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United States v. Reyes

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOVANNI REYES, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         The United States has charged defendant Jovanni Reyes with the possession of heroin with intent to distribute, the possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and the possession of a stolen firearm. Defendant moves to suppress nearly all evidence discovered when police searched his home pursuant to a warrant. He argues that the warrant was facially invalid and that, even if it were valid, the police's search exceeded the warrant's scope. Following a suppression hearing, I conclude that the warrant was valid and that the search did not exceed its permissible scope. I will therefore deny defendant's motion to suppress.

         Background

         The facts surrounding defendant's arrest and the search of his house are largely uncontested; what follows are my findings of fact based on the record and testimony from the suppression hearing.[1] In late 2016, officers in the Bridgeport Police Department, working with a confidential informant, conducted several controlled purchases of heroin from a seller they later identified as defendant. The officers then sought a warrant from a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court to search defendant's residence for any cell phones and related records: “[c]ell phones and their contents, and/or electronic equipment capable of communicating via voice or text messages, cell phone records, and cell phone bills to include examination and analysis of said devices.” Doc. #19-1 at 9.

         In support of the warrant, the officers stated that defendant had repeatedly used a cell phone to make arrangements with the confidential informant for the controlled purchases. According to the officers' sworn warrant application, defendant texted the confidential informant each morning from a particular cell phone number to indicate his availability. Id. at 5. The officers' application also identified defendant's residential address and stated that defendant had been observed at this residence on multiple occasions during the period surveillance at different times of the day. Id. at 6.

         The officers further stated that “based on training and experience” they knew that “individuals who traffic illegal drugs will utilize cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet to communicate with customers and fellow drug traffickers, and will store such telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and web addresses within their phones and computers and on external computerized devices.” Id. at 6. The application, however, did not describe any facts to suggest that defendant would keep any cell phones or records in his home. Instead, the application stated in conclusory terms that “the affiants have probable cause to believe that evidence of Sale of Narcotics, 21a-278(b), in the form of a cell phone, and/or electronic equipment capable of communicating via voice or text messages, may be located” within defendant's residence. Ibid Indeed, rather than setting forth any factual basis to believe that defendant stored any cell phones or cell records in his residence, the application stated that “[t]he affiants also know that drug traffickers will carry their phones on their person.” Ibid. (emphasis added).

         A Connecticut Superior Court judge read the application and authorized the warrant on December 8, 2016. That day, a group of federal and state law enforcement officers went to defendant's house to execute the warrant. While the officers were outside the house, they observed defendant leave the house and enter his car parked in the driveway. A group of officers proceeded to intercept defendant at his car, where they executed a separate search warrant on the car. That search revealed heroin inside the vehicle; defendant was removed from the car, told his Miranda rights, and placed under arrest. Meanwhile, another group of law enforcement officers attempted to enter defendant's house, eventually breaking down the door after observing an unknown man inside who refused to respond to their knocks and requests to open the door.

         Officer Hanson, the search team leader, asked defendant whether he had any contraband on his person, and defendant indicated that he had some packages of drugs tucked into his underwear. To facilitate privacy while he searched defendant's person, Officer Hanson brought defendant inside the house, where he handcuffed defendant to a chair. A search of defendant's person yielded a small cell phone and two bundled packets in defendant's underwear containing a substance that field-tested positive for heroin.

         At that point, defendant and the other man were seated in the living room of the house under police supervision. Officer Hanson told defendant that the police had a warrant to search the house, and asked whether there were others in the house or anything else they should be aware of. Defendant told Officer Hanson to “do your f***ing job, ” and pointed to a bedroom down the hallway. Officers entered the room and took pictures of it, finding, among other things, a state identification card bearing defendant's name on the dresser as well as a cell phone.

         Officer Hanson and other members of the search team began searching the room, which contained a bed and dresser, a closet, and scattered items and articles of clothing strewn along the floor and over furniture. The officers lifted the bed mattress and found automobile records, currency, lottery tickets, and a firearm with a loaded magazine. The officers looked in shoes that were in the room, and found a packet containing approximately ten bundles of heroin inside a red boot. They also looked within boxes inside of the room's closet, and inside one box found drug paraphernalia: scales of a kind commonly used to package narcotics and stamping material that matched stamps on the narcotics bags that they had recovered. The officers searched several other areas of the house, but did not find drug contraband anywhere else.

         Discussion

         Defendant moves to suppress the evidence found in his house on two grounds. First, he argues that the warrant was not supported by probable cause to believe that there would be cell phones and cell phone records in his house. Doc. #19 at 4. Second, he argues that the scope of the officers' search exceeded the scope of the warrant. Id. at 7.

         Probable Cause

         The Fourth Amendment provides that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. “Probable cause is a fluid concept turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts.” United States v. Raymonda, 780 F.3d 105, 113 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Probable cause therefore cannot be “reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Ibid. As a result, a court reviewing a probable cause determination “generally accords substantial deference to the finding of an issuing judicial officer that probable cause exists, ” limiting its inquiry to whether the officer “had a substantial basis” for his or her determination that, given the totality of the circumstances, there was “a fair probability ...


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