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Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Evidence Obtained through an Unreasonable Search is Still Admissible if Police Acted in Good Faith on a Valid Search Warrant

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that evidence obtained through an unreasonable search is still admissible against a defendant if the police obtained the evidence in good faith by relying on a valid search warrant.

The San Angelo Police Department (SAPD) received a tip from a confidential informant that Rondrick Gray was in possession of and selling crack cocaine. SAPD, subsequently stopped Gray for outstanding warrants while he was driving. A female passenger in Gray’s car told the SAPD that when stopped Gray told her to conceal a plastic bag, which she believed contained crack cocaine.

The SAPD did not find the bag in Gray’s vehicle, nor after conducting two strip searches of Gray. Gray refused to consent to any more body searches, so the SAPD got a search warrant to search Gray again. After the search warrant arrived, Gray was taken to the hospital where medical personnel were finally able to get a usable x-ray, which showed “something” in Gray’s rectum. After being given two sedatives, two proctoscopic examinations were done on Gray’s rectum. In the second exam, a plastic bag, later determined to be filled with 9.62 grams of cocaine, was found.

Gray was indicted for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Gray moved to suppress the crack cocaine recovered during the proctoscopic examination. After a suppression hearing, the district court found the exclusionary rule inapplicable because the police had relied in good faith on a valid search warrant in recovering the crack cocaine and that, regardless, the crack cocaine would have been inevitably discovered.

In United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), the Supreme Court stated where a police officer “acting with objective good faith has obtained a search warrant and acted within its scope, the marginal or nonexistent benefits produced by suppressing the evidence obtained cannot justify” excluding the evidence. The good faith exception applies unless the issuing judge is misled, probable cause is lacking in the basis for the warrant, or the warrant is deficient in particularizing the place to be searched.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the intrusion from the proctoscopy and affront to Gray’s dignity was extreme, therefore the search was unreasonable. However, since none of the good faith exceptions apply and the SAPD acted on good faith, the bag evidence was admissible. The Court did urge future magistrates, where feasible, to hold a hearing to allow for more careful consideration of the competing interests (defendant and government) at stake in a medical procedure search.

The Las Vegas law office of Lagomarsino Law did not represent anyone involved in the above-referenced case. The commentary is for educational and commentary purposes only. If you would like to be represented by a Nevada attorney, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.