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10th Cir. Upholds Faulty Warrant, Still Finds Probable Cause

By Betty Wang, JD on August 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Tenth Circuit has upheld the conviction of a man based off a search-warrant affidavit that did not even mention defendant's name. Edwin Sanchez was convicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana with a sentence of 78 months' imprisonment.

Officers of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had originally obtained a warrant to search what they thought was the home of Adriana Amaya, the defendant's daughter. The DEA initially linked her to a drug-trafficking organization, based off intercepted conversations where Amaya had, in code, mentioned a delivery to a drug supplier in Mexico.

In turn, they ended up searching what was really defendant Sanchez's home and found evidence, including marijuana, that linked Sanchez to a drug-trafficking conspiracy.

The affidavit was apparently riddled with faulty information including the statement that agents had conducted physical surveillance, video surveillance, and had spoken to participants in order to confirm the owner of the residence. In reality, the DEA agent who had prepared the warrant application conceded that none of this had ever occurred. Of course, there was also the error that the warrant stated the home to be searched was that of Amaya's, and not Sanchez's.

The Fourth Amendment states that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." The Tenth Circuit then expounded on this: "Probable cause to issue a search warrant exists when the support affidavit sets forth sufficient facts that would lead a prudent person to believe that a search of the described premises would uncover contraband or evidence of a crime."

Sanchez is therefore arguing that there was clearly no probable cause set forth in the affidavit for his warrant. The Tenth Circuit responded first by stating that while the information was erroneous, probable cause was never meant to be certain, and that there was no constitutional requirement that the evidence acquired from a search be only used against the named suspect.

The court also addressed the fact that, through a test set forth by the Supreme Court in Franks v. Delaware, courts must address whether the affiant made a. "a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth," and b. whether, absent the false statement, "the affidavit's remaining content is insufficient to establish probable cause." Neither these conditions were satisfied in this case.

Finally, the court explained that probable cause suffices as long as "the information put forth is believed or appropriately accepted by the affiant as true."

Sanchez's conviction was upheld.

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