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Campbell v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

October 25, 2016

JAMES WILLIS CAMPBELL, SR.
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF AMHERST COUNTY J. Michael Gamble, Judge Designate

          Robert C. Goad, III (Shrader Law Office, on brief), for appellant.

          Katherine Quinlan Adelfio, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, AtLee and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Lexington, Virginia

          OPINION

          JEAN HARRISON CLEMENTS JUDGE

         An Amherst County grand jury indicted James Willis Campbell, Sr. (appellant) for manufacturing or possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it. See Code § 18.2-248. Appellant moved to suppress the evidence seized when the police entered his property and searched it on August 6, 2014 pursuant to a search warrant. The trial court found that the affidavit upon which the warrant was based was not filed as required by Code § 19.2-54, Virginia's statute prohibiting general warrants and detailing the procedures for filing warrants and affidavits. Nonetheless, the trial court found that probable cause and exigent circumstances existed to justify a search without a warrant, and denied the motion to suppress the evidence. On appeal, appellant argues the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's ruling and remand the matter to the trial court.

         BACKGROUND

         "When reviewing a trial court's denial of a defendant's motion to suppress, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, according it the benefit of all reasonable inferences fairly deducible from the evidence." Anderson v. Commonwealth, 279 Va. 85, 90, 688 S.E.2d 605, 607 (2010).

         At about 10:30 p.m. on August 6, 2014, a magistrate issued a search warrant for premises owned by appellant and located in Amherst County. The warrant authorized a search for items related to the manufacture of methamphetamine. Investigator James Begley appeared before the magistrate and executed the affidavit in support of the search warrant. The affidavit included information Begley had received from an informant regarding the existence of a methamphetamine lab on appellant's property. The informant had advised Begley that a "meth cook" was planned for later that evening.

         Begley left the magistrate's office with two signed copies of the warrant and the underlying affidavit. He gave one copy to the Virginia State Police. Begley and officers with the Virginia State Police tactical team executed the warrant at 11:52 p.m. on August 6, 2014. The officers seized evidence related to the manufacture of methamphetamine. They arrested appellant and others.

         The magistrate retained one copy of the search warrant and affidavit, which contained handwritten additions to indicate appellant's property was located in Madison Heights, a community within Amherst County. Documents relating to the warrant subsequently were faxed from the magistrate's office to the clerk of the circuit court for Amherst County, and were filed there on August 7, 2014. However, only the first page of the affidavit and the search warrant were received and filed. The second page of the affidavit, containing the facts constituting probable cause, was not received or filed.

         Appellant was indicted for the offense on February 10, 2015. Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence on March 26, 2015 and an amended motion to suppress on April 2, 2015. He alleged that the evidence seized pursuant to the warrant should be suppressed because the complete affidavit supporting the warrant had not been filed as required by Code § 19.2-54. Although initially finding the violation of the filing requirement was a procedural matter, the trial court ultimately concluded that the failure to file the complete affidavit required suppression of the evidence.

         The Commonwealth moved for reconsideration of the trial court's decision. It also argued that, notwithstanding any violation of the statutory filing requirement, the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule applied. The Commonwealth also contended probable cause and exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless search of appellant's property.

         At an evidentiary hearing on the motion to reconsider, the Commonwealth was unable to produce the original copy of the second page of the search warrant affidavit. Placed before the trial court, and made a part of the record, was the copy of the affidavit Begley had retained. Begley's copy of the affidavit differed from the document faxed to the circuit court clerk in that Begley's copy did not contain the handwritten notations that appellant's property was in Madison Heights. The trial court declined to disturb its prior ruling suppressing the evidence due to the violation of Code § 19.2-54. The trial ...


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