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U.S. Court Affirms Probable Cause Finding


Case: United States v. Church

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ( Published Opinion )

Judges: Kethledge and Cleland; Concurring in the judgment – Griffin


Probable cause in a search warrant affidavit; U.S. Const. amend. IV; Zurcher v. Stanford Daily; Warden, MD Penitentiary v. Hayden; Illinois v. Gates;United States v. Berry; United States v. Hodson; Staleness; Sgro v. United States; United States v. Spikes; United States v. Smith; United States v. Williams; Use of a prying ram to open a safe; United States v. Ross; Dalia v. United States; 18 USC § 3109; United States v. Ciammitti


The court affirmed the district court’s ruling that the search warrant affidavit sufficiently alleged that there was “a fair probability” that drugs would be found in defendant-Church’s house. It “established that detectives had entered Church’s house and smelled marijuana, that Church showed the detectives a marijuana blunt upstairs, and that Church’s girlfriend thereafter confirmed that Church regularly smoked marijuana in the house. Thus, there was an outright certainty, not just a ‘fair probability,’ that the house contained illegal drugs.” The police obtained a warrant and searched for drugs in places where they “might normally be hidden. Hence the search was lawful.” It did not matter whether the search warrant authorized a search for evidence of drug possession with intent to distribute or simple possession, as long as there was a fair probability that drugs could be found. The court rejected Church’s argument that there was no probable cause because the affidavit’s contents were “stale” and instead determined that the “affidavit provided every reason for the magistrate to think there were drugs in the house at the time the warrant was issued.” The Fourth Amendment was not violated where the police used a prying ram to open Church’s safe given that they “did not break open the safe capriciously: they had probable cause to believe there might be drugs inside; Church refused to provide the safe’s combination; and thus the police had no choice but to open it by force. The district court was right to hold that the police acted reasonably when they did so.”

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