Supreme Court upholds warrants that led to marijuana grow house

The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the issuance of two search warrants that led to the discovery of an indoor marijuana operation and an Indianapolis man’s two drug felonies, finding an Indianapolis police detective provided a substantial basis to issue the warrants.

After the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department received an anonymous tip about a possible marijuana grow operation at Brandon McGrath’s home, Detective Sergeant Kerry Buckner began conducting surveillance and noticed several of the home’s windows were covered and had window air-conditioning units, despite the home having central air. Buckner also observed a “high intensity glow” from the windows in the evenings, all consistent with an indoor marijuana operation.

Buckner requested and received a search warrant for a “forward looking infrared” device that uncovered a heat signature also typical of a marijuana operation. IMPD then obtained a second warrant to search the premises and found 180 marijuana plants, as well as other tools needed for an indoor grow operation. McGrath was arrested and charged with one count each of dealing in and possession of marijuana as Class D felonies.

McGrath moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home, arguing the search warrants lacked probable cause. The Marion Superior Court disagreed and denied the motion, and McGrath was found guilty as charged.

However, a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in July 2017, agreeing with McGrath that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the informant’s tip. Specifically, the majority found that though Buckner had extensive training with marijuana operations, that training was insufficient to establish probable cause.

But after hearing oral argument in November, the justices of the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on Tuesday in Brandon McGrath v. State of Indiana, 49S04-1710-CR-653.

Turning first to the warrant for the infrared device, Justice Mark Massa wrote for the unanimous court that Buckner’s investigation into and observations of the home were “sufficiently indicative of a marijuana grow” when viewed together and in light of his training. Thus, even though Buckner did not corroborate the marijuana odor reported by the informant, there was still a substantial basis to support the first warrant, Massa said.

Similarly, the issuance of the second warrant was proper under the collective knowledge doctrine, Massa said. Specifically, the justice noted that Buckner’s second warrant affidavit indicated he was seeking it based on the results of the infrared investigation, which was carried out by another IMPD detective.

“While the affidavit failed to disclose (the detective’s) training and experience, the magistrate could reasonably have inferred the detective’s expertise in conducting the (infrared) search based on Detective Buckner’s tacit endorsement of his fellow-officer’s work,” Massa wrote.


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