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United States of America v. Terry Reed
Case Number: 20-5631
Judge: Eric Earl Murphy
Court: UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Plaintiff's Attorney: Naya Bedini, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
Cincinnati, Ohio - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with one count of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana1; two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime; and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm charges.
Officers with the police department in Memphis, Tennessee, came to suspect Reed of
distributing marijuana. Ultimately, on May 17, 2018, Detective Brandon Evans filed three
affidavits seeking search warrants for three locations. Evans’s first affidavit sought a warrant to
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 3
search the business “OK Tire” for marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and drug-related records. In
this affidavit, Evans described his training and experience and indicated that he had been
investigating Reed’s drug trafficking. Within the last five days, Evans explained, a confidential
informant had made a controlled buy from Reed at the OK Tire and had seen Reed “selling and
storing marijuana” there. The purchased substance tested positive for THC. Evans noted that
Reed’s girlfriend, Dominique Johnson, had witnessed the buy and that a computer search had
identified her as the business’s owner. Evans added that he had surveilled Johnson and Reed
leaving their home on Kate Bond Road and traveling to the OK Tire. He had also seen both of
them use their own set of keys to open the business on different occasions. Evans lastly
described the informant’s reliability: The informant had been responsible for several prior drug
seizures and had provided information about drug houses that had been corroborated through
additional police work.
Evans’s second affidavit sought a warrant to search a home on Orchi Road for the same
evidence. In this affidavit, Evans noted that Reed’s mother lived at the Orchi Road address and
that Reed’s driver’s license listed it. Evans also indicated that the confidential informant had
made a controlled buy from Reed at this home within the last 20 days. Surveilling this buy,
Evans watched Reed walk out of the house and sell marijuana to the informant. Evans again
explained that the purchased substance tested positive for THC. Aside from the controlled buy,
Evans stated that he had watched Reed drive the streets near this home in a maroon Mustang and
“conduct hand to hand transactions” with individuals. Within the last five days, Evans added, he
saw Reed drive a brown Cadillac Escalade and park it at the home. Evans also watched people
pull into the home’s driveway. Reed would come out and engage in hand-to-hand transactions
with these individuals. Evans noted that “[o]n some occasions” the individuals would “hand
Reed money and Reed would in turn hand them a clear bag with an unknown substance.” Evans
lastly indicated that Reed had four prior felony drug convictions and two prior misdemeanor
Evans’s third affidavit sought a warrant to search Reed and Johnson’s home on Kate
Bond Road for financial records and drug proceeds (but not for drugs). In this affidavit, Evans
again recounted his experience investigating drug crimes and the informant’s controlled buys
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 4
from Reed at the other two locations. Evans noted that Johnson had active utilities in her name
at the home on Kate Bond Road and that she and Reed had lived together at different homes in
Memphis. Evans also indicated that he had watched Reed and Johnson leave this home in the
brown Cadillac Escalade. The informant had likewise confirmed to Evans that Johnson and
Reed lived together.
A state judge decided that probable cause existed to issue search warrants for all three
locations (and signed the warrants within a minute of each other). Officers executed the warrants
the next day. They seized nothing from the OK Tire and only baggies and a digital scale from
the Orchi Road home. But the search of the home on Kate Bond Road uncovered two guns,
about 18 rounds of ammunition, 18.7 grams of marijuana, 2.1 grams of THC wax, and $5,636 in
After the search, Reed waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
He confessed that the guns and drugs belonged to him and that he had been selling marijuana.
The government indicted Reed on five counts: one count of possession with the intent to
distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); two counts of possession of a firearm
in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and two counts of
being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Reed moved to
suppress the evidence obtained from the search of his home on Kate Bond Road, including his
statements to police. He argued that the affidavit in support of this warrant failed to identify a
“nexus” between his drug dealing and the home so as to raise an inference that drug records or
proceeds would be found there. Reed also argued that the affidavit was so deficient that the
judge’s warrant could not avoid the exclusionary rule under the good-faith exception from
United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).
