In 2014, a confidential informant, who had provided credible information in the past, told police that stolen items were located at a house. The informant said he had been there two days ago and the place was a warehouse for stolen items. The police got a search warrant the same day and put in the warrant that they were looking for “stolen items” and drugs.
They executed the warrant and found drugs, cash, and a gun. Sedric Sutton was convicted of possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute and was sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued the search warrant was invalid as it did not describe with particularity the items to be seized. MSC agreed with Sutton and reversed.
The Mississippi Constitution provides that the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, and possessions, from unreasonable seizure or search; and no warrant shall be issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, specially designating the place to be searched and the . . . thing to be seized. When evidence is obtained in violation of the constitution, the exclusionary rule is implicated.
The description “stolen items” is no description. In Conn v. State, 170 So. 2d 20 (Miss. 1964), MSC stated that for property other than what is illicit or contraband, the thing or things to be seized must be described with some particularity in the warrant. Descriptions in search warrants need not be positively specific and definite, but are sufficient if the places and things to be searched are designated in such a manner that the officer making the search may locate them with reasonable certainty.
Here, the description of “stolen items” was wholly inadequate to inform the officers executing the search as to which items in the house were to be seized. The description “stolen items” is even less descriptive than the conclusory description “stolen property.” There simply was no means for the executing officers to distinguish any stolen items from any items that rightfully belonged in the house. Indeed, after the search, Sutton had to reclaim a number of his items that were confiscated from the house as a result of the warrant’s execution.
Also, despite the claims that the house was a warehouse for stolen goods, the warrant should have included a more particularized description of at least some of the property to be seized—especially since it is clear from the record that it could have. The affidavit for search warrant provided that the informant had told officers that he had been to the house on numerous occasions and had seen stolen items in the residence. We are convinced that law enforcement officers could have provided a more detailed description of the things to be seized beyond the conclusory language of “stolen items.”
As to the drugs, the warrant listed drugs for items to be seized but there was no probable cause to show a nexus between drugs and the house in any testimony. Finally, good faith can not save this warrant since the warrant was so facially deficient that the executing officers could not have presumed it to be valid. The executing officers did not have any way to distinguish stolen items from property that was not stolen. A reasonable officer who sees a warrant authorizing the seizure of “stolen items” would know that it failed to provide any guidelines for what property was to be seized.
This is a classic case of shortcuts coming back to haunt you. If the informant had been in the house and saw a warehouse of stolen items, it would take one or two descriptive sentences in the warrant to satisfy the particularity of items to be seized. Don’t win the battle (get the warrant signed in record time) and lose the war (you have nothing to show for all of your time and effort in this case).