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United States v. Ben

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

May 11, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GREGORY BEN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion to suppress of Defendant Gregory Ben, (Docket No. 17), to which the Government has responded, (Docket No. 22). On April 27, 2015, the Court held a suppression hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, with Thomas W. Dyke appearing for the Government and Patrick J. Bouldin appearing on behalf of Ben. Official Court Reporter Alan Wernecke transcribed the proceedings. The matter stands ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Ben's motion to suppress, (Docket No. 17), is DENIED.

Factual Background

On October 14, 2013, Detective Steven Presley of the Jeffersontown Police Department executed an affidavit concerning a residence at 4329 Pruitt Court, Louisville, Kentucky. According to the affidavit, a confidential informant advised that Ben frequently sold heroin from the residence, where he also stored heroin, packaging materials, firearms, and large amounts of money. Citing safety concerns, the confidential informant wished to remain anonymous. The affidavit does not reveal his or her name.

After research of Ben's criminal history revealed several drug-related charges, Presley conducted surveillance of the Pruitt Court residence. He observed activity consistent with drug trafficking, including hand-to-hand transactions between Ben and various individuals. A Jefferson County District Court judge approved Presley's application for a warrant to search the Pruitt Court residence, a beige 2007 Chevrolet Malibu, and Ben himself.

Upon issuance of the warrant, officers observed Ben leave the home. They conducted a traffic stop, detained him, and searched the residence, which yielded quantities of heroin, a firearm, and ammunition. Officers detained Ben for the duration of the search, and Ben made incriminating statements describing his trafficking activities. He now moves to suppress the physical and testimonial evidence that resulted from the search.

Analysis

I. The affidavit supporting the search warrant adequately establishes probable cause.

Ben first asserts that the search was grounded upon an insufficient affidavit, rendering it constitutionally deficient. In evaluating an affidavit's sufficiency, the Court must determine "whether the magistrate judge had a substantial basis for finding that the affidavit established probable cause to believe that the evidence would be found at the place cited." United States v. Woosley, 361 F.3d 924, 926 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Davidson, 936 F.2d 856, 859 (6th Cir. 1991)). Probable cause requires "a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.'" United States v. Berry, 565 F.3d 332, 338 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983)). That is, the affidavit must suggest "reasonable cause to believe that the specific things to be searched for and seized are located on the property to which entry is sought and not merely that the owner of property is suspected of crime." United States v. McPhearson, 469 F.3d 518, 524 (6th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted). In making this inquiry, "[t]he issuing judge or magistrate may give considerable weight to the conclusion of experienced law enforcement officers regarding where evidence of a crime is likely to be found and is entitled to draw reasonable inference about where evidence is likely to be kept." United States v. Rodriguez-Suazo, 346 F.3d 637, 644 (6th Cir. 2003) (quotations omitted).

Affidavits are commonly drafted by "nonlawyers in the haste of a criminal investigation"; as such, the Supreme Court has recognized that "technical requirements of elaborate specificity once exacted under common law pleading have no proper place in this area." Gates, 462 U.S. at 235. Rather, "the affidavit should be reviewed in a commonsense rather than a hypertechnical manner, and the court should consider whether the totality of the circumstances supports a finding of probable cause rather than engaging in line-by-line scrutiny." Woolsey, 361 F.3d at 926. The district court tasked with this determination must afford d "great deference" to the reviewing judge's probable cause determination, reversing it "only if the magistrate arbitrarily exercised his discretion." Id.

Although Ben argues that the affidavit does not survive substantial basis review, the Court cannot agree. An affidavit's sufficiency is determined based on its actual contents, not what it allegedly lacks. Id. at 924 (citing United States v. Allen, 211 F.3d 970 (6th Cir. 2000) (en banc)). Under this forgiving standard, an affidavit remains constitutionally sound so long as it includes "sufficient corroboration that the [magistrate] could determine, under the totality of the circumstances, that probable cause existed." Id. at 927. The Sixth Circuit has held that a confidential informant's information need not always be independently corroborated by police, nor must the affidavit always establish an informant's expertise in identifying the particularities of the alleged criminal activity. Allen, 211 F.3d at 270. Moreover, an affidavit that relies on hearsay "is not to be deemed insufficient on that score, so long as a substantial basis for crediting the hearsay is presented." Gates, 462 U.S. at 242 (quoting Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 269 (1967)).

Here, Detective Presley informed the Jefferson County judge of the confidential informant's observations, which he then corroborated with his own independent investigation. Presley averred that during his surveillance, he witnessed Ben conduct hand-to-hand transactions consistent with narcotics trafficking, driving the car indicated in the search warrant, and coming and going from the residence listed. Considered together, the confidential informant's allegations and Presley's own observations constitute probable cause. Accordingly, the Court finds that the affidavit afforded the reviewing judge with a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed under the totality of the circumstances.

Moreover, any hesitation that the Court may have regarding the existence of probable cause is resolve by the Government's reliance upon the good-faith exception. In United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), the Supreme Court explained that when an officer had an objectively reasonable reliance on a warrant later found to be lacking in probable cause, the evidence will not be excluded. Id. at 922. This exception results from common-sense principles, as suppression of evidence is intended to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights by deterring Fourth Amendment violations. See id. at 906. An officer who conducts a search in reasonable reliance upon a warrant later found to be invalid, though, has committed no wrong to be deterred. See id. at 919. Because no deterrence is needed, the Court need not suppress evidence arising from a search conducted in good faith. See id. at 918-21.

Leon identified four situations in which an officer's reliance on a subsequently invalidated search warrant could not be considered objectively reasonable: (1) when the warrant is issued on the basis of an affidavit that the affiant knows contains false information; (2) when the issuing magistrate abandons his neutral and detached role and serves as a rubber stamp for police activities; (3) when the affidavit is so lacking in indicia of probable cause that a belief in its existence is objectively unreasonable; and (4) when the warrant is so facially deficient that it cannot reasonably be presumed valid. Id. at 914-23. The Leon bar is not a particularly high one: the Sixth Circuit has applied the good-faith exception in cases with an affidavit containing "a minimally sufficient nexus between the place to be searched to support an ...


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