N.D.Ga.: Even if SW was not particular enough, it wasn’t so defective or obvious that the GFE should not apply

Even if the search warrant for defendant’s cell phone was overbroad, which isn’t even decided, it was not so overbroad that the good faith exception to the exclusionary should be applied. United States v. Obie, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 216350 (N.D. Ga. Dec. 17, 2019), adopting 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 217128 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 6, 2019):

And even if the warrant were overly broad, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the United States would be entitled to the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy to deter future Fourth Amendment violations. See Leon, 468 U.S. at 916-17. The government, however, is not barred from using evidence obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a neutral magistrate, even if the search warrant is ultimately found invalid. Id. at 923. The Supreme Court held that, given the goal of deterring misconduct, a court should not apply the exclusionary rule unless the application and warrant were so defective or deficient that no reasonably well-trained officer would have relied on them. Id. Put differently, the exclusionary rule does not apply when an officer, acting with objective good faith, obtains a search warrant from a neutral magistrate judge and acts within the scope of the warrant. See id. at 920-21. This good-faith exception does not apply in four instances, specifically when: (1) the judicial officer issues the warrant on a deliberately or recklessly false affidavit; (2) the judicial officer abandons his judicial role; (3) the warrant so lacks any indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable; or (4) the warrant is so facially deficient that an officer could not reasonably presume it valid. Id. at 923.

Defendant Obie claims the warrant here was so facially deficient that no officer could reasonably presume its validity. This Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s rejection of that argument. Even if the warrant did not satisfy the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement, a reasonable officer would read the description of property to be seized as limited to evidence of sex trafficking. No officer would think he or she was executing an unconstitutionally general warrant. Any defects in the description of the property to be seized are not so facially obvious that an officer could not reasonably presume it to be valid. This is all the more true because an Assistant United States Attorney and federal Magistrate Judge reviewed the warrant and thought it valid. The Court finds that — even if the warrant was overly broad — it was not so facially invalid to preclude application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Observation: Sometimes, a court can spend a lot of time going back and forth over whether probable cause was adequately shown or the warrant was particular enough. If the court can’t easily decide, then how could the officer? Therefore, discuss the probable cause or particularity issue, explain its difficulties and lack of obviousness, and move to the good faith exception. That’s just common sense. What’s bad is when a court ignores probable cause entirely and then rubber stamps application of the good faith exception.

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