United States v. Needham

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-14-2013
  • Case #: 12-50097
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M. Smith, Jr. for the Court; Concurrences by Circuit Judges Berzon and Tallman
  • Full Text Opinion

The “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule from United States v. Leon applies when officers searched in reasonable reliance on a search warrant, even when the warrant is based solely on the inference that individuals who molest children likely possess child pornography.

An Orange Police Department (“OPD”) officer obtained a warrant to search Nicholas James Needham’s residence for evidence of child molestation. The warrant also authorized OPD to search for child pornography because the officer believed that individuals who have a sexual interest in children often possess child pornography. Besides the officer’s opinion, the warrant did not provide any other basis to believe that Needham possessed child pornography. During the search, OPD found child pornography. Needham was arrested and indicted for possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). Needham moved to suppress the evidence because OPD lacked probable cause to suspect that he possessed child pornography. The district court denied the motion based on the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule in United States v. Leon. Needham appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the warrant did not provide probable cause to search for child pornography when based solely on the officer’s opinion and that the district court erred in applying Leon’s good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Leon provides that suppression of evidence is not justified if “the officers’ reliance on magistrate’s determination of probable cause was objectively reasonable…” even if the warrant is unsupported by probable cause. To suppress evidence, the warrant must be unreasonable. Since Dougherty v. City of Covina, inferences that individuals who molest children are likely to possess child pornography do not create probable cause to search for child pornography, but the searching officers are entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit found that based on Dougherty, the search was executed in objectively reasonable reliance on the search warrant, and the Leon “good faith” exception applied. AFFIRMED.

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