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Taylor v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 5, 2018


          HINES, Chief Justice.

         We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether an affidavit executed in support of an application for a search warrant that does not specifically say that the residence to be searched is the residence of the suspect may nevertheless be sufficient to establish that connection based on inferences that can be drawn from the affidavit and thus be sufficient to establish a nexus between the evidence to be seized and the place to the searched. See Taylor v. State, 338 Ga.App. 804, 813-815 (2) (a) (792 S.E.2d 101) (2016). We conclude that an affidavit may be sufficient to connect the suspect to the residence based on inferences that can be drawn from the affidavit. Here, the affidavit was sufficient to establish that connection, and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         1. On January 7, 2009, a Gwinnett County grand jury indicted appellant Harry Brett Taylor for 32 sex crimes against 17 different children. In November 2013, Taylor filed a motion to suppress evidence seized during a July 2008 search of a residence at 1751 Bergen Court in Gwinnett County. That search was conducted pursuant to a search warrant authorizing a search of 1751 Bergen Court for cameras, computers, and electronic storage devices for evidence of the crimes of child molestation and sexual battery. The supporting affidavit for the search warrant, which was supplied by Detective King of the Gwinnett County Police Department, said that probable cause existed to believe that those crimes had been committed and provided, in part, as follows:

The facts establishing probable cause in searching for and seizing the foregoing specifically described person(s), property, items, articles, instruments connected with the foregoing crime(s) at the location described herein are:
The geographic location of the above listed specifically described person(s), property to be searched for and seized is . . . more particularly described as . . . [t]he residence . . . on the property of 1751 Bergen Court, Lawrenceville, Ga. 30043 inside Gwinnett County.

         "Attachment 'A'" described various activities relating to the alleged sexual assaults by Taylor. The activities occurred at "the Taylor's"; at "the Taylor residence"; in "Mr. Taylor's bedroom"; "in Mr. Taylor's in ground swimming pool"; and in "Mr. Taylor's house." The attachment concluded by saying that "there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and there may be evidence to support such crimes at said location" and that a search warrant should be granted "so that the crime scene might be processed, photographed, and the evidence of the crime documented and seized." Neither the affidavit nor the attachment said that Taylor's house was located at 1751 Bergen Court.

         In his motion to suppress, Taylor contended that the affidavit did not contain facts to establish that "the Taylor residence" was located at 1751 Bergen Court, and that, without this information, the magistrate had no basis upon which to conclude that evidence of the crimes could be found at that address and thus did not have probable cause to issue a warrant for the search of 1751 Bergen Court. In April 2014, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. Following a bench trial in December 2014, Taylor was found guilty on all but one count of the indictment, and he appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. See Taylor, 338 Ga.App. 804.[1] In ruling against Taylor's claim that the affidavit and attachment failed to establish that he resided at 1751 Bergen Court, the Court of Appeals said that it had found "no Georgia case addressing a similar alleged deficiency in a warrant application, " but that "other jurisdictions have applied a common-sense approach to resolving the issue when the affidavit fails to state explicitly that an address to be searched is the residence of the suspect." Taylor, 338 Ga.App. at 814 (2) (a). Relying on State v. Trujillo, 266 P.3d 1, 6-7 (N.M. 2011), and United States v. Hunter, 86 F.3d 679, 681-682 (7th Cir. 1996), the Court of Appeals adopted the rule that

when the affidavit describes only one place connected to the suspect, such as a residence, and lists a specific address to be searched, a connection between the address described where evidence can be found and the probable cause outlined in the affidavit "is the only logical conclusion supported by a common-sense reading of the affidavit."

Taylor, 338 Ga.App. at 814-815 (2) (a) (quoting Trujillo, 266 P.3d at 6). The Court of Appeals quoted Trujillo extensively to explain the rationale for the rule.

"Barring a hypertechnical reading of the affidavit, an inference that the residence described is the same as the residence where evidence can be found, is much more reasonable than its opposite - that the residence described in such painstaking detail actually has no relationship to the events of this case. We think the reviewing judge was well within his rights to draw the rational inference and avoid the irrational. Understandably, the reviewing judge was concerned that 'there was no indication in the affidavit that Defendant lived at this address, that he was presently at that address or had been at that address sometime in the past.' However, considered in context, what else could the detective have intended to say? More significant still, what other inference could the issuing judge reasonably have come to?
Simply put, it is a stretch to draw the opposite inference; one must work hard not to infer that [the address listed in the affidavit] is 'the residence' where all these criminal acts occurred and where incriminating evidence can be found. Deference is due under the circumstances, and his decision to issue the warrant is supported by a substantial basis in the record."

Taylor, 338 Ga.App. at 815 (2) (a) (quoting Trujillo, 266 P.3d at 7). Based on the rule it adopted, the Court of Appeals concluded that the affidavit and attachment were sufficient to establish that 1751 Bergen Court was where Taylor lived and where the incriminating evidence could be found. See Taylor, 338 Ga.App. at 815 (2) (a). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the Court of Appeals reached the right result here, but that the rule it adopted was unnecessarily broad for this case.

         2. The Court of Appeals stated the correct standard for a magistrate to apply to determine if probable cause exists to issue a search warrant, as well as our standard for ...

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