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United States v. Yarber

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 13, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Samuel J. Yarber, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued January 24, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 2:17-cr-20007 - Colin S. Bruce, Judge.

          Before Manion, Brennan, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.


         Police in Champaign, Illinois obtained warrants to search two apartments connected to Samuel Yarber. The searches turned up drugs and handguns and ultimately led to Yarber's convictions for federal narcotics and firearms offenses. Along the way, Yarber challenged the warrant to search one of the apartments as unsupported by probable cause. While the warrant affidavit fell short in one respect-it did not establish that Yarber lived at the apartment and thus could not support an inference that evidence of his drug-dealing would be kept there-it nonetheless contained other facts sufficient to establish probable cause. And in any event the police relied in good faith upon the warrant. On this record, then, we affirm.


         Law enforcement undertook an investigation after receiving information from a confidential source that Yarber was selling drugs in the Champaign-Urbana area. The confidential source bought cocaine from Yarber on four separate occasions near the same intersection in Champaign. The police observed Yarber before and after each transaction. And each time, Yarber drove a white Dodge Charger, which was registered to his girlfriend. Immediately following two of the controlled buys, Yarber drove to his girlfriend's apartment in Champaign. The police surveilled the apartment on three additional occasions, and all three times saw the white Dodge Charger parked in front. On one occasion they saw Yarber exit the Dodge Charger and go inside the apartment.

         All of this information was set forth in an affidavit presented to a Champaign County Circuit Court judge in support of the police's request for a search warrant. The attesting officer also stated that, based on his training and experience, drug dealers often use vehicles registered to someone else to evade detection by law enforcement. The Champaign County judge found that these facts established the requisite probable cause to search the Champaign apartment and issued the warrant. By its terms, the warrant authorized the police to search for, among other things, drugs, drug paraphernalia, and suspected proceeds from drug transactions.

         The primary issue in this appeal turns on what the affidavit did not say. Nowhere did the affidavit state that Yarber lived at the Champaign apartment or even that he stayed there overnight. To the contrary, it referred to an altogether different apartment-located in Urbana, Illinois-as Yarber's "residence." Yarber seized on this omission and moved to suppress the evidence discovered during the search of the Champaign apartment. He argued that, by establishing no nexus between the drug dealing activities and the apartment, the affidavit failed to establish probable cause.

         The district court thought otherwise. The court's primary reason for finding probable cause was that the police connected Yarber and the white Dodge Charger to the apartment and saw him drive there immediately after two of the four controlled buys. The district court further observed that the Champaign County judge who issued the search warrant could have inferred that Yarber kept evidence of his drug dealing in his girlfriend's apartment to reduce the possibility of connecting him to illegal activity. Alternatively, the district court determined that the exception of United States v. Leon would apply because the police acted in good faith when seeking and executing the warrant. See 468 U.S. 897, 920-22 (1984).

         After the court denied his motion to suppress, Yarber pleaded guilty to drug possession with the intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(C), and to possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). He proceeded to trial on the remaining charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and was convicted by a jury. The district court imposed a sentence of 420 months' imprisonment.



         In determining the sufficiency of a warrant affidavit, we focus on the totality of the information presented to the Champaign County judge. See United States v. Peck, 317 F.3d 754, 756 (7th Cir. 2003). We afford "great deference" to the probable cause finding made by the judge who evaluated the warrant application in the first instance and will uphold that determination so long as there is a "substantial basis" for concluding "that a search would uncover evidence of wrongdoing." Illinois v. Gates,462 U.S. 213, 236 (1983). So, too, have we consistently held that "probable cause 'does not require direct evidence linking a crime to a particular place.'" United States v. Zamudio,909 F.3d 172, 175 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting United States v. Anderson,450 F.3d 294, 303 (7th Cir. 2006)). Rather, a warrant affidavit "need only contain facts that, given the nature of the evidence sought and the crime alleged, allow ...

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