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search warrant had sufficient probable cause and particularity

Facts

In 2019, Ed McCraw’s deer camp in the unincorporated community of Camden in northern Madison County was burglarized twice. The first burglary occurred in the early afternoon, and the second occurred that night.

Around noon, Genoris Williamson, Quintavious Davis, and Greg Johnson drove to McCraw’s deer camp to case the property because Williamson wanted to burglarize it. Around 3:15 p.m., Williamson and two accomplices (not clear who else was with Williamson) returned to the deer camp and burglarized the home and the shed on the property. They stole one or more guns, ammunition, a 60-round drum magazine, trail cameras, and a side-by-side ATV. Williamson loaded the side-by-side with the other stolen property and drove it to a wooded area off Sulphur Springs Road.

Latavius Leach testified that Davis texted him after the first burglary, asking if he needed ammunition. They met with Williamson and Travon Carmichael at a wooded area, where they had a stolen side-by-side loaded with ammunition, trail cameras, and other items. Leach agreed to help them steal more items and, with Davis, stole a gun safe, guns, ATVs, and other items from the same deer camp that night. Williamson was not present during the nighttime burglary.

A few days later, Davis went to Williamson’s house, and Williamson had a new gun. When Davis asked Williamson where he had obtained the gun, Williamson said it wasn’t none of Davis’s business. But Davis knew that the gun was one of the guns in the gun safe he had helped steal from the deer camp that night. Leach had taken the gun with him following the second burglary, and Davis later learned that Williamson had obtained the gun from Leach. At trial, Davis identified the gun as a 9mm Ruger Carbine rifle. McCraw also identified the same gun as one of the guns stolen from his camp.

McCraw went to his deer camp the day after the burglaries. His barn door was open, and six ATVs, two trailers, trail cameras, and other tools and equipment were missing. In addition, one of the windows of the house on the property was broken. McCraw discovered that his gun safe, numerous cases of ammunition, and numerous guns were missing from the house. He later determined that a total of thirty-two guns had been stolen.

McCraw provided the Madison County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) with VIN numbers and serial numbers for the stolen ATVs and guns. McCraw also provided MCSD with photographs of the burglars from trail cameras on the property. The photos indicated that the first burglary occurred between 3:15 p.m. and 4:10 p.m., and the second burglary occurred between 8:58 p.m. and 12:05 a.m.

MCSD later obtained a search warrant for a home (not Williamson’s home), and officers recovered the stolen ATVs and some of the stolen guns. While that search was in progress, four of the burglars—Leach, Kendravious Jobe, DeAngelo Carter, and LaKeith Smith —turned themselves in. All four men identified Williamson as one of their accomplices.

MCSD then obtained an arrest warrant for Williamson and arrested him at his residence. During the arrest, officers noticed ATVs, a trail camera, and a crossbow—all items that had been reported as stolen from McCraw’s deer camp or in other recent burglaries of deer camps in the area. MCSD then obtained a search warrant for Williamson’s residence and recovered items stolen from McCraw’s camp, including the 9mm Ruger Carbine rifle.

Investigator Russell Kirby interviewed Williamson after his arrest. In a voluntary written statement, Williamson denied participating in the burglaries of McCraw’s deer camp, claiming he only bought stolen items later and did not know they were stolen when he bought them. During the interview, Williamson identified himself in still photos from McCraw’s trail cameras. Williamson also consented to a search of his cell phone. Text messages recovered from Williamson’s phone further implicated him in the first burglary.

A Madison County grand jury indicted Williamson and others for burglary of a dwelling (Count I), grand larceny for the theft of six ATVs (Count II), grand larceny for the theft of two trailers (Count III), burglary of a shed (Count IV), trafficking stolen firearms (Count V), felony malicious mischief (Count VI), and conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling (Count VII).

The jury found Williamson guilty of counts I, IV, and V and not guilty of all remaining counts. The court sentenced Williamson to 38 years in MDOC. On appeal, he argued the search warrant for his house should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

Williamson argues that although the State obtained a warrant to search his home, the State did not establish probable cause for the search. Williamson also argues that the warrant failed to specifically describe the evidence to be seized during the search.