A magistrate judge recommended that the district court deny Reed’s motion. United
States v. Reed, 2020 WL 5358310, at *8 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 4, 2020). The judge noted that an
affidavit in support of a search warrant must identify a probable-cause nexus between the place
to be searched and the items to be seized. Id. at *5. But the judge concluded that this nexus
existed based on our cases stating that officers can reasonably “infer that ‘instrumentalities and
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 5
fruits’ of drug trafficking may be found inside a known drug dealer’s residence.” Id. at *7
The district court disagreed and suppressed the evidence. United States v. Reed, 2020
WL 3050771, at *7 (W.D. Tenn. June 8, 2020). While acknowledging Reed’s status as a
“known drug dealer,” the court held that Evans’s affidavit fell short because it contained no
allegations that Reed conducted drug activity at his home on Kate Bond Road. Id. at *1, *2–3.
The court next held that Leon’s good-faith exception did not apply. Id. at *4–5. It reasoned that
Evans should have known that the affidavit needed to contain more allegations than “the fact that
[Reed], who happens to be a drug dealer, resides” at the home. Id. at *5. This conclusion led the
court to suppress both the evidence recovered from the home and Reed’s statements after the
search. Id. at *5–7.
The government has filed an immediate appeal from the district court’s suppression
order. See 18 U.S.C. § 3731. It argues only that the district court should have applied Leon’s
good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. We review the question whether Leon applies de
novo. See United States v. Frazier, 423 F.3d 526, 533 (6th Cir. 2005).
The Fourth Amendment (applicable to state officers through the Fourteenth Amendment)
commands 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.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Designed to prohibit the general warrants common at the time
of the founding, this text requires that a warrant specifically identify the “place” to be searched
and the “things” to be seized. Id.; see Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742–43 (2011). And
courts have long held that a probable-cause “nexus” must connect these two together: There must
be a fair probability that the specific place that officers want to search will contain the specific
things that they are looking for. See United States v. Carpenter, 360 F.3d 591, 594 (6th Cir.
2004) (en banc); see also Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547, 556 (1978).
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 6
This case implicates a common “nexus” problem. Assume that officers reasonably
conclude that a person has committed a crime (say, a robbery) away from the person’s home.
When may the officers obtain a warrant to search the suspect’s home for evidence of the crime
(say, the gun used or money taken)? This issue raises conflicting concerns. On the one hand,
probable cause to arrest a suspect does not necessarily establish probable cause to search the
suspect’s home. See United States v. Baker, 976 F.3d 636, 645–46 (6th Cir. 2020). Rather, the
arrest and search inquiries ask different questions: whether there is a fair probability that a
person has committed a crime versus whether there is a fair probability that the person’s home
will contain evidence of one. See United States v. Savoca, 761 F.2d 292, 297 (6th Cir. 1985).
And, of course, the Fourth Amendment treats the home as “first among equals.” Florida v.
Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013). Its “core” protection allows individuals to “retreat into” their
home and “be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion” there. Id. (citation omitted).
On the other hand, probable cause is a “practical and common-sensical standard[.]”
Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237, 244 (2013). It requires only “the kind of ‘fair probability’ on
which ‘reasonable and prudent [people,] not legal technicians, act.’” Id. (quoting Illinois v.
Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 231, 238 (1983)). So many courts have acknowledged as a common-sense
matter that a suspect’s home often will be a likely place that the suspect has kept evidence of a
crime. See United States v. Williams, 544 F.3d 683, 688 (6th Cir. 2008) (collecting cases). All
things being equal, for example, “it is reasonable . . . to assume that a person keeps his
possessions where he resides.” Peffer v. Stephens, 880 F.3d 256, 270 (6th Cir. 2018).
These competing concerns have pulled courts in both directions when they have tried to
answer this nexus question. The result? Courts have drawn fine lines between cases with “little
to distinguish” those that find probable cause from those that do not. Savoca, 761 F.2d at 298.
