Quantcast
Home / Opinion Digests / Criminal Law / Scope of search warrant was proper, supported by common sense

Scope of search warrant was proper, supported by common sense

After officers observed a still-smoldering marijuana cigarette lying in an open trash can in the kitchen, a fair probability existed that further evidence of the defendant’s crime would be uncovered elsewhere in the house, thus supporting a warrant to search “any safes or locked boxes that could aid in the hiding of illegal narcotics.”

Background

When Melvin Jones opened the front door of his house to the knock of Richmond police officers investigating a complaint, the officers smelled a strong odor of marijuana smoke coming from within the house. The officers arrested Jones and conducted a sweep of the house to ensure that no one else was inside. While conducting the sweep, the officers observed a still-smoldering marijuana cigarette laying in an open trash can in the kitchen.

The officers obtained a warrant to search the house for evidence of marijuana possession. The warrant authorized the officers to search “any safes or locked boxes that could aid in the hiding of illegal narcotics.” Upon conducting the search, the officers found a handgun in a safe in Jones’s bedroom closet. They also recovered marijuana, crack cocaine and items commonly used for packaging and weighing narcotics.

Jones pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon, reserving the right to challenge the district court’s order denying his motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search on the ground that the warrant was overbroad.

Analysis

While Jones concedes that the officers had probable cause to believe that marijuana would be found in his residence, he contends that the marijuana odor that the police detected provided a basis to search only for the source of odor. He thus maintains that when the officers located a “smoldering marijuana joint” in the kitchen trash can, they lacked probable cause to believe that there was any other marijuana in the house, and the warrant should have been limited to the search and seizure of the marijuana cigarette.

Jones’s argument, however, applies a too-cramped understanding of the scope of a proper warrant. The geographical scope of a warrant complies with the Fourth Amendment if, in light of “common-sense conclusions about human behavior” there is a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime” will be found in the areas delineated by the warrant. Here, the officers had evidence that Jones, who was the only adult in the house at the time, had been smoking marijuana in the single-family residence where he lived when the officers knocked on the front door. Common sense indicates that it was fairly likely that the marijuana Jones was smoking was not the only marijuana in the house.

Indeed, a reasonable officer would be entitled to infer that it was most likely but a  single portion of a larger quantity that was stored somewhere in the house. Moreover, it would also be reasonable to conclude that there was a fair probability that the house contained evidence of the source of the marijuana or the scope of Jones’s possession violation.

And, of course, common sense would also indicate that such evidence is often stored out of sight. In short, based on common sense and context, a fair probability existed that further evidence of Jones’s crime would be uncovered elsewhere in his house, which justified a warrant authorizing the search of the entire house, not just the kitchen trash can where the smoldering marijuana cigarette was observed.

Jones argues alternatively that the search of his house was not conducted pursuant to the warrant because Officer Myers did not inform the executing officers of the warrant’s specific terms. But the lack of such instruction provides no basis to suppress the evidence recovered when the search was, in fact, conducted in conformance with a valid warrant, as was the case here.

Affirmed.

United States v. Jones, Appeal No. 18-4448, March 3, 2020. 4th Cir. (Niemeyer), from EDVA at Richmond (Lauck). Joseph Stephen Camden for Appellant, Daniel T. Young for Appellee. VLW 020-2-046. 12 pp.

VLW 020-2-046

Virginia Lawyers Weekly