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United States v. Hoerth

December 05, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 01-CR-52-C-1--Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

Before Coffey, Manion and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffey, Circuit Judge.


Larry L. Koerth appeals the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized by police officers acting under the authority of a facially valid search warrant issued by a state judge. The district court found that even though the affidavit was insufficient to establish the probable cause requirement for the issuance of a search warrant, the evidence seized was admissible under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). We affirm.


On the morning of August 31, 2000, Wisconsin West Central Drug Task Force *fn1 Investigator Tina Sturz obtained a search warrant from Chippewa County Circuit Judge Roderick A. Cameron authorizing the search of a house occupied by Larry L. Koerth and his girlfriend in the town of Bloomer, Wis. Thereafter, Inv. Sturz and several other agents entered the residence and seized illegal weapons, ammunition, and drugs. *fn2 The case was referred to the federal authorities for prosecution, and subsequently a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Koerth with unlawful possession of controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and an assault weapon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(o).

Before trial Koerth filed a motion to suppress the evidence. The trial judge referred the motion to U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker for review and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The defendant argued that the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment because the agents could not have reasonably believed that the warrant was supported by probable cause, notwithstanding the state judge's ruling to the contrary. After reviewing the relevant law and the documents submitted by the defendant with his motion, Magistrate Judge Crocker recommended that the defendant's motion to suppress should be denied, for despite the judge's opinion that Sturz's affidavit failed to establish probable cause, he found that the agents reasonably believed that the affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause in the officers' minds.

The magistrate's report was filed with the trial judge, who reviewed the recommendation and findings and issued a 2-page order adopting his recommendations and denying the motion to suppress. The court ruled that "although it is the case that the affidavit in support of the search warrant lacked sufficient facts to establish probable cause . . . [it] was not so clearly inadequate that this fact would have been obvious to the officers." Defendant Koerth thereafter appeared before the trial judge, entered into a limited plea agreement, and pled guilty to both of the charges in the indictment--possession of illegal substances and an assault weapon--with a reservation of the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The court accepted the agreement and the guilty plea, received testimony and found the defendant guilty as charged, and sentenced him to 71 months in prison followed by a three-year term of supervised release.


We defer to the warrant-issuing judge's initial determination of probable cause if "there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the judge's decision." United States v. Lloyd, 71 F.3d 1256, 1262 (7th Cir. 1995). We apply the clear error standard of review to any additional factual findings or credibility determinations made by the district judge based upon affidavits and/or testimony received during a suppression hearing, and apply the de novo standard of review to the federal court's ultimate legal conclusion of whether a law enforcement officer reasonably relied upon a subsequently invalidated search warrant. See United States v. Spry, 190 F.3d 829, 834-35 (7th Cir. 1999); United States v. Adames, 56 F.3d 737, 747 (7th Cir. 1995).



The issue is whether the trial court committed error when it denied the motion to suppress the evidence seized. Unless "the magistrate or judge in issuing a warrant was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth," we will suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a facially valid warrant issued by a neutral, detached magistrate only if: (1) the warrant is later invalidated; and (2) the police could not have relied in objective good faith upon the neutral and detached magistrate's decision to issue the warrant. See Leon, 468 U.S. at 914, 923.

When there is a genuine dispute about whether a police officer could have reasonably relied in good faith upon a state judge's decision to issue a search warrant, reviewing courts are encouraged to consider this threshold question first: Did the affidavit provide the magistrate with a "substantial basis" to rule that there was probable cause? Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). If the question is answered in the affirmative, then it follows that the officer's actions were reasonable. On the other hand, if this question is answered in the negative, then we must ascertain the answer to the question: Could the officer have reasonably believed that the facts set forth in the affidavit were sufficient to support a magistrate's finding of probable cause? See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 920-24 (1984); see also United States v. Danhauer, 229 F.3d 1002, 1005-07 (10th Cir. 2000); United States v. Dahlman, 13 F.3d 1391, 1397-98 (10th Cir. 1993). By resolving the issue of probable cause before ...

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