This tension may be explained, in part, by the nature of the task. The probable-cause test
requires courts to consider the totality of the circumstances in each case, so “one determination
will seldom be a useful ‘precedent’ for” the next. Id. at 297 (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238
n.11). To promote greater consistency, though, we have identified several recurring factors.
Whether the police may “infer a nexus between a suspect and his residence,” we have said, turns
on “the type of crime being investigated, the nature of the things to be seized, the extent of an
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 7
opportunity to conceal the evidence elsewhere and the normal inferences that may be drawn as to
likely hiding places.” Williams, 544 F.3d at 687 (quoting Savoca, 761 F.2d at 298).
The type of crime in this case—drug dealing—shows the difficulty of providing
“guidance for such a fact-bound legal determination.” United States v. Brown, 828 F.3d 375,
382 (6th Cir. 2016). With categorical statements pointing in opposite directions, our decisions
“have struggled to identify the quantum of evidence needed to connect drug trafficking by an
individual to a probability that evidence will be found at the individual’s residence.” United
States v. Ardd, 911 F.3d 348, 351 (6th Cir. 2018). When finding probable cause to search a
home, we have asserted broad propositions like: “[I]n the case of drug dealers, evidence is likely
to be found where the dealers live.” United States v. Sumlin, 956 F.3d 879, 886 (6th Cir. 2020)
(quoting United States v. Jones, 159 F.3d 969, 975 (6th Cir. 1998)); see, e.g., United States v.
Feagan, 472 F. App’x 382, 392 (6th Cir. 2012); United States v. Gunter, 551 F.3d 472, 481–82
(6th Cir. 2009); United States v. Goward, 188 F. App’x 355, 358–59 (6th Cir. 2006) (per
curiam); United States v. Newton, 389 F.3d 631, 635–36 (6th Cir. 2004) (vacated on other
grounds); United States v. Miggins, 302 F.3d 384, 393–94 (6th Cir. 2002). These decisions
suggest that courts generally may find a nexus to search a drug dealer’s home “even ‘when there
is absolutely no indication of any wrongdoing occurring’” there. Sumlin, 956 F.3d at 886
(quoting Goward, 188 F. App’x at 358–59).
When finding the absence of probable cause to search a home, by contrast, we have
rejected “the proposition that the defendant’s status as a drug dealer, standing alone, gives rise to
a fair probability that drugs will be found in his home.” Brown, 828 F.3d at 383 (quoting
Frazier, 423 F.3d at 533); see, e.g., United States v. Fitzgerald, 754 F. App’x 351, 361 (6th Cir.
2018); United States v. Bethal, 245 F. App’x 460, 466–67 (6th Cir. 2007). These decisions
suggest that courts generally may not find a nexus to search a drug dealer’s home when “the
affidavit fails to include facts that directly connect the residence with the suspected drug dealing
activity, or the evidence of this connection is unreliable[.]” Brown, 828 F.3d at 384.
Although these statements may appear to conflict on a first (or second) read, we have
reconciled our caselaw in fact-specific ways. Most obviously, a court need not rely on a known
drug dealer’s status alone whenever other evidence (besides the dealer’s living there) links drug
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 8
dealing to the dealer’s home. We have, for example, found a probable-cause nexus to search a
drug dealer’s home when the police watched the suspect leave a home, undertake a drug deal,
and return there. United States v. Ellison, 632 F.3d 347, 349 (6th Cir. 2011); see United States v.
Coleman, 923 F.3d 450, 457–58 (6th Cir. 2019); United States v. Houser, 752 F. App’x 223,
226–27 (6th Cir. 2018); United States v. Jenkins, 743 F. App’x 636, 644 (6th Cir. 2018). We
have found this nexus when drugs were found in the drug dealer’s car near the home. United
States v. Berry, 565 F.3d 332, 339 (6th Cir. 2009). And we have found it when a suspect caught
with drugs lied about his home address. United States v. Caicedo, 85 F.3d 1184, 1193 (6th Cir.
