The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently upheld a trial court’s suppression of drugs found in a South Georgia home. The Court found that much of the information provided in the search warrant’s supporting affidavit was false, and as a result, there was not probable cause to believe that the home contained drugs.
In State v. Willis, the defendant, Willis, was charged with trafficking in cocaine and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. In May of 2008, the South Georgia Drug Task Force received information from a confidential informant that a man by the name of Bell possessed a large amount of drugs. Agents tracked Bell in a car being driven by Willis. When the car stopped at a convenient store, an agent approached the car and saw a bag of marijuana and a bag of cocaine in the vehicle. Both men were then arrested. One agent later testified that Bell told him during an interview that the drugs came from Wills’ home and that Willis also had scales, baggies and possibly a large amount of money in his home. Bell also allegedly told the agent that Willis had handed him the drugs to hide when the agent approached Willis’ vehicle. A different agent also claimed that he saw the two near Willis’ home prior their arrests. It was also discovered that Willis had been convicted of possessing marijuana in the past.
Based on Bell’s alleged statements and the fact that agents saw the two near Willis’ home, agents prepared an affidavit in support of a search warrant to search Willis’ home. Part of the affidavit claimed that Bell’s statements were against his own penal interests. A magistrate signed the warrant and a search revealed large amounts of marijuana and cocaine in Willis’ home. At the hearing for the motion to suppress, it was revealed that the agent who interviewed Bell didn’t understand the concept of “against penal interest.” It was also revealed that only one interview of Bell was conducted, and that it was recorded on tape. On the tape, Bell never stated that Wills handed him drugs to hide or that Willis’ home contained drugs, scales, baggies or currency. As a result, the trial court suppressed the drugs found in Willis’ home.
The appellate court upheld the suppression finding that there was no probable cause to support the search warrant. Probable cause is determined by the totality of the circumstances. Without the alleged statements by Bell, the Court found that nothing linked drugs to Willis’ home other than the fact that the two were seen near Willis’ residence. The Court determined that such a fact does not establish probable cause that Willis’ home contained drugs.
Our criminal defense lawyers have won numerous drug cases involving the illegal search of a client’s home. In our experience, there is almost always an issue as to whether a search was lawfully conducted any time police discover drugs or contraband. To show that officers had no grounds to search a home, a good criminal defense lawyer will examine any search warrants and affidavits for possible defects or discrepancies as well as any police investigations that may have led to the warrant being issued. In many case, a judge will be forced to suppress any evidence that was illegally obtained.
Page Pate is an accomplished trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in criminal defense, civil litigation, and whistleblower representation. Page is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, Top 100 Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, and named to the list of Super Lawyers for the past 15 consecutive years. Page is a frequent expert legal analyst for local and national media and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia Law School. Read Page’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Page on Twitter @pagepate and on Linkedin.