Guessing at an Address Leads to Dismissed Charges and Liability for the Officer

Taylor v. Hughes, 2022 WL 473666 (7th Cir. 2022)

“Police officers owe judges candor when seeking search warrants. This case presents a troubling example of an officer violating that duty.” So begins the appellate court opinion in a case where an unnamed confidential informant (CI) claimed Robert Taylor had showed the informant a gun inside Taylor’s apartment.

“John Doe” met with an officer at a police station. Though the officer said he knew the CI’s true name, by the time of the court proceedings there was no record of John Doe’s real name, how to contact him or why he came forward with information concerning Robert Taylor in the course of a large-scale drug investigation. Any records that may have been made were shredded by the officer after his meeting with Doe. When the CI could not specify the address for Taylor’s apartment, the officer and Doe drove to the apartment; Doe pointed to 643–645 West 62nd Street and told the officer Taylor lived in the apartment immediately above the building numbers on an exterior wall.

The officer completed an affidavit for a search warrant for an apartment at “645 W. 62nd Street #1S.” The officer said he estimated the address to be 645 because the apartment pointed out by John Doe was closer to the numbers “645” outside the building. The officer testified he did not have time to corroborate the address and that he “guessed” at the apartment number. The officer later testified he “did not tell the judge that he did not know if the address listed on the warrant was accurate.”

Never, ever, ever mislead a judge (among others) on even the smallest detail of a sworn affidavit!

The next day, guided by Doe, the officers used a ram to enter the apartment at “#1N at 643 W. 62nd Street.” They did not find Taylor but discovered mail addressed to him at that address. The officers found a different gun than the one described by Doe, although there was no evidence connecting Taylor to the bedroom in which the gun was found. Taylor was later found, arrested and jailed for four months before a judge ruled the warrant invalid based on the address error and released Taylor.

Because the arrest warrant for Taylor remained active, he was again arrested a month after his release. Taylor then sued the officers and the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment for the initial investigating officer. The court held that the officer would be subject to good faith immunity only if he could have “reasonably believed” the search was authorized by a valid warrant. Because the officer told the judge he knew Taylor’s address when he did not, and that there was probable cause to believe drugs would be found in the apartment when there was not, the court sent the case back to the trial court to assess damages against the initial officer.

The court sharply criticized the “combination of administrative corner-cutting and out-and-out misconduct by a member of the force. All of this could have been avoided had the officers in this case—and Officer Hughes in particular—acted with more deliberation and care. The Fourth Amendment demands nothing less.”

What do we learn from this case? First, never, ever, ever mislead a judge (among others) on even the smallest detail of a sworn affidavit!  Second, never claim to “not have enough time” to investigate an address. Third, don’t guess at addresses. Fourth, properly document dealings with confidential informants and don’t shred documents related to the CI. And finally, establish the CI’s reliability in the affidavit.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys.

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