CA6: When the question of nexus is close, GFE is the answer

When the question of nexus of probable cause of a crime to a defendant’s home is close, the good faith exception provides the answer. United States v. Reed, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 9526 (6th Cir. Apr. 1, 2021):

This case raises a recurring Fourth Amendment question. Suppose that the police uncover evidence that an individual is illegally selling drugs. When does that evidence create probable cause to search the individual’s home for drugs, drug proceeds, or other evidence of drug dealing? We have “struggled” to answer this question in a consistent way because it implicates two competing principles. United States v. Ardd, 911 F.3d 348, 351 (6th Cir. 2018). Under the first principle, probable cause to arrest a suspect for a crime does not necessarily create probable cause to search the suspect’s home. So our cases, at times, say that officers need additional evidence of a “nexus” between the drug dealing and the dealer’s home. United States v. Brown, 828 F.3d 375, 383-84 (6th Cir. 2016). Under the second principle, the probable-cause test allows officers to make common-sense conclusions about where people hide things. So our cases also say that evidence of a drug dealer’s ongoing drug activity can sometimes create this nexus to search the dealer’s home. United States v. Sumlin, 956 F.3d 879, 886 (6th Cir. 2020).

It can be difficult to decide which of these principles controls. The judicial disagreement in this case over whether the police had probable cause to search Terry Reed’s home proves the point. Relying on the second principle, a magistrate judge held that probable cause existed because an officer’s affidavit showed that Reed was a drug dealer engaged in ongoing drug activity. Relying on the first, the district court held that probable cause did not exist because the affidavit lacked other evidence connecting Reed’s drug activity to his home. Yet we need not decide who was right. This appeal concerns only whether the district court properly suppressed the evidence discovered during the search despite a state judge’s warrant to undertake it. Even when a search violates the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court has held that courts should not suppress evidence if the police reasonably relied on a judge’s decision that probable cause justified a warrant. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922-23, 104 S. Ct. 3405, 82 L. Ed. 2d 677 (1984). And given our “unsettled jurisprudence” on this nexus question, the police could reasonably rely on the judge’s finding that Reed’s ongoing drug activity provided probable cause to search his home. United States v. Hodge, 246 F.3d 301, 309 (3d Cir. 2001) (Alito, J.). Without deciding the thornier constitutional question, then, we hold only that the district court should not have suppressed the evidence. We reverse.

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