A man facing charges of attempted aggravated murder is looking to suppress the majority of evidence in his case, stating law enforcement illegally searched his vehicle on multiple occasions.
Charles Warren Leff, 64, appeared in 1st District Court on Monday for oral arguments regarding the motion to suppress. Defense attorney Ryan Holdaway argued law enforcement officers performed warrantless searches of Leff’s vehicle and mishandled the inventory of the searches.
If successful in his motion, Holdaway said the only remaining evidence would be a single gun with a single bullet and THC “shatter” found in Leff’s hat.
“This would not necessarily mean the State would have to dismiss the case, but it would make the case considerably more difficult on the State and could result in a dismissal of most of the charges,” Holdaway said. “It would be difficult for the State to prove Mr. Leff intended to kill multiple people if its sole physical evidence is a single gun with a single round.”
According to Holdaway, law enforcement made at least three entries into Leff’s vehicle — two of which are being challenged. During the first entry, which is not being challenged in the motion, Leff indicated to an officer that there was a firearm under the passenger seat. The officer retrieved the firearm and a single bullet.
The second entry happened while Leff was being detained and transported to the Cache County jail for questioning. Without a warrant, Holdaway said, officers removed all items of interest from the vehicle with the exception of a suitcase.
The third entry took place after an officer obtained a warrant for the vehicle after being tasked with retrieving the suitcase. However, Holdaway said the officer listed evidence seized during the prior warrantless searches as probable cause for the warrant. According to the search warrant, clothing and medications were found in the suitcase.
“Although the officer was only tasked to retrieve the suitcase, he conducted another search of the entire vehicle prior to removing the suitcase,” Holdaway said. “We are also challenging this third and final search.”
During the hearing, Holdway told the court he did not believe the officers were “bad actors,” but rather made mistakes in following the legal steps necessary during the searches.
“It is important to me that people know that I do not believe any of the officers in this case acted with malice or with a mind towards abusing their authority,” Holdaway told The Herald Journal. “Rather, mistakes were made. Mistakes that require correction through suppression.”
Cache County prosecutor Tony Baird told The Herald Journal there were various legal grounds for each of the searches performed by officers during the incident. During the hearing, Baird argued officers are trained to follow a “plus one rule” that states if one weapon is found there is likely another. Baird also said taking inventory of impounded vehicles is standard practice, though officers could have done better in terms of documentation.
“There was certainly probable cause,” Baird told the court. “I think officers did the best that they could.”
Judge Brian Cannell said a written ruling for the motion to suppress was warranted in this case and it would be out within 30 days.
“Mr. Leff’s rights are an issue,” Cannell said.
Leff did not speak during the hearing except to tell Cannell he had a concealed carry permit and provided it to officers when he was initially pulled over.
Leff has been charged with five counts of first-degree attempted aggravated murder, four counts of third-degree possession of a firearm by a restricted person and three additional misdemeanors.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed with the court, on Jan. 24, Leff allegedly drove from Perry to Mendon with the intent of killing the alleged victims. A family member aware of the threat from Leff called one of the alleged victims and said Leff “was on his way over to her house with a gun to kill her and her family.” The alleged victim called 911 and reported the threat while Leff was driving outside the victim’s house.
“In the call you can hear (the alleged victim’s) voice and the sheer terror,” the affidavit states. The alleged victim “describes that (Leff) has multiple guns with him in his car and has just driven past her house.”
According to the affidavit, Leff had brought four handguns in his car when he left for Mendon.
Days later, Leff was charged with two third-degree counts of tampering with a witness and two class-A counts of violation of a protective order in a separate but related case.
According to an affidavit filed with the court, Leff twice contacted an unknown male from the jail and asked him to check on a witness in the case and ask her to recant statements made to law enforcement.
Holdaway said the motion to suppress will not impact the second case against Leff.
Leff was scheduled to appear for a status conference on Nov. 2.