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United States v. Jobe

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 9, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Royce Lequient Jobe, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted May 17, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California D.C. No. 2:17-cr-00003-GW-1 George H. Wu, District Judge, Presiding

          Bram M. Alden (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; L. Ashley Aull, Chief, Criminal Appeals Section; Nicola T. Hanna, United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Margaret A. Farrand (argued), Deputy Federal Public Defender; Hilary Potashner, Federal Public Defender; Office of the Federal Public Defender, Los Angeles, California; for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges, and Edward R. Korman, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Criminal Law

         The panel reversed the district court's order suppressing evidence found on a laptop that was seized pursuant to a State of California warrant and searched pursuant to a federal warrant.

         The panel accepted that there was insufficient probable cause to seize the laptop, but held that a DHS special agent's affidavit supporting the state warrant contained sufficient information to render his reliance on the state warrant to seize the laptop reasonable.

         The panel held that even assuming that the 21-day delay between the seizure of the laptop pursuant to the state warrant and the search of the laptop pursuant to the federal warrant was unreasonable, suppression is not warranted. The panel explained that the delay does not evince negligence on the part of the special agent, let alone deliberate and culpable misconduct; that the record does not suggest recurring or systemic negligence; that the special agent's good-faith efforts to comply with the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment indicate that his conduct was not "sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system"; and that there is no indication that the special agent believed he was depriving the defendant of a legitimate possessory interest.



         On or about October 26, 2016, Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") agents received a tip that marijuana was being grown at an address in Van Nuys, California. The tipper stated that shortly after Royce Jobe moved in next door, "a brown privacy fence was constructed to hide the view of the detached garage on the property," "a strong smell of marijuana" began emanating from the house, and there had been "a lot of activity in the late evening at the house including multiple vehicles arriving and individuals coming and going." On or about November 3, Special Agent Paul Cotcher found that the utilities account associated with the residence was not registered under Jobe's name. Cotcher prepared an affidavit outlining the information in the tip and stating that power use for the property had spiked, Jobe had prior convictions for possession of a firearm and marijuana, and Jobe had a business registered as "420 Boutique," a reference to marijuana. The affidavit also stated that Cotcher had observed "PVC piping, planters, and cooling fans" attached to and around the garage.

         Based on that affidavit, on November 21, a California state judge issued a warrant authorizing a search of Jobe's residence and the seizure of certain property, including "[a]rticles of personal property tending to establish and document sales of [marijuana, ] . . . including . . . hard drives." The next day, on November 22, Cotcher and other officers executed the warrant and seized, among other items, drugs, a pistol, Jobe's laptop and other electronic devices. The laptop was not searched at that time.

         After the evidence was seized, Cotcher contacted the United States Attorney's Office ("USAO") to ask whether the case would be prosecuted federally. Over the next ten days, Cotcher continued his investigation: He logged and arranged for storage of seized evidence, obtained Jobe's rental application and lease agreement, interviewed a postal employee who stated that Jobe mailed packages three to four times a week, and interviewed individuals whose names were tied to the utilities accounts Jobe used. On or about December 1, Cotcher was informed that the case would be prosecuted federally. He began drafting an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and a federal warrant to search the laptop, which he completed on or about December 7. On December 12, twenty days after the laptop was seized, the complaint was filed and the warrant was signed. That same day, agents searched Jobe's laptop. The ...

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