Search and seizure, independent source: HORN V. COM. (COA 11/9/2007)


DATE RENDERED: 11/09/2007

COA affirmed conditional guilty plea to manufacturing methamphetamine and possession of anhydrous ammonia in an unapproved container with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine finding the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s suppression motion.

In the case, the suspect/defendant refused consent, and the police detained him at the scene and obtained a search warrant for the building.   During the execution of the search warrant, police discovered several items connected to the manufacture of methamphetamine and also a firearm. Additionally, after exposure to ultraviolet light, it was confirmed that Horn’s hands contained the substance used to treat the packaged items.

Horn filed a motion to suppress on the basis that the search of the garage violated his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Commonwealth responded that the search and seizure was valid under the exigent circumstances exception or, in the alternative, pursuant to a valid search warrant.

In its written order, although finding that the warrantless, forced entry of the garage was not justified under the exigent circumstances exception, the trial court ruled that the subsequent search of the garage was constitutional because of the valid search warrant. While the forced entry by officers had been illegal, the court ruled that the warrant sufficiently removed the taint of the illegal entry because its issuance was entirely unrelated to any information acquired after the illegal entry into the garage.  Although Horn acknowledges that a search warrant was issued after the forced entry of the garage, citing United States v. Chambers, 395 F.3d 563 (6th Cir. 2005), he contends that the incriminating evidence should have been suppressed as being the fruits of an illegal search despite the issuance of the search warrant. COA disagreed with him.

It is well established that evidence is not to be excluded if the connection between the illegal police conduct and the discovery and seizure of the evidence is so attenuated as to dissipate the taint of the illegal police conduct. Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 805, 104 S.Ct. 3380, 82 L.Ed.2d 599 (1984).

Essentially, if the police discovered the subject evidence from an “independent source,” unrelated to their illegal conduct, the evidence can be admitted against a defendant despite his invocation of the exclusionary rule. Wilson v. Commonwealth, 37 S.W.3d at 748. Put simply, the exclusionary rule has no application when the police learned and discovered the incriminating evidence from a source “sufficiently distinguishable” (independent) from the initial illegality so that the evidence’s taint of illegality  is purged. Id.

In this case, the COA held the issuance of the search warrant, which was based solely on information obtained from the two confidential informants prior to the forced entry of the garage, constituted an independent source that was sufficiently distinguishable from the illegal forced entry of the garage.  AFFIRMED.

Digested by Michael Stevens

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