United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION TO SUPPRESS (DOC. NO. 45)
C. Hall United States District Judge
defendant, Tymon Peterson (“Peterson”), filed a
Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 45). Peterson, who is charged
with several drug and firearms offenses, argues that the
government violated his Fourth Amendment rights by (1)
unlawfully entering his home and (2) unlawfully searching and
seizing his cell phone. See Defendant's
Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Suppress
(“Def.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 45-1) at 1.
Peterson seeks to suppress (1) the statements that he made to
law enforcement after they entered his home; (2) the evidence
that law enforcement obtained from his cell phone; and (3)
any additional evidence that law enforcement obtained on the
basis of the fruits of their search of his cell phone,
including evidence obtained through a search warrant that was
later served on Snapchat. Id.
October 23, 2018, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing
and held argument on Peterson's Motion to Suppress.
reasons stated below, Peterson's Motion to Suppress is
court will first provide an overview of the relevant facts.
It will then summarize the case's procedural history.
Findings of Fact
September 24, 2017, the general manager of Hoffman's Gun
Center (“Hoffman's”) called Special Agent
Sean Brackett (“SA Brackett”), a law enforcement
officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and
Explosives (“ATF”). The general manager reported
that he had video surveillance of a possible incident of
firearms trafficking that occurred at Hoffman's on
September 22, 2017. SA Brackett responded by reviewing the
video surveillance and interviewing the general manager and
several sales clerks at Hoffman's.
to one of the sales clerks, Peterson entered Hoffman's on
September 22, with a person who is known in the Indictment as
JW. JW, who SA Brackett later determined had prior felony
convictions, asked the sales clerk about a Kahr Arms pistol
and stated, in effect, that “we want one.” The
clerk, however, did not permit JW to handle the firearm
because JW informed the clerk that he did not have a pistol
permit. When SA Brackett reviewed the video surveillance from
that day, he saw JW pointing to firearms in a display case
and passing Peterson what appeared to be U.S. currency.
Peterson, who did possess a valid pistol permit, ultimately
purchased the Kahr Arms pistol, along with two other pistols.
As part of this purchase, Peterson completed an ATF Form
4473, in which he certified that he was not buying firearms
on behalf of another person.
and JW returned to Hoffman's on September 23, 2017.
According to the clerk working that day, JW asked about
purchasing cheap pistols and indicated that Peterson wanted
to purchase a Taurus pistol. However, after the clerk
discovered that JW did not have a pistol permit, the clerk
declined to sell the Taurus pistol to Peterson.
his investigation, SA Brackett learned that Peterson had
filed a report with the Connecticut State Police, stating
that, on September 17, 2017, several men had physically
assaulted him and stolen several of his firearms. On
September 25, SA Brackett spoke with Trooper Williams of the
Connecticut State Police by phone about Peterson's
September 27, SA Brackett, Special Agent Christopher Edwards
of ATF (“SA Edwards”), and Bridgeport Detective
Dennis Martinez (“Detective Martinez”)
(collectively, the “officers”) went to
Peterson's home to interview him about his gun purchases
from Hoffman's. At that time, the officers did not have a
search or arrest warrant for Peterson. The officers
identified themselves at the door as law enforcement, and
they asked Peterson if they could enter. As discussed in
greater detail below, see, infra, at 10-12,
the parties dispute the precise moment when Peterson invited
the officers into his home. However, there is no dispute that
the officers did eventually enter the home, and that the vast
majority of the interview was conducted inside the premises
of Peterson's home. Peterson's mother, Vickie
Peterson, was also present for much of the interview.
Brackett audio recorded the entire interview, apparently
without Peterson's knowledge. See generally
Government's Exhibit 1, Audio Recording of 9/27/2017
Interview (“Audio”); Government's Exhibit 1T,
Transcript of Audio Recording of 9/27/2017 Interview
(“Audio Tr.”). The officers began the
conversation by asking Peterson about the September 17
assault and robbery that he reported to the Connecticut State
Police. Peterson recounted that he had received a ride from
New Haven to the Bridgeport area from the friends of a former
girlfriend. Peterson stated that, during the ride, the
individuals in the car attacked him with a hammer, stole four
firearms that he had on his person and in his backpack, and
then left him on the side of the highway. Peterson provided
SA Brackett with the names of his attackers, as well as
printed out photographs of the assailants for the officers.
officers then asked Peterson whether he had replaced the
stolen guns. Peterson told the officers that he had purchased
replacements at Hoffman's and at the Newington Gun
Exchange. Peterson stated that JW accompanied him to
Hoffman's, and that Peterson borrowed money from JW to
purchase the pistols from Hoffman's. After further
questioning, SA Edwards informed Peterson that they had video
footage of JW handing Peterson money and pointing out
firearms in the display case that Peterson eventually
purchased. The officers stated that JW was a felon, and that
purchasing guns for convicted felons and lying on an ATF 4473
Form were federal crimes. They also informed Peterson that a
federal prosecutor had been assigned to his case. Peterson
repeatedly stated that he did not purchase the three firearms
for JW, and that JW merely lent him money to purchase his
replacement guns from Hoffman's.
officers asked where Peterson had stored the recently
purchased firearms. Peterson did not provide a location.
