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United States v. Babin

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2019




         Before the Court is Henry Babin's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 18) evidence derived from the search of a "shed-like structure" he calls his home. The Court held a hearing on the motion on July 2, 2019. (Doc. 25). Counsel offered argument, and David Ferris, a special agent with the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, testified for the United States. (Id.). For the reasons that follow, the Motion (Doc. 18) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a child-exploitation case. Principally at issue is whether agents exceeded the scope of a warrant authorizing the search of a "residence" when they searched a "shed-lite structure" on the property but not mentioned in the warrant. The Court holds that they did not and that, in any event, the good-faith exception controls.

         Henry Babin was indicted for knowingly possessing material containing images of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). (Doc. 1). The evidence against him includes images stored on electronic devices seized during the execution of a search warrant. (Doc. 4 in No. 3:18-MJ-011-UNA).

         The warrant authorized the search of "[t]he residence located at 43420 Black Bayou Road, Gonzales, Louisiana[.]" (Doc. 1 at p. 2 in No. 3:18-MJ-011). It included images depicting the aerial and street views of the property. (Id.). It described the "residence" as a "one-story single-family dwelling with white sliding [sic] and a grey roof." (Id.). And it noted that "[a] small travel trailer is on the property next to the carport." (Id.). It did not mention any secondary structure located behind the main dwelling. (Id.).

         Special Agent Ferris and others[1] executed the warrant. (Transcript of 7/2/19 Hearing at p. 20). They began by securing the main dwelling. (Id.). Special Agent Ferris then walked to his car, which he had parked near a tin-sided shed-like structure 30 to 50 feet behind the main dwelling. (Id. at pp. 21 & 33). The shed-like structure appeared to be a part of the main dwelling: it did not have a separate mailbox; it did not have an external air-conditioning unit; it was not fenced off from the main dwelling; it did not have its own water meter; and it relied on the main dwelling for electricity. (Id. at p. 26). A "no trespassing" sign, however, hung from a nearby tree.[2] (Id. at p. 45).

         As he walked to his car, Special Agent Ferris saw Babin emerge from the shedlike structure. (Id. at p. 33). Special Agent Ferris identified himself and asked Babin if the structure was "part of the residence." (Id.). Babin responded that it was. (Id.). Special Agent Ferris next asked if the shed-like structure and the main dwelling shared an address; Babin again responded in the affirmative. (Id. at p. 34).

         Next, Special Agent Ferris entered the structure and began to search its interior. (Id. at p. 45). At some point, Babin told Special Agent Ferris that the structure was his "residence."[3] (Id.). But Special Agent Ferris continued the search, eventually discovering electronic devices containing evidence of child pornography. (Id.). Babin moves to suppress that evidence. (Doc. 18).

         Babin contends the search violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 18-1 at p. 1). He contends, in particular, that the executing agents exceeded the scope of the warrant when they entered and searched the shed-like structure. (Id.). He notes that the warrant did not mention the shed-like structure, and he emphasizes that the structure is his home and thus enjoys heightened Fourth Amendment protection."[4] (Id.). The United States rejoins that the warrant "implicitly authorized" the search. (Doc. 20 at p. 5).


         The text of the Fourth Amendment imposes two requirements. See Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011). This case concerns the second one: no warrant shall issue unless it is based on probable cause and "particularly" describes the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. U.S. Const, amend. IV.

         The Fourth Amendment demands "practical accuracy" not "technical precision" in a warrant's description of the place to be searched. United States v. Olinde, 2006 WL 1049048, at *4 (5th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (citation omitted). So the physical description does '"not limit the scope of the search to those specific areas, but instead ma[kes] the premises to be searched more readily identifiable."' Olinde, 2006 1049048, at *4 (quoting United States v. Griffin, 827 F.2d 1108, 1115 (7th Cir. 1987), cert, denied, 485 U.S. 909 (1988)).

         The scope of a warrant with an otherwise adequate description extends to structures that are '"ordinarily a part of [the] residential property[.]'" Olinde, 2006 1049048, at *4 (quoting United States v. Earls,42 F.3d 1321, 1327 (10th Cir. 1994), cert, denied,514 U.S. 1085 (1995). For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that a warrant authorizing the search of a residence at a particular address also authorized the search of a ...

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