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Invalid Search Warrant Leads to Dismissal of Georgia Drug Case

September 18, 2013

In Mitchell v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the defendants’ drug convictions, finding that the search warrant which authorized the search of their residence was based on information that was illegally obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The defendants were found guilty of manufacturing marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and distributing drugs within 1000 feet of a public school. The investigation began when the police, with the help of a K-9, were searching for a driver who fled from the scene of a traffic stop. After the unsuccessful search, the officers walked by the defendants’ residence. After hearing a noise in the woods next to the residence, the officers decided to search for the driver there, walking through the driveway and side yard to do so. Upon reaching the yard adjacent to the defendants’ house, the officers and the dog subsequently detected the odor of raw marijuana coming from the residence. Based on their observations, the officers obtained a search warrant and searched the residence, finding approximately 196 marijuana plants and oxycodone.

The Court of Appeals held that the police smelled the marijuana only after intruding into the “yard or curtilage of the residence,” where the defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy. According to the Court, the intrusion into this area occurred without consent, a warrant or exigent circumstances. Thus, the officers were illegally present on their property at the time they smelled the marijuana. Due to their unlawful presence in the curtilage of the property, their observation of the odor of marijuana constituted unlawfully obtained evidence.

Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the search warrant was invalid since it was issued entirely as a result of the unlawfully obtained evidence. Therefore, the Court concluded that the evidence of marijuana and oxycodone discovered during the search should have been suppressed.

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