of Appeals recently held that, even after decriminalization, "possession of any amount of marijuana ... remains illegal," such that marijuana remains contraband. Robinson v. State, 125 A.3d 661, 680, 683 (Md. 2017) (holding that a law enforcement officer may still search a car for marijuana based on an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, because there is probable cause to believe the car contains contraband). "For purposes of probable cause, there is no distinction between the significance of a criminal amount of marijuana versus the significance of a noncriminal—but still illegal—amount of marijuana." Id. In so ruling, the court noted that the Maryland marijuana decriminalization statute, Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 5-601(d)(2) (West 2002), expressly states that it "may not be construed to affect the laws relating to . . . seizure and forfeiture." Robinson, 152 A.3d at 680; see also Bowling v. States, 134 A.3d 388, 398 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2016) (holding that post-decriminalization, an officer still has probable cause to search a vehicle based on an odor of marijuana because marijuana remains contraband); Scott v. State, No. 1698, 2016 WL 3959806, at *1 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 22, 2016) (upholding a search of a residence based on an odor of marijuana). Thus, Maryland'sdecriminalization of possession of a limited quantity of marijuana does not provide a basis to invalidate the search.

Nevertheless, Lyles argues that the evidence relating to marijuana offered in the affidavit to support the issuance of a search warrant was insufficient. As the affidavit contained no details regarding the investigation into Lyles's residence, the facts supporting the presence of marijuana in Lyles's residence as of January 7, 2015 consisted of only the items found in the trash pull: three marijuana plant stems, three empty packs of rolling papers, and one document addressed to Lyles's house. Courts have reached disparate results on whether the recovery of evidence relating to drugs from the trash outside a house suffices to support a finding of probable cause to search the residence. In United States v. Allebach,...

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