United States v. Lyles

Citation910 F.3d 787
Decision Date14 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. 17-4787,17-4787
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff – Appellant, v. Tyrone Ignaciou LYLES, a/k/a Tryone Ignacious Lyles, a/k/a Tyrone Ignatious Lyles, Defendant – Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)

ARGUED: Jason Daniel Medinger, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Cullen Oakes Macbeth, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Stephen M. Schenning, Acting United States Attorney, Ray D. McKenzie, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, Meghan Skelton, Appellate Attorney, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, WYNN, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wynn and Judge Diaz joined.

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

A grand jury indicted defendant-appellee Tyrone Lyles for possessing firearms as a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The firearms were found in his home, which police searched after obtaining a warrant based on finding three marijuana stems in a trash pull. Lyles filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his home—including the firearms, ammunition, and marijuana—arguing that the trash pull did not provide probable cause for the search. The district court granted defendant’s motion, and the government now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court.


Prince George’s County Police, during an investigation unrelated to the present case, saw Lyles’s phone number in a homicide victim’s cell phone. They suspected that defendant might be relevant to that investigation. But it was only a hunch. So the police searched four trash bags found at a curb near Lyles’s home and applied for a warrant to search Lyles’s home based on what they found. The application’s factual basis is quoted below:

During the month of January, 2015, members of the Prince George’s County Police Department became involved in an investigation of the residence located at 9010 Ridgewood Dr., Ft. Washington, Prince George’s County Maryland 20744. Investigators had become aware of possible connections between the residence, its occupants and unlawful activities.
Pursuant to this investigation, on January 5th, 2014 [sic] Your Affiant along with Sergeant Logan #2528 observed four large green plastic bags were abandoned on the curb side of 9010 Ridgewood Dr., Ft. Washington, Prince George’s County Maryland 20744. Your Affiant along with Sergeant Logan #2528 removed the four green plastic bags from the curb and upon inspection your Affiant found three unknown type plant stems, three empty packs of rolling papers and one document addressed to 9010 Ridgewood Dr., Ft. Washington, Prince George’s County Maryland 20744. The stems were taken to the Prince George’s County Drug Lab where they tested positive for marijuana by a forensic chemist.
That upon the above described information and your Affiant’s knowledge, training and experience, your Affiant believes that there are controlled dangerous substances, Marijuana, and handguns being stored, used and/or sold at 9010 Ridgewood Dr., Ft. Washington, Prince George’s County Maryland 20744.

J.A. 24-25 (emphasis omitted). The affidavit included only these limited facts and general averments that marijuana is often stored in secure locations and disposed of nearby. It sought to search the home for evidence of possession of controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and money laundering. See Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law §§ 5-601, 5-602, and 5-623 (West 2018). The application provided the magistrate with no facts about the earlier, unrelated investigation involving the recovered phone. It did not identify a homeowner or name the defendant.

The magistrate judge, however, granted a warrant to search defendant’s home in toto . The warrant provided broad permissions to search the home and "any and all persons suspected to be involved in said illegal activities." J.A. 28. It authorized the police to seize essentially anything in the home, including cell phones, jewelry, records, diaries, and firearms. The police subsequently found four handguns, ammunition, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia in defendant’s house.

A federal grand jury indicted Lyles under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) for possession of firearms as a convicted felon. Defendant asked the district court to suppress the evidence recovered from his home, arguing that the search warrant was issued without probable cause. The district court held two hearings and requested supplemental briefing on that issue. It ultimately suppressed the evidence, finding "that the presence of only three marijuana stems and rolling paper ... does not establish a fair probability that additional marijuana will be found within the home." United States v. Lyles , Crim. No. TDC-17-0039, 2017 WL 5633093, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 20, 2017). The court did not apply the good faith exception because the warrant was not supported by probable cause and was plainly overbroad. Id. at *5-7. The government now appeals.


The Fourth Amendment shields the people from unreasonable searches and seizures. A home search, as here, ordinarily requires a warrant. Fernandez v. California , 571 U.S. 292, 298, 134 S.Ct. 1126, 188 L.Ed.2d 25 (2014). "[N]o Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." U.S. Const. amend. IV. Probable cause determinations require a "practical, common-sense decision," based on sworn facts, whether "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). As always, "the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Fernandez , 571 U.S. at 298, 134 S.Ct. 1126 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Since a state magistrate judge issued the challenged warrant, we ask whether the magistrate judge had a "substantial basis" for finding probable cause. Gates , 462 U.S. at 238-39, 103 S.Ct. 2317. When evaluating whether the magistrate had a substantial basis to find probable cause, we "may not go beyond the information actually presented to the magistrate during the warrant application process." Owens ex rel. Owens v. Lott , 372 F.3d 267, 277 (4th Cir. 2004). Because "we confine our review to the facts that were before the magistrate judge," our "review of the magistrate judge’s probable cause determination is identical to that of the district court." United States v. Jones , 994 F.2d 1051, 1055 (3d Cir. 1993).


The search warrant application here alleged drug possession, drug trafficking, and money laundering offenses as justifications for the search. The government, however, does not argue that the affidavit supplied probable cause to search for evidence of drug trafficking or money laundering.

The government instead contends that the trash pull evidence provided probable cause to search the home for marijuana possession. If so, the officers were lawfully inside Lyles’s home, and the essential firearm and ammunition evidence might be saved under the plain view doctrine. See, e.g. , United States v. Green , 599 F.3d 360, 376 (4th Cir. 2010). We hold, however, that the trash pull evidence did not adequately support the warrant to search defendant’s home for marijuana possession.


We have no doubt that trash pulls are a valid and important investigatory tactic. The Supreme Court held in California v. Greenwood that law enforcement may search trash left at the curb without a search warrant. 486 U.S. 35, 39-43, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30 (1988). The Court found that people had no reasonable expectation of privacy in curbside trash. Id. at 40, 108 S.Ct. 1625. Without such an expectation, individuals had no Fourth Amendment right to contest trash searches. Id. This circuit has accordingly recognized that evidence from trash pulls can be used to support a search warrant. See, e.g. , United States v. Montieth , 662 F.3d 660, 664-65 (4th Cir. 2011) ; United States v. Gary , 528 F.3d 324, 328-29 (4th Cir. 2008).

We also recognize, however, that homeowners do not sever all connections to their trash. The trash from a home often will contain a variety of private items and effects. The fact that someone wishes to dispose of something does not mean he intends all others to have access to it. One need only imagine the discomfort of watching a neighbor or stranger sift through trash bags recently left at the curb. Indeed, the relevance of items discovered in a trash pull is predicated on a connection between trash and the home. But the rationale for allowing warrantless trash searches is, ironically, predicated on the lack of a connection between trash and the privacy expectations in the home.

Precisely because curbside trash is so readily accessible, trash pulls can be subject to abuse. Trash cans provide an easy way for anyone so moved to plant evidence. Guests leave their own residue which often ends up in the trash. None of this means that items pulled from trash lack evidentiary value. It is only to suggest that the open and sundry nature of trash requires that it be viewed with at least modest circumspection. Moreover, it is anything but clear that a scintilla of marijuana residue or hint of marijuana use in a trash can should support a sweeping search of a residence. The Supreme Court recognized similar dangers in searches incident to traffic stops, where allowing comprehensive searches following minor infractions would create "a serious and recurring threat to the privacy of countless individuals." Arizona v. Gant , 556 U.S. 332, 345, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485...

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