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State v. Hardy

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

August 18, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
DONALD K. HARDY, Defendant-Appellant.



          DON E. BURRELL, P.J.

         Donald K. Hardy ("Defendant") appeals his conviction, following a jury trial, for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. See section 195.211.[1] His sole point on appeal claims the search warrant that authorized officials to search his home and surrounding vehicles was constitutionally deficient because it did not describe the place to be searched with sufficient particularity. Finding no merit in this claim, we affirm.

         Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence. State v. Johnson, 354 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Mo. banc 2011). In doing so, we consider the evidence presented at both the suppression hearing and at trial. State v. Pike, 162 S.W.3d 464, 472 (Mo. banc 2005). "The facts and reasonable inferences from such facts are considered favorably to the trial court's ruling, and contrary evidence and inferences are disregarded." Johnson, 354 S.W.3d at 631-32. We will reverse the trial court's ruling only if it is clearly erroneous. State v. Sund, 215 S.W.3d 719, 723 (Mo. banc 2007).

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, in relevant part, that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."[2]When analyzing a challenge to a warrant's description of the property to be searched, this court must determine if the property has been described with sufficient particularity to allow the officer executing the warrant to locate and identify the property with reasonable effort and if a reasonable probability exists that another property might mistakenly be searched. State v. Cummings, 714 S.W.2d 877, 880 (Mo. App. S.D. 1986); see also U.S. v. Kelly, 772 F.3d 1072, 1081 (7th Cir. 2014). A search warrant must "[i]dentify the place . . . which is to be searched, in sufficient detail and particularity that the officer executing the warrant can readily ascertain . . . what he or she is to search[.]" Section 542.276.6(5). If the place to be searched is not described with sufficient certainty, the resulting warrant will be deemed invalid. Section 542.276.10(5).

         "Practical accuracy rather than technical precision governs in determining whether a search warrant adequately describes the premises to be searched." Cummings, 714 S.W.2d at 880. "The requisite specificity of the description differs for rural and urban areas and depends heavily on the facts of each case." U.S. v. Dorrough, 927 F.2d 498, 500 (10th Cir. 1991).

         "Where one part of the description of the premises to be searched is inaccurate, but the description has other parts which identify the place to be searched with particularity, searches pursuant to such warrants have been routinely upheld." Cummings, 714 S.W.2d at 882 (quoting U.S. v. Gitcho, 601 F.2d 369, 371 (8th Cir. 1979)). "A technically wrong address does not invalidate a warrant if it otherwise describes the premises with sufficient particularity so that the police can ascertain and identify the place to be searched." U.S. v. Lora-Solano, 330 F.3d 1288, 1293 (10th Cir. 2003).

         Evidentiary and Procedural Background

         The resolution of this appeal requires reference to three structures located on the "left" (south) side of SE 356 Private Road ("the road") in St. Clair County. Using the order in which the structures would be reached by an officer executing the search warrant in question ("the search warrant"), we will refer to these structures as "Structure 1, " "Structure 2, " and "Defendant's home."

         Sergeant Kip Bartlett ("Sergeant Bartlett"), a member of the Mid-Missouri Drug Task Force, had been investigating Defendant based on a tip that Defendant was selling methamphetamine. A confidential informant ("the C.I.") told Sergeant Bartlett that Defendant was selling methamphetamine with Ernest Burwell ("Burwell"). Based on that allegation, officers obtained a warrant that allowed them to place a GPS tracking device on Burwell's vehicle.

         On October 1, 2013, Sergeant Bartlett monitored Burwell's vehicle through the GPS device and observed it arrive at Defendant's home. Sergeant Bartlett then stopped Burwell when he left Defendant's home and found Burwell in possession of an "an eight-ball" of methamphetamine. Within two hours, Sergeant Bartlett had applied for the search warrant.

         Before making that application, Sergeant Bartlett conferred with the C.I., who gave Sergeant Bartlett "driving directions" to Defendant's home, which the C.I. described as a mobile home with a white bus parked out front. Sergeant Bartlett also spoke with St. Clair County Sheriff's deputy Mike Crocker ("Deputy Crocker"). Deputy Crocker was familiar with Defendant, familiar with the general area, had been past Defendant's home several times, and had seen the white bus parked in front of Defendant's home. Sergeant Bartlett typically retrieved addresses from a county's 9-1-1 system, but that function was not available in St. Clair County.

         Sergeant Bartlett then applied for and received the search warrant, which described ...

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