United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
case involves a challenge to the validity of a search warrant
issued by a state magistrate to officers conducting a murder
investigation in Effingham County, Georgia. Defendant Juan
Rangel-Rubio, an illegal alien charged with the unlawful
possession of a rifle seized during the execution of that
warrant, contends that the warrant violated the Fourth
Amendment by failing to particularize his residence as a
place to be searched and by failing to set forth a
probable-cause basis for the search. Docs. 37 & 51.
Because the warrant specifically and clearly described each
of the multiple dwellings that the magistrate authorized to
be searched, including the camper where Rangel-Rubio had a
bedroom, his particularity challenge is utterly without
merit. Defendant's attack on the probable cause
underpinnings of the warrant fails to acknowledge the
deferential standard of review that this Court must utilize
when assessing the warrant's validity. Under the
appropriate “great deference” standard,
Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236 (1983), the
warrant affidavit provided a “substantial basis”
for the state magistrate's finding of probable cause to
search the property described in the warrant. Even if the
state magistrate erred, however, the officers had an
objective, good faith belief that the warrant was valid both
when it was issued and when it was executed. Accordingly,
this case does not call for an application of the
exclusionary rule, and thus defendant's motion to
suppress should be denied.
essential facts are not in dispute. On August 19, 2017, Garden
City police officers discovered the lifeless body of Eliud
Montoya, who had been shot in the back of his head and in his
back by a small-caliber weapon. Detective Roberto Rodriguez,
a Chatham County Officer and the lead homicide investigator,
soon identified Pablo Rangel and his nephew, Refugio Ramirez,
as the chief suspects. Det. Rodriguez then prepared a warrant
affidavit seeking authorization to search certain property
owned by Rangel in Effingham County, Georgia. The detective
had a police sergeant and a police captain
“proofread” the affidavit, and he conferred with
an assistant district attorney, who opined that there was
sufficient probable cause to seek a warrant. Later that same
evening, Det. Rodriguez called an Effingham County Magistrate
and arranged to meet with her the next morning, a Saturday.
During their brief meeting, the detective supplemented his
written affidavit with certain sworn, but unrecorded, oral
testimony, which is permissible under Georgia law. King
v. State, 263 Ga. 741, 743, 438 S.E.2d 620 (1994).
Rodriguez sought leave to search Pablo Rangel's rural,
26-acre property for guns, ammunition, shell casings, and
other items believed to be pertinent to the murder
investigation. Aff. at 1. He described the property to be
searched as follows:
275 Milton Rahn Road, Rincon Georgia, 31326. The residence
and property can be reached by traveling on Rahn Station Road
from Highway 21 for 2 miles making a left onto Milton Rahn
Road and traveling 1.2 miles and the residence (tan in color)
will be located on the left following [sic] by the mobile
home (gray in color). See Exhibit A and B.
Property is owned by Pablo Rangel. Property is listed with
having 26.65 acres. Land has multiple dwellings that can not
be accessed without driving on a private drive that dead ends
on this land. Residence has a newer structure identified as a
modular home, as well as multiple trailers as follows. Gray
in color mobile home with white trim located at the far end
the driveway. Light colored pull behind camper located in the
rear of the gray mobile home, tan in color residence with
wooden porch on the back located before reaching the gray
mobile home. There are currently 8-10 vehicles on the
next two pages, Det. Rodriguez set out the facts offered in
support of a probable cause finding. In brief, those facts
• The previous day, August 19, 2017, someone had
murdered Eliud Montoya by shooting him once in the back of
the head and twice in the back. Aff. at 2, 3.
• The gunshot wounds appeared to have been inflicted by
a small caliber (possibly a .22 caliber) weapon. Id.
at 3. Montoya, whose nose had also been broken, did not
exhibit any wounds suggesting that he had fought with his
assailant. Id. at 3.
• Montoya appeared to have been working on a large
tree-service work truck at the time of the murder.
Id. at 2. The investigators saw no evidence that
Montoya had been robbed, for his personal vehicle was parked
next to the work truck and no items appeared to be missing.
Id. at 3.
• Montoya's mother arrived at the scene and informed
Det. Rodriguez that Montoya's boss, Pablo Rangel, had
killed him. Id. at 2. She reported that the two men
had had a falling out at work on August 17, 2017. She stated
that Montoya had filed a complaint against Rangel with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and that
there were documents that would support her statement.
• When Det. Rodriguez interviewed Montoya's wife at
their nearby residence, she independently confirmed the
information furnished by his mother. Id. She also
furnished documentation reflecting his employment by Wolf
Tree Experts, as well as a manila envelope from the EEOC
containing four legal statements from that company's
employees, including one by Montoya. Id. Those
statements advised the EEOC that the employees were in the
United States illegally and that they had been mistreated and
taken advantage of by their supervisor, Pablo Rangel, who
withheld some of their pay. Id. Inside Montoya's
vehicle the investigators found further documentation
reflecting a work conflict between Montoya and Rangel.
Id. at 3.
• Joel Reyes, one of the EEOC complainants accusing
Pablo Rangel of mistreatment, confirmed the truthfulness of
his notarized statement to the EEOC. Id. at 3. He
advised that Rangel would provide the employees with a Social
Security Number and phony personal identifiers so that they
could be added to the company payroll. Id. Rangel
did not want Montoya to share this information with anyone.
Reyes had warned Montoya to leave Rangel alone, for he was
going to have him killed. Id. Reyes did not believe
that Pablo Rangel would kill Montoya but that he had family
members who were willing to do so. Id.
• The investigators learned that Refugio Ramirez, one of
Pablo Rangel's nephews, lived in a trailer on
Rangel's property. Id. at 3. A 2014 police
report revealed that Ramirez had been arrested for possession
of a concealed weapon, a .22 magnum SuperX pistol.
Id. Ramirez, who worked with the same tree service
company as the murder victim, currently had an outstanding
arrest warrant from Chatham County.
search warrant that Det. Rodriguez prepared reflected the
same property description as the warrant affidavit. Warrant
at 1. Again, that property description stated that Pablo
Rangel's 26.65-acre tract could “not be accessed
without driving on a private drive that dead ends on this
land.” Id. When the detective appeared before
the magistrate, he testified under oath that he had been
unable to view Rangel's property himself, because he had
been assured by local officers that anyone driving down the
secluded private drive would certainly be spotted, thus
tipping the investigators' hand. Instead, he relied upon
information furnished by Effingham County deputies who had
previously been on the property. The detective further
explained to the magistrate that he was seeking authorization
to search each of the structures and vehicles ...