Even if no specific evidence ties drug dealing to a home, we have also called it “well
established” that a nexus to search the home can exist if a suspect’s drug dealing is “ongoing” at
the time the police seek the warrant. Feagan, 472 F. App’x at 392; see Gunter, 551 F.3d at 481–
82; Goward, 188 F. App’x at 358; Miggins, 302 F.3d at 388; see also United States v. Kenny,
505 F.3d 458, 461–62 (6th Cir. 2007). When an officer identifies “recent, reliable evidence of
drug activity,” United States v. McCoy, 905 F.3d 409, 418 (6th Cir. 2018), that activity can
provide a “reason to believe that drugs or other evidence of crime [will] be found in the
suspect’s” home beyond the suspect’s status as a drug dealer alone, see Peffer, 880 F.3d at 273.
Conversely, we have also relied on fact-specific rationales when limiting the principle
that a drug dealer’s ongoing drug operations can create probable cause to search the dealer’s
home. In some cases, the officer’s affidavit showed that the suspect had engaged in, at most, one
drug transaction. See Fitzgerald, 754 F. App’x at 360; Brown, 828 F.3d at 378–80, 382–84. In
others, the affidavit described stale drug activity from a significant time ago. See United States
v. Ward, 967 F.3d 550, 555–57 (6th Cir. 2020) (citing United States v. Hython, 443 F.3d 480,
486 (6th Cir. 2006)). In still others, the affidavit failed to show that the relevant home belonged
to a drug dealer. One defendant was not a known drug dealer and may have possessed drugs
only for personal use, see United States v. McPhearson, 469 F.3d 518, 524–25 (6th Cir. 2006),
while another had been described as a drug dealer only by an unreliable informant, see Frazier,
423 F.3d at 533; see also Bethal, 245 F. App’x at 467.
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 9
For what it is worth, other courts struggle with this issue too. They have broadly stated
that probable cause can exist to search a drug dealer’s home “on the basis of the affiant-officer’s
experience (or, for that matter, the magistrate’s own common-sense judgment) that drug dealers
ordinarily keep their supply, records and monetary profits at home.” 2 Wayne R. LaFave,
Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment § 3.7(d) (6th ed.), Westlaw (database
updated Sept. 2020). As the D.C. Circuit put it, “[w]hen there is probable cause that a defendant
is dealing drugs, there often tends to be probable cause that evidence of that drug dealing will be
found in the defendant’s residence.” United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 661 (D.C. Cir.
2013) (Kavanaugh, J.); see also United States v. Dixon, 787 F.3d 55, 60 (1st Cir. 2015); United
States v. Hodge, 246 F.3d 301, 306 (3d Cir. 2001); United States v. Grossman, 400 F.3d 212,
217–18 (4th Cir. 2005); United States v. Haynes, 882 F.3d 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2018) (per curiam);
United States v. Ross, 487 F.3d 1120, 1123 (8th Cir. 2007); United States v. Angulo-Lopez, 791
F.2d 1394, 1399 (9th Cir. 1986); United States v. Biglow, 562 F.3d 1272, 1278–80, 1283 (10th
Cir. 2009); United States v. Cunningham, 633 F. App’x 920, 922 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam).
Yet some of these courts also suggest that they do not follow a “per se rule automatically
permitting the search of a defendant’s home when he has engaged in drug activity.” United
States v. Roman, 942 F.3d 43, 51 (1st Cir. 2019). Instead, they have, at times, noted that
probable cause may require some small amount of “additional evidence” beyond a suspect’s
drug-dealer status. Biglow, 562 F.3d at 1279 (citation omitted). One court, for example, listed
other potentially relevant factors, including whether the suspect was engaged in “large-scale
operations,” whether the affidavit was based on “the conclusions of experienced officers
regarding where evidence of a crime is likely to be found,” whether the defendant’s home was in
the same general area of the drug activity, and whether probable cause existed to arrest the
defendant for drug crimes. United States v. Rosario, 837 F. App’x 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2020)
When judged under these probable-cause standards, the facts of this case sit on the hazy
constitutional border between a sufficient nexus and an insufficient hunch. But we need not
resolve this probable-cause question. The government does not now argue that the search of
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 10
Reed’s home on Kate Bond Road comported with the Fourth Amendment. Rather, the parties
debate only the proper remedy: Should the district court have suppressed the recovered
evidence? We may resolve this case on this narrower remedy ground. Cf. Ardd, 911 F.3d at
The Supreme Court’s exclusionary rule bars the government from admitting
incriminating evidence at a defendant’s trial if the police violated the Fourth Amendment when
discovering the evidence. See Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 654 (1961). Yet the exclusionary
rule does not reach all Fourth Amendment violations no matter the circumstances. See Davis v.
