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Good Faith Exception Not Limited to Four Corners of Affidavit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 19, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the U.S. v. Leon good faith exception to the exclusionary rule permits a court to look beyond the facts stated in a search warrant affidavit and consider uncontroverted facts the police inadvertently failed to disclose to the magistrate.

Montgomery County police began investigating 18-year-old Collin McKenzie-Gude for firearms and explosives violations after his friend’s aunt informed police that McKenzie-Gude had an assault rifle and dangerous chemicals, and constantly discussed explosives. Police eventually obtained a search warrant for McKenzie-Gude’s home, the “Rockhurst Road residence,” where they found weapons, gun parts, bullet-proof vests, ammunition, and materials that could be used to make explosives.

McKenzie-Gude moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that police officers had not established a sufficient nexus between McKenzie-Gude and the Rockhurst Road residence in the search warrant affidavit. The district court refused to suppress the evidence, and McKenzie-Gude appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Relying on Leon, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.

Leon instructs that a court's good faith exception inquiry is "confined to the objectively-ascertainable question whether a reasonably well-trained officer would have known that the search was illegal" in light of "all of the circumstances."

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the officers in McKenzie-Gude's case, who swore out the affidavit and executed the search, acted reasonably because they relied on uncontroverted facts in obtaining and executing the warrant. While the warrant may have been deficient due to the residential nexus omission, the officers merely failed to recognize their own inadvertent omission.

This was not a situation where the affidavit was completely lacking in indicia of probable cause, so it was not a case with exclusion would "further the purposes of the exclusionary rule."

Do you think the Fourth Circuit made the correct call in applying the good faith exception, or should a search warrant affidavit, like a contract, be governed by the four corners?

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