Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Agurs v. State

Agurs v. State, 415 Md. 62 (2010).

The police asserted the following facts as the basis for the warrant to search Defendant’s home and vehicles: (1) under police supervision, an informant made two crack cocaine purchases from Defendant’s alleged associate; (2) police saw Defendant and another unknown man enter a clothing store for approximately a minute, after which the unknown male slowly exited the store cautiously looking around with “a bulge in his right pocket which was not previously noticeable”; (3) police observed Defendant get into his alleged associate’s car and then leave the car two minutes later; (4) police saw Defendant enter and leave his address driving several different vehicles; (4) Defendant had a criminal record, which included previous CDS convictions; (5) Defendant and his wife’s pre-taxed wage earnings were significantly less than the value of the home and their cars. Police executed a warrant to search the Defendant’s home for items related to Controlled Dangerous Substances (“CDS”). Defendant was arrested and charged with offenses related to possession and distribution of CDS and possession of firearms.

Prior to trial, Defendant argued that there had been no probable cause to support the warrant that authorized a search of his home a vehicle, and requested the trial court exclude all evidence recovered from those searches. The trial judge granted Defendant’s motion, concluding that there had been no probable cause upon which to base the warrant since there was no “nexus between any illegal activity, the home, or his vehicles.”

The State appealed and the CSA reversed the trial court’s ruling, agreeing with the trial court that there had been no substantial basis for the warrant, but concluded that exclusion was nonetheless inappropriate because the officers had relied on the warrant in good faith. The CSA reasoned that the exclusion was inappropriate because “none of the four established limitations to the [good faith exception to the exclusionary] rule apply to the warrant.”

The COA reversed, holding that the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule as established by SCOTUS in U.S. v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984) and applied by the COA in Patterson v. State, 401 Md. 76 (2007), did not prohibit exclusion of evidence in this case.

Subject to a few exceptions that the COA stated were inapplicable to this case, a search conducted without a warrant supported by probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. Exclusion of evidence is ordinarily the appropriate remedy for a violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, one limitation on the exclusionary rule is the good faith exception, specifically that “in the absence of an allegation that the magistrate abandoned his detached and neutral role, suppression is appropriate only if the officers were dishonest or reckless in preparing their affidavit or could have not harbored an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause.” Leon, 468 U.S. at 926.

In Leon, SCOTUS outlined four situations where the good faith exception would not apply even though the police had relieved on a warrant when conducting a search that was not based on probable cause. Id. at 923. At issue in this cause, is the situation where “ the warrant was based on an affidavit that was so lacking in probable cause as to render official believe in it existence entirely unreasonable.” Patterson, 401 Md. at 104.

The COA concluded that the evidence in this cause should have been excluded because the affidavit submitted to the issuing judge lacked any indicia of probable cause supporting the conclusion that drugs would be found in Defendant’s home. The COA stated the affidavit provided limited facts which suggested that Defendant was involved in drug distribution. Under such circumstances, the COA determined that no reasonably well-trained police officer could have relied on the warrant that authorized the search of Defendant’s home.