United States, 564 U.S. 229, 237–38 (2011). Because the amendment “contains no provision
expressly precluding the use of evidence obtained in violation of its commands,” Arizona v.
Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 10 (1995), the Supreme Court has “felt free to adjust the rule’s scope” by
considering whether its benefits outweigh its costs in particular settings, Baker, 976 F.3d at 646.
This case’s setting involves a search pursuant to a warrant issued by a state judge. When
a judge issues a warrant, the judge has made the independent decision that probable cause exists
for the search. Leon, 468 U.S. at 921. Because most police officers are not lawyers, they may be
expected to defer to the judge’s legal conclusion in that regard. See id. So if it later turns out
that probable cause did not exist, the judge will typically be the blameworthy party, not the
officer who relied on the judge’s legal mistake. See Davis, 564 U.S. at 239. Yet the
exclusionary rule seeks to deter police (not judicial) misconduct. See id. And the officer’s
objective reliance on the judge’s probable-cause opinion does not show the type of “flagrancy”
required for the exclusionary rule’s benefits to outweigh its costs. Id. at 237–38 (quoting Leon,
468 U.S. at 911). In Leon, therefore, the Court held that the exclusionary rule generally should
not apply when officers obtain a warrant from a neutral judge. See 468 U.S. at 922–23.
That said, Leon identified several circumstances in which officers would be sufficiently
blameworthy to trigger the exclusionary rule despite a judge’s warrant (such as when the officers
lie to obtain it). See United States v. White, 874 F.3d 490, 496 (6th Cir. 2017). As relevant here,
Leon’s good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply if an officer’s affidavit in
support of the warrant is “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its
existence entirely unreasonable.” 468 U.S. at 923 (citation omitted). This type of affidavit—
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 11
what we have called a “bare-bones affidavit”—shows that the officer recklessly relied on the
judge’s decision that probable cause existed for the warrant. White, 874 F.3d at 496.
Leon’s good-faith exception extends to this case’s nexus question. Even if an affidavit
describing a suspect’s drug activity does not establish a probable-cause nexus between the place
to be searched and the evidence of that activity, the affidavit will avoid the bare-bones label so
long as it identifies a “minimally sufficient” nexus between the two. Carpenter, 360 F.3d at 596;
see also, e.g., McCoy, 905 F.3d at 416; Jenkins, 743 F. App’x at 645. What is the difference
between a proper nexus (sufficient for probable cause) and a minimal one (sufficient for Leon)?
There obviously “must be daylight” between the two standards because Leon’s exception applies
only when an affidavit falls short of probable cause. White, 874 F.3d at 497; United States v.
Washington, 380 F.3d 236, 241 (6th Cir. 2004). We have described a minimally sufficient nexus
as one in which there is “some connection, regardless of how remote it may have been—some
modicum of evidence, however slight—between the criminal activity at issue and the place to be
searched.” McCoy, 905 F.3d at 416 (quoting White, 874 F.3d at 497).
