On April 26, 2020, Travis County, Texas dispatchers were notified that a trailer was on fire in the city of Austin, Texas. Following firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the fire, a woman’s body—later determined to be Dana Crocker-Norman—was found in the wreckage of the trailer. Crocker-Norman’s boyfriend, Billy Wayne Hope, III, was informed of the fire and arrived on the scene. Hope reported that he had been at the trailer earlier in the day and that, when he left, Kristopher Dean Putnam was asleep under a tree adjacent to the trailer.
During their investigation into Crocker-Norman’s death, officers determined that Putnam had provided false information about his whereabouts on the day of the fire and concluded that his cellphone might contain evidence that could aid in establishing his location around the time of the blaze. In the affidavit supporting the search warrant, affiant Detective Nathan Matteson outlined (1) Putnam’s inconsistent statements regarding his whereabouts, which Putnam himself later admitted were false, (2) the statements and corroborating evidence provided by another witness who was with Putnam that day and contradicted Putnam’s version of events, and (3) a Fire Marshal’s evaluation of Putnam’s statements about the fire. The affidavit laid out the scope of the requested search, including global position system location data, text messages, photographs, and videos stored on Putnam’s phone. It also included the procedures to be used for handling the data stored on the phone. A state judge in Travis County subsequently issued the search warrant.
Kristopher Dean Putnam was charged with one count of distribution of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(2), and one count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2). Evidence leading to his indictment was seized during the execution of a search warrant that authorized officers to search his cellphone for evidence related to the offense of capital murder.
Putnam moved to suppress the evidence discovered during the execution of the search warrant. The district court denied his suppression motion, and he pleaded guilty plea to both counts, reserving his right to appeal the suppression ruling. On appeal, Putnam contends that the search warrant (1) lacked indicia of probable cause that a crime was committed, (2) failed to connect his cellphone to criminal activity, and (3) was over-broad and lacked the requisite particularity because it authorized officers to search the entire contents of his cellphone. Because the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies, we affirm.
If the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies, we may affirm without further inquiry. However, the good-faith exception does not apply if: (1) the affidavit is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable or (2) the warrant is so facially deficient in failing to particularize the place to be searched or things to be seized that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid. See SCOTUS United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).
Contrary to Putnam’s assertions, the affidavit contained more than wholly conclusional statements. Instead, it provided specific facts and circumstances that allowed the issuing judge to make a probable-cause determination regarding the search of the cellphone. The totality of the circumstances confirm that the affidavit is not bare bones. For example, it set forth facts indicating that Putnam had provided false information about his whereabouts shortly after the fire, and it included a Fire Marshal’s evaluation of Putnam’s statements that contradicted his version of events. Additionally, Putnam has not shown that the search warrant was impermissibly overbroad and has therefore failed to show that the warrant was so facially deficient in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized that the executing officers could not reasonably presume it to be valid.
Because the executing officer’s reliance on the warrant was objectively reasonable and made in good faith, we uphold the district court’s rejection of Putnam’s challenge to the good-faith exception.