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First Circuit: Home Search Affidavit Failed to Establish Nexus of Crime and Evidence

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the suppression of evidence seized from a suspected drug dealer’s home as fruit of the poisonous tree.

Jamal Roman was alleged in a search warrant application submitted by DEA Special Agent Scott Smith to be “a known cocaine trafficker” who “oversaw distribution of narcotics” for Javier Gonzalez. That suspicion was the result of the cooperation of a confidential informant (“CI”) who in January 2014 was caught with three kilograms of cocaine. The CI subsequently agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, who then initiated surveillance of Roman and Gonzalez.

Two months later, Smith drafted an affidavit to support a search warrant application of seven locations. The search warrants were granted on March 21, 2014, and the searches conducted four days later. Roman was indicted on March 24, 2016, by a grand jury on one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin and a count of distribution and possession of cocaine.

He moved to suppress the fruits of the search of his person, residence, and business. The district court found the affidavit supporting the searches “contained material misrepresentations and omissions made with reckless disregard for the truth and without which a finding of probable cause would not have been made.” It granted suppression of evidence obtained from the business and home, which yielded $438,560, a firearm, and photographic identification documents.

The Government appealed as to the search of the home only, arguing there was a nexus between drug activity and the home. The First Circuit noted that the nexus element requires a showing that “enumerated evidence of the offense will be found at the place searched.” United States v. Dixon, 787 F.3d 55 (1st Cir. 2015).

The inquiry is not whether “the owner of the property is suspected of crime” but rather whether “there is reasonable cause to believe that the specific things to be searched for and being seized are located on the property to which entry is sought.” Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978).

The First Circuit saw “no basis to conclude … that drug related evidence would be present at Roman’s home.” The Government failed to show he dealt drugs from the home, and it agreed the drug headquarters was among the other searched places. There was no showing in the affidavit that Roman had even been at the home in question, was his residence or that he had taken contraband there. The statement that he was a known drug dealer was conclusionary.

The affidavit also failed to offer corroboration that Roman was a close associate of Gonzalez or oversaw a narcotics operation. The statement that Roman was a known drug dealer was found to be conclusionary and unsupported by any facts. The affidavit was found to rely upon “speculative inferences piled upon inferences” that Roman’s home would yield evidence. As it failed to establish “a clear and substantial connection between the illegal activity and the place searched,” the district court properly suppressed the fruits of that search, the Court ruled.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of the motion to suppress evidence obtained from Roman’s residence. See: United States v. Roman, 942 F.3d 43 (1st Cir. 2019).  

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Related legal case

United States v. Roman



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