On a hunch that the defendant was involved in a homicide, the police searched through four trash bags at the curb of the defendant (Lyles) home.  The search revealed three marijuana stems and rolling papers as well as an envelope addressed to the defendant’s home.  Armed with this information, the officers sought and obtained a warrant to search the house for both evidence of possession of controlled substances (including intent to distribute) and money laundering.  The magistrate judge signed a search warrant that provided broad permissions to search the home and “any and all persons suspected to be involved in said illegal activities” and authorized the police to seize essentially anything in the home, including cell phones, jewelry, records, diaries, and firearms. The police subsequently found four handguns, ammunition, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia in defendant’s house.

The defendant argued that the warrant application affidavit did not provide a substantial basis to establish the probable cause required to search for the items allowed to be seized under the warrant.  The government argued that the trash pull evidence provided probable cause to search the home for marijuana possession. Therefore, the officers were lawfully inside Lyles’s home and the firearm and ammunition evidence were lawfully seized under the plain view doctrine even if the warrant was too broad. However, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the three marijuana stems discovered in the trash pull did not adequately support the warrant to search defendant’s home for marijuana possession. The court held that a trash pull revealing evidence of three marijuana stems, three empty packs of rolling papers, and a piece of mail, standing alone, did NOT justify a sweeping warrant to search a home.

Furthermore, the court declined to apply the Good Faith Exception and affirmed the District Court’s ruling granting the motion to dismiss:

Leon’s standard is ultimately an “objective” one. And objectively speaking, what transpired here is not acceptable. What we have before us is a flimsy trash pull that produced scant evidence of a marginal offense but that nonetheless served to justify the indiscriminate rummaging through a household. Law enforcement can do better. The judgment is AFFIRMED

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