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United States v. Thomas

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 8, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
LAMARCUS THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: September 28, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Harrisonburg. Michael F. Urbanski, Chief District Judge. (5:16-cr-00001-MFU-JCH-1)

         ARGUED:

          Andrea Lantz Harris, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Nancy Spodick Healey, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Larry W. Shelton, Federal Public Defender, Christine Madeleine Lee, Assistant Federal Defender for Appellate Litigation, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Leslie Williams Fisher, Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; Rick A. Mountcastle, Acting United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before WILKINSON and HARRIS, Circuit Judges, and William L. OSTEEN, Jr., United States District Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

          PAMELA HARRIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Detective Charles Coleman arrested LaMarcus Thomas on charges of aggravated sexual battery, and seized a cell phone from Thomas during a search incident to the arrest. After Coleman obtained a warrant to search the phone, authorities discovered sexually explicit images and videos involving children.

         Charged with producing child pornography, Thomas moved to suppress that evidence, arguing that the affidavit submitted with Coleman's warrant application was insufficient to establish probable cause for the search. The district court agreed that the affidavit was deficient, but nevertheless denied Thomas's motion to suppress under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule articulated in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). While the affidavit alone did not establish probable cause, the district court reasoned, additional information known to Coleman was enough to give rise to an objectively reasonable belief that there was probable cause for the search.

         We agree with the district court that the evidence obtained from Thomas's phone is admissible under Leon. Our precedents make clear that in assessing an officer's objective good faith in executing a search warrant, we may consider facts known to the officer, but inadvertently omitted from a warrant affidavit. And under all the circumstances presented here, Coleman had a reasonable basis to believe ...


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