Does a minimal connection exist in this case? Yes, Leon’s good-faith exception applies
because Detective Evans could reasonably rely on the state judge’s conclusion that probable
cause existed to search Reed’s home on Kate Bond Road. We reach this conclusion for several
First, Reed does not dispute two critical points. Point One: The police had probable
cause to believe that Reed was a drug dealer who had engaged in recent drug sales. A reliable
informant had made controlled buys from Reed at the Orchi Road residence (within the last
twenty days) and at the OK Tire (within the last five days). Evans had also seen Reed engaged
in suspicious transactions near the Orchi Road home and had confirmed Reed’s many prior drug
Point Two: The police had probable cause to believe that Reed lived at the home on Kate
Bond Road. His girlfriend had utilities in her name at this address and Evans knew that the two
had lived together at other Memphis homes. The informant likewise relayed to Evans that
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 12
Johnson and Reed currently lived together. Evans also connected the brown Cadillac Escalade
parked at the home on Orchi Road during Reed’s suspected drug sales to the one Evans saw at
the home on Kate Bond Road. And Evans had watched Reed leave this home and travel to the
These undisputed points go a long way toward showing that Leon’s good-faith exception
applies. Indeed, when we have rejected Leon’s exception in the past, the police generally lacked
reliable proof that the defendant was recently (or ever) engaged in drug dealing. In that respect,
the probable cause to believe that Reed was a drug dealer distinguishes several of our decisions
that refused to apply Leon’s exception based on a lack of such proof. See McPhearson, 469 F.3d
at 526–27; cf. Brown, 828 F.3d at 384; Bethal, 245 F. App’x at 468. Likewise, the probable
cause to believe that Reed engaged in recent drug deals distinguishes other decisions that refused
to apply Leon’s exception on staleness grounds. See Ward, 967 F.3d at 556–57; Brown, 828
F.3d at 385; Hython, 443 F.3d at 486–87; United States v. Laughton, 409 F.3d 744, 751 (6th Cir.
Second, Detective Evans could reasonably conclude that Reed’s ongoing drug dealing
sufficed to trigger our “well established” principle “that if there is probable cause to suspect an
individual of being an ongoing drug trafficker, there is a sufficient nexus between the evidence
sought and that individual’s home.” Feagan, 472 F. App’x at 392. Critically, our precedent
leaves unclear the amount of drug activity required to invoke this nexus principle. Sometimes
we have suggested that it applies to “a large, ongoing drug trafficking operation.” Brown, 828
F.3d at 383 n.2. Other times, though, we have suggested that it can apply based on “recent,
reliable evidence of drug activity.” McCoy, 905 F.3d at 418. Evans’s affidavits at least showed
In light of our “unsettled jurisprudence” regarding the amount of required drug activity,
Evans did not behave recklessly by relying on the state judge’s conclusion that Reed’s drug
activity sufficed. Hodge, 246 F.3d at 309; see Ross, 487 F.3d at 1124; United States v. Nolan,
199 F.3d 1180, 1185 (10th Cir. 1999). The conflicting opinions in the district court confirm that
this case falls within the twilight zone left by our decisions. The magistrate judge found
probable cause to search Reed’s home based on one “line of cases holding ‘that an issuing judge
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 13
may infer that drug traffickers use their homes to store drugs and otherwise further their drug
trafficking.’” Reed, 2020 WL 5358310, at *6 (citation omitted). The district court then found
the absence of probable cause based on another line of cases holding that “[t]he mere fact that
someone is a drug dealer is not alone sufficient to establish probable cause to search their home.”
Reed, 2020 WL 3050771, at *7 (citation omitted). We cannot fault Evans (or the state judge) for
concluding that probable cause exists because of this room for reasonable legal debate. See
Ross, 487 F.3d at 1123.
Third, Evans did not rely on Reed’s drug activity alone. His affidavit described his
experience investigating drug crimes, noting that “he has participated in numerous drug arrests,
drug seizures, and drug investigations during his career as a police officer.” And Evans
indicated that his belief that probable cause existed to search Reed’s home was based, in part, on
this experience. In many cases, courts have highlighted an “affiant officer’s experience that drug
dealers keep evidence of dealing at their residence” as an additional reason to find probable
cause to search the drug dealer’s home. Sumlin, 956 F.3d at 886 (quoting Goward, 188 F. App’x
at 358); see also Ross, 487 F.3d at 1123. Here, Evans’s experience at least provides another
reason to trigger Leon’s exception. See, e.g., United States v. Acosta-Barrera, 819 F. App’x 366,
372 (6th Cir. 2020); Ardd, 911 F.3d at 352; United States v. Schultz, 14 F.3d 1093, 1098 (6th Cir.
