FBI agent’s experience enough to suggest ‘fair probability’ for drug evidence

The 7th Circuit Court has ruled that an FBI agent’s extensive experience dealing with drug-trafficking crimes was enough to establish probable cause to search a man’s home and to allow the admission at trial of the contraband found pursuant to the search.

In November 2016, FBI Special Agent Tim Bates prepared a search warrant application and 84‐page affidavit to search the home of drug-trafficking conspirator Juan Zamudio, with Bates setting forth three specific instances of Zamudio’s participation in the conspiracy. During the subsequent search of Zamudio’s home, approximately 11 kilograms of methamphetamine, a loaded gun and a cellphone used to make intercepted calls were seized.

Prior to the ensuing trial, a district court judge granted Zamudio’s motion to suppress the seized items on the basis that there was not a sufficient nexus between the criminal conduct and his home.

On interlocutory appeal, the state argued the Southern District Court erred in granting Zamudio’s motion to suppress. Specifically, it contended that Bates’ affidavit gave the magistrate judge sufficient information suggesting a “fair probability” that evidence of a crime would be found at Zamudio’s home.

The 7th Circuit agreed, basing its ruling in USA v. Juan Zamudio,18-1529, on Bates’ experience and familiarity with federal electronic wiretap investigations, drug investigations and searches, and his knowledge of how narcotics traffickers conduct their business.

“Based on Agent Bates’s experience and training, he asserted that drug traffickers generally store their drug‐related paraphernalia and maintain records relating to their drug‐trafficking at their residences—a fact we too have recognized,” Judge Amy St. Eve wrote for the panel. “…He further swore that drug dealers commonly store large sums of drug money and evidence of financial transactions from drug sales in their residences. Drug traffickers, according to Agent Bates, also typically possess firearms at their residences to protect their profits and drug supplies.”

The 7th Circuit cited United States v. Orozco, 576 F.3d 745, 749 (7th Cir. 2009) to support its conclusion, noting that in Orozco the only support for the link between a high‐ranking gang member and the likelihood of locating drug‐dealing evidence at his home was the “FBI agent’s belief informed by his 10 years of experience investigating drug‐trafficking crimes.”

“Zamudio believes this ruling will endorse a categorical approach that in every case where a drug trafficker is involved, we will uphold a finding of probable cause to search the drug trafficker’s residence,” St. Eve concluded. “We have repeatedly rejected that approach…and we do again now. In the end, probable cause is a practical, common‐sense decision best left to the magistrate judge issuing the search warrant.”

The 7th Circuit therefore reversed the motion to suppress and remanded for further proceedings.

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