N.D.Ohio: Proving nexus to an alleged drug dealer’s home

Proving nexus to an alleged drug dealer’s home discussed in United States v. Stafford, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210032 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 18, 2022):

Courts within the Sixth and other circuits have struggled with the issue of whether probable cause exists to search a suspected drug dealer’s residence merely because the drug dealer resides there. The Sixth Circuit recently explored the source of this confusion in an opinion in United States v. Reed, 993 F.3d 441 (6th Cir. 2021). The court in Reed explained that the recurring debate over the sufficiency of the evidence needed to search a drug dealer’s home is fueled by two competing Fourth Amendment principles. Id. at 444. The first principle provides that “probable cause to arrest a suspect does not necessarily establish probable cause to search the suspect’s home.” Id. at 447 (citing United States v. Baker, 976 F.3d 636, 645-46 (6th Cir. 2020)). “Rather, the arrest and search inquiries ask different questions: whether there is a fair probability that a person has committed a crime versus whether there is a fair probability that the person’s home will contain evidence of one.” Id.

The second principle, the court in Reed explained, is that “the probable-cause test allows officers to make common-sense conclusions about where people hide things.” Id. at 444. “So many courts have acknowledged as a common-sense matter that a suspect’s home often will be a likely place that the suspect has kept evidence of a crime.” Id. at 447 (citing United States v. Williams, 554 F.3d 683, 688 (6th Cir. 2008) (collecting cases)). “All things being equal [therefore], ‘it is reasonable . . . to assume that a person keeps his possessions where he resides.” Id. (citation omitted).

The tension between these two principles has “pulled courts in both directions when they have tried to answer this nexus question. The result? Courts have drawn fine lines between cases with ‘little to distinguish’ those that find probable cause from those that do not.” Id. (quoting United States v. Sacova, 761 F.2d 292, 298 (6th Cir. 1985)). For example, the Sixth Circuit has rejected the proposition that the defendant’s “status as a drug dealer, standing alone, gives rise to a fair probability that drugs will be found in his home.” Brown, 828 F.3d at 383 (quoting Frazier, 423 F.3d at 533). But the Sixth Circuit has also recently observed that, “[i]n the case of drug dealers, evidence is likely to be found where the dealers live.” United States v. Sumlin, 956 F.3d 879, 886 (6th Cir. 2020) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

Given the strain between these competing principles, the court in Reed “reconciled [its] caselaw in fact-specific ways.” Reed, 993 F.3d at 448. It accomplished this by holding that “a court need not rely on a known drug dealer’s status alone whenever other evidence (besides the dealer’s living there) links drug dealing to the dealer’s home.” Id. (emphasis in original). Thus, the question this Court must answer is whether there is “other evidence” (besides Stafford’s status as an alleged drug dealer, and the fact that he lived at White Pond) that links Stafford’s alleged drug dealing to the residence. The Court finds that such evidence exists.

This entry was posted in Nexus. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.