In United States v. Lyles, No. 17-4787 (4th Cir. Dec. 14, 2018), the Court affirmed the district court’s suppression of evidence obtained upon execution of a search warrant at Lyles’ residence. See opinion at http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinions/174787.P.pdf.
Seized by police after rummaging through four trash bags located on the curb outside the residence were: three empty packs of rolling papers; a piece of mail addressed to the home; and, three marijuana stems. Based on this information alone, police applied for and obtained a warrant for the residence, alleging drug possession, drug trafficking, and money laundering offenses as justifications for the search. The district court granted the defendant’s suppression motion and the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding the evidence “falls well short of the evidence in previous cases that upheld home search warrants based, in part, on trash pulls.”
The case is significant in a number of ways. First, it found the magistrate judge did not have a substantial basis for finding probable cause to issue the search warrant. Second, the Court cautioned that “trash pulls” (where police seize and search trash that has been placed outside the home for pick-up) can be subject to abuse, can provide an easy way for anyone to plant evidence, and that guests of a home can leave residue that ends up in the trash. Third, and perhaps most significantly, not even the good faith exception found in Leon could save the case.