1994). We already made this point in Schultz, which addressed the search of a defendant’s safedeposit box. 14 F.3d at 1098. The police in that case had probable cause to believe that the
defendant had engaged in a drug crime. Id. Although that fact did not suffice to create probable
cause to search the safe-deposit box, we nevertheless applied Leon’s good-faith exception to that
search. Id. To do so, we relied on the officer’s suggestion that, in his training and experience,
drug dealers sometimes keep drug records in safe-deposit boxes. Id.
Fourth, when assessing the reasonableness of Detective Evans’s conduct, we cannot lose
sight of “the fact-intensive nature of the probable cause inquiry in known drug dealer cases[.]”
Brown, 828 F.3d at 384. Because probable cause entails a deep dive into the totality of the
circumstances, “officers will often find it difficult to know how the general standard . . . applies
in ‘the precise situation encountered.’” District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S. Ct. 577, 590
(2018) (citation omitted). As we have said, “[t]he factual gradations in this type of case are often
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 14
difficult to discern even after a studied examination of the various judicial opinions.” Savoca,
761 F.2d at 298. Given our “struggle” to reconcile our caselaw, Brown, 828 F.3d at 382, in these
“frothy” nexus “waters,” Ardd, 911 F.3d at 351, how can we expect nonlawyer officers to know
better than judges that their affidavits do not suffice except in obvious cases? The “imprecise
nature” of this inquiry supports our conclusion that Evans’s actions fall within the range of
reasonableness permitted by Leon. See Wesby, 138 S. Ct. at 590; cf. Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S.
766, 776 (2010).
Reed’s responses fall short. He suggests that we should review the government’s Leon
claim only for plain error because the government failed to preserve the claim in the district
court. Not so. Unlike in cases in which the government raised no Leon claim in the district
court, cf. United States v. Hahn, 922 F.2d 243, 247–48 (5th Cir. 1991), the magistrate judge and
district court both recognized that the government raised such a claim here, Reed, 2020 WL
5358310, at *6 n.6; Reed, 2020 WL 3050771, at *4. Reed responds that the government did not
raise one subsidiary argument—that the court may consider all three of Detective Evans’s
affidavits when deciding whether the Leon exception applies. We fail to see how this fact would
subject the government’s entire claim to plain-error review. Nor did the government forfeit its
sub-argument. Our forfeiture cases “recognize a distinction between failing to properly raise a
claim before the district court and failing to make an argument in support of that claim.” United
States v. Hamm, 952 F.3d 728, 742 (6th Cir. 2020) (quoting Leonor v. Provident Life & Accident
Co., 790 F.3d 682, 687 (6th Cir. 2015)). Along those lines, we typically find no forfeiture on
appeal when “a particular authority or strain of the argument was not raised below, as long as the
issue itself was properly raised.” Mills v. Barnard, 869 F.3d 473, 483 (6th Cir. 2017). Because
the government properly raised its Leon argument in the district court, that rule applies here.
If anything, Reed’s plain-error argument undercuts his claim against Leon. To begin
with, Reed does not challenge the merits of the government’s argument that we may consider all
three affidavits. Nor could he. We have held that “a court reviewing an officer’s good faith
under Leon may look beyond the four corners of the warrant affidavit to information that was
known to the officer and revealed to the issuing magistrate.” Frazier, 423 F.3d at 535–36; cf.
