Sixth Circuit Reverses Denial of Motion to Suppress: Grant
In United States v. Grant, 21-3686 (6th Cir. 2023) the Sixth Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress.
Facts: Police Get Search Warrant Based on Scant Information
Police officers in Ohio received an anonymous tip that Grant had supplied a large amount of cocaine. Several months later, police set up a controlled buy with Grant. Officers monitored a call to Grant which involved a “drug related conversation.” The same day, police watched a property Grant rented. When Grant arrived at the property, he parked outside the building without entering. He then left the premises on foot. Grant later called the confidential informant and informed her that he had left crack cocaine in a bag near the steps of her residence, and that he would collect payment from her later.
The next day, the CI went to the rental property to pay Grant. Grant told her on the phone to leave the money in a vehicle parked in the driveway. Afterward, police observed Grant arrive at the premises, enter and exit the vehicle, and enter the property.
Forty-seven days later, officers applied for warrants to search the property. In his affidavit in support of the warrants, the officer included the controlled buy information as well as (1) his attestation that he had seen Grant arrive and depart from the premises numerous times, staying only for a short time each visit; (2) his conjecture, based on training and experience, that this behavior suggested drug trafficking; and (3) general information about drug trafficking behavior.
A municipal court judge found the information sufficient to establish probable cause and issued record warrants. Police searched the residence and found a handgun and ammunition as well as suspected crack cocaine and marijuana. Officers stopped the search and applied for warrants to search and seize narcotics and contraband at the premises. Grant was subsequently indicted for possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and moved to suppress all the evidence derived from any of the issued search warrants. Grant argued that the officers lacked probable cause for the records warrant, and the narcotics warrants were unlawful fruits of the records warrants. Without a hearing, the district court denied the motion.
Sixth Circuit: Grant's Status as an Alleged Drug Dealer Not Enough to Connect him to Property
Grant brought his Fourth Amendment challenge to the Sixth Circuit on direct appeal. The Sixth Circuit found that for the search to have complied with the Fourth Amendment, the warrants needed a factual basis showing a nexus between alleged drug dealing and the property such that it was probable that documentation of the illegal activity would be found there. However, all the police knew about the property when they obtained the warrant was that Grant, a suspected drug dealer, was the renter and had parked his car there on several occasions without staying long. Further, officers never observed him leaving the building immediately before a drug deal or directly returning after a sale was completed. Lastly, the police had never seen any drugs or paraphernalia on or around the property.
Based on these facts, the Sixth Circuit concluded that its case law is clear that a person’s status as an alleged drug dealer alone is insufficient to support a warrant to search that person’s property for drugs or drug-related documents. The court held that there must be additional supporting evidence of drug activity linked to the property for the warrant to be valid. The court of appeals found that this necessary extra proof was lacking in Grant’s case. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit held that the district court erred by denying Grant’s motion to suppress evidence derived from the search. The district court’s denial of Grant’s motion to suppress was reversed, Grant’s conviction vacated, and the case remanded to the district court.