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Search warrant that did not comply with Rule 4.3 was found valid

Facts

Since May 2017, agents with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office, Special Investigations Division, had received information based on other arrests that Fredrick Jenkins supplied marijuana to numerous individuals in the DeSoto County area.

On February 2, 2018, the agents received information from a K9 deputy in Kansas (Deputy Kalen Robinson) that in late January 2018, he had stopped a vehicle for a traffic offense and searched the vehicle. Robinson discovered $68,000 in currency concealed in the vehicle. He told the agents that the driver of the vehicle told him that he was returning from 6267 Choctaw Trail, Olive Branch, Mississippi, where he dropped off marijuana in exchange for the $68,000.

The driver informed Robinson that he delivered between 70 and 80 pounds of marijuana to the address in Olive Branch every two or three weeks. Based on this information, the DeSoto County agents began surveillance at the 6267 Choctaw Trail, Olive Branch address, which was known to be Jenkins’s residence.

Agent Thomas Brea said that while surveilling the residence, agents observed a vehicle pull into the driveway of the residence, the driver exited the vehicle empty handed, and went into the residence. The driver exited the home forty minutes later carrying a large white box. The driver returned to his vehicle and left the property.

A deputy with the sheriff’s office followed the vehicle and made a traffic stop after observing the driver make a traffic infraction. As the deputy approached the vehicle, he smelled the strong odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. The deputy searched the vehicle based on that probable cause. The deputy found the large, white package that the driver acquired from Jenkins’s home. Inside the package, the deputy discovered several vacuum-sealed bags containing marijuana. The driver of the vehicle (Justin Dearman) was brought back to the station, advised of his Miranda rights, and waived them.

Dearman completed a voluntary statement, stating that he bought the marijuana from Jenkins. Dearman also said that while he was inside Jenkins’s residence, he saw a large green tub in the garage that contained about five pounds of marijuana and two other brown bags containing about a pound of marijuana each. Additionally, Dearman said that Jenkins had recently received a new shipment of marijuana, but the courier lost the money during a traffic stop in Kansas.

Brea left the surveillance team and prepared a search warrant for Jenkins’s home and vehicles, together with a supporting affidavit in which he described four separate incidents over the six-month investigation of Jenkins connecting Jenkins to illegal drug activity. The other agents remained at the scene.

While Brea was preparing the search warrant, another agent witnessed a male at the residence throw a large, brown bag over the fence and into a neighbor’s yard. A couple of minutes later, the agents remaining at the scene saw a dark-colored sedan (later identified as a 2013 Hyundai Sonata) pull in front of the residence, and a male matching Jenkins’s description got out of the vehicle and went into the house.

Jenkins then came out of the residence carrying a couple of bags, ran to the same vehicle, put the bags inside the vehicle, and started walking back toward the home. But before Jenkins could re-enter the house, the agents detained him. The agents also stopped the Hyundai Sonata on a nearby street. The agents identified the driver of that vehicle as his wife Mary Stephanie Jenkins and detained her. Agents also stopped the vehicle Jenkins’s son was driving as it left the area. The deputies conducted a protective sweep of the residence to ensure that there were no other people inside and awaited the search warrant.

Brea returned to the residence with the search warrant and the agents executed it on the residence and the vehicles. In the trunk of the Hyundai Sonata, agents found $32,000. Marijuana in various quantities was also found throughout the house. Agents found a green tub containing marijuana in the attic of the residence.

The agents also collected cellular devices that were forensically analyzed pursuant to search warrants. Text messages from Jenkins’s cell phone showed conversations with numerous individuals about the sale of marijuana. Pictures recovered from Jenkins’s cell phone showed his son pushing packages of marijuana through a mesh screen into a green tub, like the one discovered at the residence.

Additionally, agents discovered Jenkins’s bank cards and banking information at the residence. Brea issued subpoenas duces tecum to Jenkins’s banks and acquired the Jenkinses’ bank account information.

Jenkins waived his Miranda rights and admitted to Brea that he had begun to use marijuana as a painkiller at first. He also admitted that he later began selling marijuana to friends for their pain and making edibles to sell to friends.

Jenkins was convicted of trafficking a controlled substance with intent to sell and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued the search warrant did not comply with Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure (M.R.C.P.) Rule 4.3. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

Jenkins asserts that the search warrants to search his home and vehicles and bank records were invalid because they ignored certain requirements of M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3.

Rule 4.3 provides:
Every search warrant issued by the court shall:
(1) command the law enforcement officer to search, within a specified time not to exceed ten (10) days, the person(s) or place(s) named in the search warrant and to return the warrant and an inventory of the thing(s) seized to the court as designated in the warrant;
(2) designate the court to which the warrant and an inventory of the thing(s) seized shall be returned; and
(3) be signed and dated by the judge, showing the exact time and date and the name of the law enforcement officer to whom the warrant was delivered for execution.

Jenkins specifically asserts that the search warrants in this case were invalid because they did not (1) show the exact time they were signed; (2) the name of the law enforcement officer to whom the warrant was delivered for execution; or (3) indicate that they must be executed within a specified time not to exceed ten (10) days.

Regarding the exact time and ten-day execution requirements, this court in Brown has recognized that Rule 4.3 requires the warrant’s time and date be transfixed in an effort to ensure that the search warrant does not become stale or used as a coercive police tactic. We further recognized that M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3 attempts to give force to prior MSC precedent prohibiting unlimited time for the execution of warrant once issued. See Taylor v. State, 137 Miss. 217 (1924).

In Brown, this Court found that M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3 deficiencies in a search warrant like those here did not render inadmissible the evidence obtained from the warrant where the underlying purpose of M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3’s timing requirements—to prevent coercive police tactics—was met. We find that this court’s analysis in Brown supports our decision here.

Brea and the other agents executed the search warrant for Jenkins’s house and vehicles within hours of its issuance. The ten day goal for execution was certainly met. Likewise, Brea testified that the search warrants for the Jenkinses’ bank records were issued and served on the banks’ legal departments within ten days of their issuance. Even though the search warrants technically violated M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3’s requirements, we find that the searches and seizures by agents of the sheriff’s office here were in conformity with the federal and State Constitutions. The failure to include the exact time of issuance or the ten-day return period was harmless error because all three of the warrants were issued and executed within the mandated ten-day requirement.

We further find that the failure to include the name of the designated officer in the search warrants, as required by M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3, was also harmless. The record plainly shows that Brea drafted the warrants and supporting affidavits and was the agent who requested and received the warrants.

Jenkins makes a second assertion with respect to the search warrants for his bank records. He asserts that they were invalid because they were not returned until March 5, 2018—thirty days after issuance. M.R.C.P. Rule 4.3, however, does not require the return to be filed within a certain period. Further, M.R.C.P. Rule 4.4, governing “Return of Papers to Court,” only requires that the search warrant be returned “promptly.” MRCrP 4.4(b).

Thoughts

Here is a copy of MRCP.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO161329.pdf