Warrant Affidavit Not Invalidated By Error In IP Address

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Typographical errors, including the defendant’s IP address, were not a basis for excluding evidence on child pornography charges, the Fifth Circuit recently held.

Federal agents conducted a search of Jaime Gerardo Gonzalez’s home pursuant to a warrant obtained by Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) Special Agent Brian Wimberly, who signed and submitted a 25-page affidavit to the magistrate judge setting forth the basis for probable cause.

Wimberly’s affidavit included two errors. First, after correctly listing Gonzalez’s IP address multiple times, the affidavit stated HSI downloaded three videos containing child pornography from a different IP address. Second, the affidavit provided two different dates (one correct, one incorrect) for when HSI downloaded the videos. Neither error was apparently realized until after Gonzalez had already been charged with receiving, distributing, and possessing child pornography in federal District Court.

In District Court, Gonzalez moved to suppress the video evidence obtained from the search warrant, due to the discrepancies between the dates and IP addresses in Wimberly’s affidavit. The court denied the motion and Gonzalez pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Gonzalez repeated his arguments that the video evidence should have been suppressed. He first argued the magistrate judge who issued the search warrant wholly abandoned his judicial role in granting the warrant application because “obvious deficiencies in the warrant application [went] unnoticed and uncorrected.” Gonzalez second argued those same deficiencies made Wimberly’s affidavit insufficient to establish probable cause.

Addressing that first argument, the appeals court explained, “the exclusionary rule is designed to deter police misconduct rather than to punish the errors of judges and magistrates.” In the past, the court explained, it had reasoned that to suppress evidence when the officers could not have reasonably known of the magistrate’s error would run afoul of the exclusionary rule’s purpose.

Applied to the warrant based on Wimberly’s affidavit, the magistrate judge’s error was failing to notice, question, or correct a single incorrect IP address and the different dates of the video downloads. Even if the magistrate had so erred, the court held Gonzalez failed to establish that any such alleged error was known or reasonably knowable by the officers applying for the warrant. Moreover, the warrant application was with the magistrate for “at least 12 hours before it was signed, and there is no evidence that he failed to read the affidavit.”

Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit held the District Court did not err in finding that the magistrate did not wholly abandon his judicial role.

The court then addressed and dismissed Gonzalez’s remaining argument that the affidavit failed to establish probable cause, holding it was not “entirely unreasonable” for Wimberly to believe the affidavit supported a finding of probable cause because he may reasonably have been unaware of the mistakes in the affidavit.”

Read the full decision here.

This case law update was written by James P. Garay Heelan, Associate Attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.

For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases.

Posted in Case Law Update