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State v. Perez

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

March 14, 2019


          BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and REESE, JJ.


         In this drug trafficking case, the State appeals the trial court's grant of a motion to suppress all of the evidence seized at a residence pursuant to two search warrants.[1]Because we find that the affidavits underlying these warrants provided the magistrate with sufficient information to support probable cause, we reverse the trial court's order granting the motion to suppress.

         Under OCGA § 17-5-21 (a), the issuance of a search warrant must be based upon an affidavit "which states facts sufficient to show probable cause that a crime is being committed or has been committed[.]" This means that the "search warrant must be supported by probable cause, or reasonable grounds, to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." Hamlett v. State, 323 Ga.App. 221, 228 (1) (b) (753 S.E.2d 118) (2013).

The magistrate's task in determining if probable cause exists to issue a search warrant is simply to make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the "veracity" and "basis of knowledge" of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.

State v. Palmer, 285 Ga. 75, 77 (673 S.E.2d 237) (2009). "The test for probable cause is not a hypertechnical one to be employed by legal technicians, but is based on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men act." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Glispie v. State, 300 Ga. 128, 133 (2) (793 S.E.2d 381) (2016).

         A defendant may seek to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant on the ground that there was no probable cause for the issuance of the warrant. OCGA § 17-5-30 (a) (2).[2] Where a motion to suppress asserts lack of probable cause,

the burden of showing that the search and seizure were lawful shall be on the state. This burden upon the state is satisfied by production of the warrant and its supporting affidavit, and by showing either by those documents or by other evidence that the warrant is not subject to the statutory challenge alleged[.]

(Citation and emphasis submitted.) Smith v. State, 324 Ga.App. 542, 545 (1) (751 S.E.2d 164) (2013). Therefore, "[t]he State must prove that the challenged search was supported by a factually sufficient warrant." Glenn v. State, 302 Ga. 276, 281 (III) (806 S.E.2d 564) (2017). See also Hamlett, 323 Ga.App. at 232 (1) (b) (when defendant asserts lack of probable cause, State must show that probable cause existed).

On appeal,
[o]ur appellate courts will review the search warrant to determine the existence of probable cause using the totality of the circumstances analysis set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213');">462 U.S. 213 [103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527] (1983). The duty of the appellate courts is to determine if the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed to issue the search warrant. The Fourth Amendment requires no more.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Palmer, 285 Ga. at 78. And in a case such as this, where the facts underlying the trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress are undisputed, "the trial court's application of the law to undisputed facts is subject to de novo review, keeping in mind that a magistrate's decision to issue a search warrant based on a finding of probable cause is entitled to substantial deference by a reviewing court." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Id. "Indeed, even doubtful cases should be resolved in favor of upholding a magistrate's determination that a warrant is proper." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Creamer v. State, 337 Ga.App. 394, 396 (788 S.E.2d 69) (2016).

         Here, because the magistrate only considered the evidence in the warrant applications in issuing the search warrants, our analysis is confined to the four corners of those documents. See Coleman v. State, 337 Ga.App. 304, 306 (1) (787 S.E.2d 274) (2016). On October 20, 2016, a Lawrenceville County Police Investigator (the "Investigator") assigned to the Gwinnett Metro Task Force ("GMTF") applied for Warrant No. 16X-01433 (the "First Warrant") on the grounds that there was probable cause to believe that the crime of trafficking in methamphetamine (more than 28 grams, less than 200 grams) was being or had been committed at an apartment in Duluth, Georgia. After setting out his experience and qualifications, the Investigator averred that a named Homeland Security ("HS") investigator had received information from a confidential reliable informant that there were drugs and guns at the apartment. In response to this information, HS investigators set up surveillance of the apartment and observed an automobile there matching the informant's description of a car belonging to unnamed suspects. These investigators observed Richard Pineda leave the apartment carrying a bag and drive away in that car, which they determined was registered to him, to another address in Lawrenceville, Georgia. GMTF and HS investigators set up surveillance at the Lawrenceville address and some time later observed two suspects enter that location, stay a short time, and then leave; each of these suspects was later stopped and methamphetamine was located in their possession.

         The affidavit further provided that HS and GMTF investigators served a search warrant at the Lawrenceville address, [3] where Pineda was the only individual inside, and "located handguns, cellular telephones, [a] large amount of suspected cocaine and [a] large amount of suspected Methamphetamine, and U.S. Currency." A crime analyst conducted a background search on Pineda and determined that one of the addresses listed for him was the apartment in Duluth. The Investigator averred that he sought the First Warrant to search that apartment in order to find U.S. currency, ledgers, and documents relating to the transportation and distribution of illegal narcotics, cell ...

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