A. Probable Cause for Search Warrant of Williamson Home

This Court has described the probable-cause determination as follows: Whether there is probable cause for a search depends on a practical and common-sense assessment of the totality of the circumstances. The decision of the issuing magistrate should not be overly technical but rather should be based on factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. The issuing magistrate may consider both the officer’s written affidavit and any supplementary oral testimony, including any credible hearsay. See Holloway.

MCSD initially interviewed Leach, Jobe, Carter, and Smith in connection with the deer camp burglaries, and all four men implicated Williamson as a participant. MCSD then obtained an arrest warrant for Williamson and arrested him at his residence. At Williamson’s residence, the arresting officer noticed several items described in a series of recent deer camp thefts in the area, including ATVs, trail cameras, and a crossbow.

Based on the information he had obtained, Kirby concluded that Williamson was responsible for several unsolved burglaries in the north end of Madison County, and he obtained a search warrant for Williamson’s residence. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude the issuing magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed, i.e., the evidence indicated a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime would be found at Williamson’s residence.

Probable cause is a fluid concept—turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts—not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules. A judge must make a practical, common-sense estimate of the probabilities. Probable cause to arrest does not automatically provide probable cause to search the arrestee’s home. But if there is probable cause to believe that someone committed a crime, then the likelihood that that person’s residence contains evidence of the crime increases.

In addition, MSC has held that evidence that a defendant has stolen material which one normally would expect him to hide at his residence will support a search of his residence. See MSC Davis v. State, 660 So. 2d 1228 (Miss. 1995). The Court specifically recognized that guns are a type of evidence likely to be kept in a suspect’s residence. Here, multiple persons implicated Williamson in the burglaries, and the arresting officer then observed items matching the description of stolen property at Williamson’s residence. Based on the totality of the circumstances, there was probable cause to believe that stolen property and other evidence of the crimes would be found at Williamson’s residence.

B. Particularity

Williamson also argues that the search warrant was invalid because the warrant and underlying affidavit failed to specifically designate or particularly describe the things to be seized. A valid search warrant need not be positively specific and definite; it is sufficient if the places and things to be searched are designated in such manner that the officer making the search may locate them with reasonable certainty. See MSC Cole v. State, 237 So. 2d 443 (Miss. 1970).

In addition, it is important to remember that suppression of evidence is not an appropriate remedy in every case in which a search warrant fails to specifically designate the things to be seized. The exclusionary rule does not apply automatically, as even a search pursuant to an invalid search warrant may be found to be reasonable under the good-faith exception. See White.

Under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, the determinative question is not whether the description in the warrant in fact was constitutionally adequate. Rather, suppression is required because of a particularity defect only if the warrant was so facially deficient—i.e., in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized—that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.

In Sutton, MSC held that a warrant failed to particularly describe the evidence to be seized when it simply authorized a search for stolen items. The Court held that 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.

This case is materially distinguishable from Sutton. The warrant in this case did not simply authorize an open-ended search for stolen items. Rather, it authorized the seizure of any physical evidence pertaining to a house burglary & grand larceny investigation, stolen firearms and/or gloves, masks, flashlights, hooded sweatshirts, ATVs and stolen items, and contraband and stolen items associated with house burglary & grand larceny.

While the warrant perhaps could have been more precise, it specifically designated key items reported stolen from McCraw’s deer camp and in other recent burglaries in the area—stolen firearms and ATVs. In addition, the warrant specifically designated items worn or used by the men photographed burglarizing McCraw’s deer camp. A warrant that is sufficiently specific and definite is not invalid or an impermissible general warrant just because it includes language authorizing the seizure of additional evidence of the crimes under investigation.

We conclude that the warrant here was sufficiently definite and specific to satisfy Section 23 of the Mississippi Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. At the very least, the warrant was facially valid, and its description of the items to be seized was not so facially deficient as to trigger the exclusionary rule. Therefore, the trial judge did not err by denying Williamson’s motion to suppress.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO167954.pdf