Supreme Court rules Indoor Grow Marijuana search warrant invalid based on anonymous tip

State v. Benters Synopsis: September, 2011 a Confidential Informant meets with Detective Hastings of the Vance County Sheriff's office and tells he knows where an indoor marijuana grow operation is in Henderson, N.C.  The CI tells him the name of the owner, the address, that the owner doesn't live there.  The officers perform a "knock and talk" and secure a warrant based on the C.I. statements and their own observations, such as gardening supplies and an unusually large light bill.  The police find a large indoor grow operation.  The defendant Benters, was charged with trafficking marijuana, among other things.  The defendant moved to suppress the search based on the defective warrant and constitutional violations.  The trial court granted the defendant's motion.  The State appealed.  The State Supreme Court sided with the Defendant, holding that conclusions by law enforcement and an essentially unidentified tipster could not sustain the warrant. From the opinion: Here Lieutenant Ferguson averred that “Detective Hastings has extensive training and experience with indoor marijuana growing investigations on the state and federal level,” and that Detective Hastings had subpoenaed defendant’s Progress Energy power records. Lieutenant Ferguson then summarily concluded that “the kilowatt usage hours are indicative of a marijuana grow operation based on the extreme high and low kilowatt usage.” As explained above, the absence of any comparative analysis severely limits the potentially significant value of defendant’s utility records. Kaluza, 272 Mont. at 409, 901 P.2d at 110; McManis, 2010 VT 63, ¶¶ 16-19, 188 Vt. at 195-97, 5 A.3d at 896. Therefore, these unsupported allegations do little to establish probable cause independently or by corroborating the anonymous tip. Campbell, 282 N.C. at 130-31, 191 S.E.2d at 756. We acknowledge that investigating officers or a reviewing magistrate may have some degree of suspicion regarding defendant’s “extreme high and low kilowatt usage” given that defendant “is not currently living at the residence.” These unspecified extremes also may be explained, however, by wholly innocent behavior such as defendant’s intermittently visiting his property. Thus, these circumstances may justify additional investigation, but they do not establish probable cause. We turn next to the officers’ observations of multiple gardening items on defendant’s property in the absence of exterior gardens or potted plants. In relevant part, the affidavit provides that law enforcement officers observed from outside of the curtilage multiple items in plain view that were indicative of an indoor marijuana growing operation. The items mentioned above are as followed [sic]; potting soil, starting fertilizer, seed starting trays, plastic cups, metal storage racks, and portable pump type sprayers. Detectives did not observe any gardens or potted plants located around the residence. Nothing here indicates “a ‘fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place’ ” beyond Lieutenant Ferguson’s wholly conclusory allegations. State v. Benters, (5A14) Motion to suppress evidence; whether an affidavit based upon an anonymous tip established probable cause to issue a search warrant. Read more "Supreme Court rules Indoor Grow Marijuana search warrant invalid based on anonymous tip"