Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022

Second Circuit Holds That a Fourth Amendment Challenge to Evidence Seized Under a State Warrant Is Not Precluded by a Prior Guilty Plea in State Court.

In United States v. Jones, No. 20-3009 (2d Cir. Aug.1, 2022), the Circuit (Livingston, joined by Chin and Nardini) held that the defendant’s state guilty plea did not preclude him from challenging the evidence seized pursuant the state warrant in his federal case because the Fourth Amendment claim was not raised in state court. On the merits, the Court upheld admission of the evidence under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Jones had pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor in Tennessee based on evidence seized under several warrants and was subsequently charged in federal court with production of child pornography with respect to another minor. The defendant moved to suppress that evidence seized under the Tennessee warrants, and the federal warrants as fruit of the poisonous tree. The district court held that Jones’s state guilty plea collaterally estopped him from challenging the Tennessee warrants and, in the alternative, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule precluded suppression.

The Second Circuit reversed the collateral estoppel ruling, but affirmed on the good faith exception. It held that Jones’s Tennessee guilty plea did not preclude a challenge to the evidence seized under the Tennessee warrants because the claim would not be precluded in Tennessee courts. Tennessee law applies collateral estoppel only to claims that were “actually raised and necessarily determined in an earlier proceeding” and Jones had not raised a Fourth Amendment challenge in state court. The Circuit rejected dicta from its prior decision in United States v. Gregg, 463 F.3d 160 (2d Cir. 2006) suggesting that a prior guilty plea based on the very same evidence sought to be challenged would be precluded. It relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Haring v. Prosise, 462 U.S. 306 (1983), rejecting a similar preclusion argument on the ground that the Fourth Amendment issue had neither been litigated nor decided in state court, and Gregg’s actual holding, which followed Prosise.

Addressing the merits, the Circuit upheld admission of the evidence, and the conviction, on the ground that even if the Tennessee warrants were defective, the detective acted in reasonable good faith reliance on the warrants. The warrants were based on a detailed complaint by the mother of one of the victims and, although the affidavits did not specify where the mother obtained the information, it was a “common sense” inference that it came from her daughter. While the mother’s complaint was not corroborated, she was a named, identified source, as were the victims. Finally, the Circuit relied on the fact that the detective had obtained sworn statements from each of the victims, which he could have used if asked for corroboration.

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