Court Relies on Good-Faith Exception


Case: United States v. Asgari

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

Issues:

Search & seizure; Whether the Leon good-faith exception applied; United States v. Leon; Mapp v. Ohio; Adequacy of the warrant affidavit; United States v. Stotts; Transmitting data to Iran in violation of American sanctions; Executive Order No. 13,059, 62 Fed. Reg.; Bassidji v. Goe (9th Cir.); Whether the affidavit contained reckless & intentional falsehoods; Franks v. Delaware; United States v. Atkin

Summary:

The court reversed the district court’s ruling suppressing evidence, holding that the affidavit that supported the warrant to search defendant-Asgari’s emails satisfied the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Asgari was a scientist suspected of lying on his visa application and of giving information to Iran. The government obtained a warrant to search his emails, and as a result, he was indicted and charged with stealing trade secrets, wire fraud, and visa fraud. But the district court agreed with Asgari that the emails should be suppressed because the magistrate issued the warrant without probable cause based on a defective affidavit. The district court also ruled that the Leon good-faith exception did not apply. In reversing, the court held that an officer could have reasonably relied on the FBI agent’s warrant affidavit. The affidavit indicated that the agent had extensive prior experience in national security, Iranian counter-intelligence, and other “‘specialized training.’” Regarding the charge of visa fraud, the visa Asgari held did not allow him to conduct research in this country, and the emails indicating that he intended to do so showed that he misled State Department officials in obtaining a visa for “‘temp[orary] business[/]pleasure.’” Also, the visa listed his destination as New York, when it appeared that his original intention was to go to Case Western in Ohio. The affidavit also contained sufficient information about Asgari’s possible violations involving the transmission of information to Iran. The court held that this was no “bare bones” affidavit, and that it was reasonable for the officers to rely on it. The court rejected Asgari’s arguments that the emails were innocent because they were only sent to students, noting that “the students also went to a university with close ties to the Iranian government,” the sanctions were far reaching, and it was not “unreasonable to think that a graduate student might assist a professor on all of his tasks, including transmitting data back to Iran in violation of American sanctions.” The sanctions “broadly ban sending ‘any goods, technology, or services to Iran,’ covering much more than cloak-and-dagger espionage.” Asgari alleged that the affidavit contained known falsehoods but the court held that none of the alleged errors could be characterized as “a knowing falsehood or deliberate omission.” Thus, it held that “at a minimum, the affidavit satisfies the Leon good-faith exception . . . .” Remanded.

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