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 15
United States v. Davis, 970 F.3d 650, 666 (6th Cir. 2020). And as the federal magistrate judge
found in this case, the state judge had the sworn facts in the other affidavits (such as the fact that
Reed had many prior felony drug convictions) “before her at the time the three search warrants
were issued.” Reed, 2020 WL 5358310, at *2 n.2; see also Reed, 2020 WL 3050771, at *1. In
addition, Reed’s plain-error argument concedes that our law is “unsettled” “regarding the
validity of a warrant based solely on an individual’s drug activity[.]” Appellee’s Br. 18. That
admitted lack of clarity shows why Detective Evans could reasonably rely on a judge’s finding
that Reed’s drug activity sufficed to establish probable cause. See Ross, 487 F.3d at 1124;
Hodge, 246 F.3d at 309.
Even considering all three affidavits, Reed next notes, Evans did not identify enough
recent drug activity to provide probable cause to search his home. We agree that our prior
decisions finding probable cause based on drug activity have involved larger amounts of drugs.
See United States v. Davis, 751 F. App’x 889, 891 (6th Cir. 2018) (“11 kilograms” of cocaine);
Feagan, 472 F. App’x at 384–85 (kilograms of cocaine); Gunter, 551 F.3d at 481 (“repeated
purchases of cocaine in the one to four kilogram range”); Kenny, 505 F.3d at 461 (“a
methamphetamine lab” “along with a kilo of methamphetamine”); Goward, 188 F. App’x at 358
(“controlled marijuana sales” and “delivery of twenty-two bricks of marijuana”); Newton, 389
F.3d at 634 (large marijuana transactions); Miggins, 302 F.3d at 393 (“one kilogram of
cocaine”). But we have never squarely held that a certain volume of drug activity was necessary
to provide probable cause to search a drug dealer’s home. Cf. McCoy, 905 F.3d at 417.
Regardless, we need not decide whether Reed’s two controlled buys and other suspicious activity
sufficed in this case. As noted, we have made inconsistent statements on the amount of required
drug activity. Compare McCoy, 905 F.3d at 418 & n.5, with Brown, 828 F.3d at 383 n.2. And
Evans could reasonably believe that the ongoing nature of Reed’s drug dealing (as compared to
the quantity of drugs sold) is what creates the fair probability that evidence would be located at
his home. Cf. Peffer, 880 F.3d at 273. At the least, the evidence of Reed’s recent drug
transactions was not “so vague as to be conclusory or meaningless” under Leon’s good-faith
exception. Carpenter, 360 F.3d at 596.
No. 20-5631 United States v. Reed Page 16
Reed lastly notes that, unlike in other cases, Evans’s affidavit indicated generally that his
experience supported his belief that probable cause existed; the affidavit did not state specifically
that, in Evans’s “experience, drug dealers often keep evidence of their criminal activity at their
homes.” Ardd, 911 F.3d at 352; Goward, 188 F. App’x at 358–59. But we assess an affidavit
“on the adequacy of what it does contain, not on what it lacks, or on what a critic might say
should have been added.” United States v. Allen, 211 F.3d 970, 975 (6th Cir. 2000) (en banc).
And we must “read the affidavit reasonably” by “employing a healthy dose of common sense.”
White, 874 F.3d at 502. So “[i]f an inference is obvious from the factual context, a reviewing
court should indulge it.” Id. We think the inference that, in Evans’s experience, drug dealers
keep evidence at their homes is obvious from the affidavit’s face. The affidavit identified
Evans’s experience and tied his belief that Reed’s home would contain drug proceeds or drug
records to that experience. A more express statement would surely have triggered Leon—as we
already held in Schultz. See 14 F.3d at 1098. And making the omission of a such a statement
dispositive would create a “magic words” requirement that our cases have rejected. See United
States v. Christian, 925 F.3d 305, 310 (6th Cir. 2019) (en banc) (quoting Allen, 211 F.3d at 975).
Outcome: To reiterate: We do not resolve whether the police had probable cause to search Reed’s home. And the fact that an affidavit exceeds Leon’s low “bare-bones” bar does not make it a model of good police work. Cf. Ardd, 911 F.3d at 351. But Detective Evans’s affidavits in this case clear that bar. So the district court should not have suppressed the evidence obtained from Reed’s home or the statements that Reed made after the search. We thus reverse the district court’s suppression order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.