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State v. Bales

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

January 14, 2020

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Appellant,
JAMES CHRISTOPHER BALES, Defendant-Respondent.


          DON E. BURRELL, J.


         The State ("Prosecutor") appeals from an order quashing a search warrant and suppressing evidence[1] in a prosecution for first-degree domestic assault, second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and abuse or neglect of a child. See sections 565.072, 568.050 and 568.060. In two points, Prosecutor claims the search warrant adequately described the item to be seized, and, even if it did not, the good-faith exception to exclusion should apply. Because the search warrant was valid on its face, we reverse the trial court's order and need not reach Prosecutor's second point.

         Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We will reverse a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress only if it is clearly erroneous. State v. McNeely, 358 S.W.3d 65, 68 (Mo. banc 2012).

Any ruling "on a motion to suppress must be supported by substantial evidence." State v. Johnson, 354 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Mo. banc 2011). This Court reviews the facts and reasonable inferences therefrom favorably to the circuit court's ruling and disregards contrary evidence and inferences. Id. at 631-32. Whether a search is "permissible and whether the exclusionary rule applies to the evidence seized" are questions of law reviewed de novo. Id. at 632.

State v. Douglass, 544 S.W.3d 182, 189 (Mo. banc 2018).

         "The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution ensures against 'unreasonable searches and seizures' and provides 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.'" Id. at 189 (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV).[2] A search warrant is invalid if it is not supported by probable cause, or "[i]f it does not describe the person, place, or thing to be searched or the property, article, material, substance, or person to be seized with sufficient certainty." Id. (quoting section 542.276.10(5)). "[A] search warrant is required to search the contents of a cell phone unless an exception to the warrant requirement exists[.]" State v. Clampitt, 364 S.W.3d 605, 610 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012) (internal citation omitted).

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).

State v. Hardy, 497 S.W.3d 836, 838 (Mo. App. S.D. 2016). "We review whether the issuing judge's determination was clearly erroneous by looking at the four corners of the search warrant application and supporting affidavits." State v. Norman, 133 S.W.3d 151, 159 (Mo. App. S.D. 2004).


         On April 26, 2019, James Christopher Bales ("Defendant") was charged with one count of first-degree domestic assault, two counts of abuse or neglect of a child, and two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child based upon allegations that he caused serious physical injuries to a twenty-two-month-old child. Detective Thomas Fenton ("Detective Fenton") interviewed Defendant at his home about those allegations. During the interview, Defendant handed Detective Fenton his Samsung cell phone to show the detective a video Defendant had taken on the phone of the child sitting on the floor and banging his head.

         A couple of days later, Defendant came to the interview room with his attorney to speak with Detective Fenton again. Defendant showed Detective Fenton the video of the child again on the same phone. After that meeting, Detective Fenton applied for and received a search warrant for Defendant's ...

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