A federal agent who applied for a search warrant against an Aurora resident suspected of trafficking marijuana failed to realize that he had actually been investigating two different people with similar Chinese names.
A judge called it a “screw up,” but declined to suppress the evidence seized from the house of You Lan Xiang, and a jury found her and her husband guilty of marijuana cultivation and distribution crimes.
On Thursday, the federal appeals court based in Denver upheld the convictions of Xiang and her husband, Huanyu Yan, deciding that the Drug Enforcement Administration agent did not realize he was monitoring two different, unconnected people whose names both contained “You Xiang.” Therefore, he had not acted recklessly in alleging a criminal link in order to receive a warrant.
Ordinarily, evidence is allowed in court if it was seized in good faith according to a magistrate judge’s warrant, even if the warrant ends up being illegal. But the evidence is suppressed if the person applying for the warrant knowingly or recklessly omits key information.
Law enforcement searched the home of Yan and Xiang in October 2018 as part of a DEA sting operation to crack down on illegal marijuana grows. Officers seized 878 plants from the couple’s home on East Doane Drive. Colorado law only permitted the cultivation of up to 12 plants per residence.
But how authorities gained access to the home was the subject of legal controversy.
Raymond Padilla, an officer with the DEA, was investigating drug trafficking by Chinese nationals. The government identified several houses in Aurora with high electricity use as potential marijuana grow operations. The Doane Drive home was one, with electricity use between six and nine times that of the average home.
Padilla discovered the home was registered to Yan and “You Xiang.” While Padilla