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Warrants Based on Suspicions or Conclusions Are Insufficient to Search Your Home

Were drugs, illegal firearms or other contraband discovered during a warrant-based search of your home?  No matter what the police found, you may be able to get your case dropped.

Searches based on warrants are preferred over warrantless searches by the courts.  That’s because the grounds for the warrant are first reviewed by a judge before the warrant is issued.  That review makes it more likely any search of your home does not violate your Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches than if the police proceed with a warrantless search.

But just because the police searched your home pursuant to a warrant doesn’t guarantee they can use all of the evidence obtained in that search to convict you of a crime.  A recent case decided just this month explains why.

In Wingate v. State, authorities searched Dion Wingate’s home pursuant to a search warrant. The affidavit supporting the warrant recited that in August 2017, an experienced narcotics officer with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office had obtained information from a confidential informant (CI) indicating Wingate and his female live-in suspect were selling drugs in the area. Vehicles associated with Wingate and his girlfriend were at the apartment on various occasions in September and October 2017. The girlfriend was listed in online databases and with utility providers as a resident at Wingate’s apartment.

The affidavit further stated a controlled purchase of crack cocaine had been conducted with Wingate as the seller at the target apartment within the preceding ten days. The affidavit stated that just before the buy, the CI’s and his vehicle were searched for contraband by an investigator and that no contraband was found. The CI was fitted with an “electronic monitoring device, briefed, and provided with recorded police drug buy monies.”

Investigators then surveilled the CI to the target apartment, where the CI purchased crack cocaine with the provided money. The CI was then surveilled back to a meeting area where the CI turned the crack cocaine over to investigators. The CI’s person and vehicle were again searched, and no other contraband was located. The contraband purchased by the CI field tested positive for cocaine.

The affidavit then set forth how, based on the officer’s training and experience, the above information established probable cause to believe that the target contraband would be located at the apartment. A search warrant was subsequently issued by a circuit judge based on the affidavit.

A search based on the warrant yielded over 180 grams of marijuana, over 28 grams of cocaine, over 28 grams of methamphetamine, over 10 grams of MDMA, over 35 dosage units of Alprazolam, scales, smoking devices, and packaging material from  the bedroom shared by Wingate and the female suspect. After questioning by the police, the female suspect admitted Wingate distributed narcotics from the apartment, where he resided.

Based on what was found, the State charged Wingate with several drug-related crimes, including possession and trafficking. Wingate moved to suppress evidence found during the search.  He contended the affidavit on which the warrant was based lacked sufficient probable cause to support the search, rendering the search warrant invalid. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the court first noted the threshold for probable cause sufficient for a search warrant is extremely low.  According to the court, a search warrant affidavit is insufficient only where the affidavit is ‘bare bones,’ i.e., it fails to provide a colorable argument for probable cause. “Bare bones” affidavits contain wholly conclusory statements, which lack the facts and circumstances from which a magistrate can independently determine probable cause.  Thus, “bare bones” affidavits are those which merely state suspicions, or conclusions, without providing some underlying factual circumstances regarding veracity, reliability, and basis of knowledge.  Such affidavits merely recite the conclusions of others—usually a confidential informant—without corroboration or independent investigation of the facts alleged.

A review of the search warrant for Wingate’s home, revealed it was supported by probable cause. Florida law provides a recent controlled buy establishes probable cause to justify a search warrant. The warrant authorizing a search of Wingate’s home therefore was not bare bones.  Accordingly, Wingate’s conviction was affirmed.

If you have been arrested based on a warrant authorizing a search of your home, you may have defenses to your charges based on the validity of the warrant.  A Jacksonville search warrant lawyer can discuss the best options for you in defending your search warrant case. Those options can include getting your charges reduced or even dropped so you can avoid jail, prison and lengthy probation.  If your home was searched in Jacksonville, Orange Park, Fleming Island, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, Keystone Heights, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Callahan, Hilliard, Macclenny, or surrounding areas, call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can help you get the best possible result.