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"Mere Propinquity" Not Sufficient Probable Cause for Search of Home

"Mere Propinquity" Not sufficient Probable Cause for Search of Home

On March 22, 2006, a Sheriff’s Deputy was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. The search for the primary suspect in the slaying led investigators to seek and obtain a search warrant for the residence of the suspect’s in-laws, Rick, Cindy and Chara Poolaw. Believing there was no probable cause for the search of their residence, nor their concomitant detention, the Poolaws filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the action constituted unreasonable search and seizure.

Plaintiff's attorney, George L. Bach, Jr., argued investigators lacked probable cause for the search and relied solely on their familial relationship with the suspect to motivate it. The district court denied the Defendants the qualified immunity they requested and granted summary judgment in favor of the Poolaws.

On appeal the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court ruling, citing various case law establishing it takes more than a familial tie to a criminal suspect to give rise to sufficient probable cause for a search. Citing Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85,91 (1979) specifically, the court stated "mere propinquity to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more, give rise to probable cause.” Furthermore, it was determined that the investigators who ordered the execution of the search warrant knew or should have known probable cause was lacking. Therefore, the district court's summary judgment for the Plaintiffs and the denial of qualified immunity for the Defendants was affirmed.

See: Poolaw v. Marcantel, 565 F.3d 721 (10th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Poolaw v. Marcantel