7th Circuit finds search warrant of suspected drug dealer’s home valid

A northern Indiana man could not convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that a search of his home that revealed drugs and firearms was baseless and that he endured prosecutorial misconduct during his trial.

In June 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sought a federal warrant to search for evidence of drug trafficking and unlawful possession of a firearm at Adonnis Carswell’s New Haven home.

Trouble for Carswell began after he was pulled over for driving 100 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone, providing officers with his home address. Law enforcement, which had suspected Carswell of drug dealing but had not yet figured out where he lived, then preceded with surveillance of his house for several days.

To establish probable cause, the officer’s supporting search affidavit relied on three sources of information: a trash pull from Carswell’s driveway that turned up evidence of drugs, drug packaging materials and a firearm purchase; Carswell’s prior drug-related activity; and a tip from a recently arrested drug dealer who identified Carswell as their supplier.

A federal magistrate judge issued a warrant to search Carswell’s residence based solely on the affidavit. Law enforcement then confiscated 64 grams of heroin, five cell phones, $25,000 in cash, firearms and ammunition, and drug packaging materials, including two digital scales that field-tested positive for cocaine and a machete laced with marijuana residue.

After Carswell was convicted of four drug and firearm offenses, including possession of heroin with intent to distribute, he moved to suppress all evidence seized in the search of his residence, asserting the warrant failed to establish probable cause. The Northern Indiana District Court denied the motion.

On appeal, Carswell argued the search warrant for his residence was issued without probable cause, so the heroin, cash and firearms found there should have been suppressed as evidence. He also contended several portions of the prosecutor’s closing arguments violated his constitutional rights.

Denying both of his claims in a Thursday decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in United States of America v. Adonnis Carswell, 20-1036.

First, the 7th Circuit found that the judge who issued the search warrant had a reasonable basis for thinking evidence of drug and firearm crimes was likely to be found at Carswell’s home. It concluded the search affidavit’s three pieces of information all together gave the issuing judge probable cause to issue the warrant.

“The combination of the drug and firearm evidence from the trash pull, Carswell’s prior convictions, and the informant’s tip was enough to support, even if not to require, a finding of probable cause for the search warrant. We need not address the officer’s good-faith reliance on the warrant. The district court properly denied Carswell’s motion to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to the search warrant,” Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote for the panel.

On Carswell’s second point, the 7th Circuit concluded the prosecution’s closing arguments were not improper, did not make Carswell’s trial unfair and did not deny him due process of law.

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