However, Peterson represented that he could bring the guns to
the officers the following morning. Peterson also stated that
the firearms had trigger locks on them, and that Peterson
possessed the keys to those locks. The officers asked whether
Peterson could show them the keys. Although Peterson walked
around his home with SA Brackett in search for the trigger
lock keys, he was unable to find them.
SA Brackett asked Peterson if he had any text messages on his
cell phone that would corroborate his version of the story.
When Peterson showed SA Brackett a text message thread
between himself and JW, SA Brackett asked if he could see the
phone, took possession of Peterson's phone, and then
began videotaping the screen of the phone as he scrolled
through text message thread. See generally
Government's Exhibit 3, Video Text Thread
(“Video”). SA Brackett remarked out loud that he
saw conversations about gun purchases and “drug
talk” in the text message thread between Peterson and
officers then asked Peterson to sign a consent form allowing
them to seize and search his cell phone. Peterson initially
resisted, stating that he did not want them to take his
phone. The officers represented that they could legally seize
the phone now and secure a search warrant later because they
had already seen incriminating evidence on the phone. They
further stated that, if Peterson wanted the benefits of being
a cooperator, he needed to provide them with the passcode for
unlocking his phone. Peterson's phone was an iPhone 6S.
Eventually, Peterson provided the passcode and signed a
written consent form. The consent form contained the
following boilerplate language:
I understand that I have a right to refuse to give my consent
to a search and may demand that a search warrant be obtained
prior to any search of the person or property described
I understand that any contraband or evidence of a crime found
during the search can be seized and used against me in any
court of law or other proceeding.
I understand that I may consult with an attorney before or
during the search.
I understand that I may withdraw my consent to this search at
any time prior to the search's termination.
This consent to search has been given voluntarily without
promises, threats, coercion or force of any kind whatsoever.
I have read the above statement of rights, understand these
rights, and hereby authorize agents of the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct a complete search
of the property described below.
See Government's Exhibit 3, Consent to Search
Form. Shortly after Peterson signed the consent form, the
officers left the home with Peterson's cell phone.
September 28, the day after the interview, SA Brackett
brought Peterson's phone to Special Agent Oppenheim
(“SA Oppenheim”), who then conducted a digital
data extraction of the phone. That same day, SA Brackett
returned the phone to Peterson. See Defendant's
Exhibit 2, Report of Investigation for 9/27/17 Interview.
October 24, 2017, the government filed a Complaint against
Peterson, alleging that he violated section 922(a)(6) of
title 18 of the United States Code by knowingly making a
false statement to deceive a firearms dealer as to the
lawfulness of the sale of a firearm. Complaint (Doc. No. 1).
The government obtained an arrest warrant on the same day.
Peterson was arrested on January 1, 2018, and he was released
on bond on January 5, 2018.
March 14, 2018, the Grand Jury returned a six count
Indictment against Peterson. See generally
Indictment (Doc. No. 24). Count One charges Peterson with
conspiracy to make a false statement in connection with the
sale of a firearm and to sell or dispose of a firearm to a
known felon. Count Two charges him with making a false
statement during the purchase of a firearm. The remaining
four counts charge Peterson with using a telephone to
facilitate a drug trafficking felony.
April 3, 2018, SA Brackett applied for and obtained a warrant
to search Peterson's social media account with Snapchat
(the “Snapchat Warrant”). See generally
Defendant Exhibit D (“Snapchat Warrant”) (Doc.
No. 47). The Snapchat Warrant authorizes the seizure of
communications and files from Peterson's Snapchat account
that relate to firearms or controlled substances.
October 23, 2018, this court conducted an evidentiary hearing
and held argument on Peterson's Motion to Suppress. At
the hearing the government presented testimony from SA
Brackett. Peterson did not present any witnesses. The
government and the defendant each introduced a number of
exhibits, including, inter alia, the audio recording
of the officers' September 27 interview with Peterson,
and the video recording of the text message exchange between
Peterson and JW that SA Brackett took during the interview.
See generally Marked Exhibit List (Doc. No. 71).
argues that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights
because (1) Peterson did not voluntarily consent to the
officers' warrantless entry into his home, Def.'s
Mem. at 11; (2) Peterson did not voluntarily consent to the
officers' warrantless search of his cell phone,
id. at 14; and (3) even if Peterson did voluntarily
consent to having his phone searched, the officers'
search for evidence relating to narcotics violated the scope
of his consent, which was limited to a search for evidence
relating to firearms, id. at 26. Peterson argues
that the court should therefore suppress all statements that
Peterson made to the officers during the September 27
interview and all evidence that the government obtained from
Peterson's cell phone. See id. at 1. In
addition, Peterson seeks to suppress all evidence obtained
pursuant to the Snapchat Warrant, arguing that such evidence
is derivative of the officers' illegal search and seizure
of Peterson's cell phone. See id. at 27.
Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. Warrantless searches and seizures in a
suspect's home are generally unreasonable and therefore
violate the Fourth Amendment. United States v.
Garcia, 56 F.3d 418, 422 (2d Cir. 1995). However,
“[b]ecause the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth
Amendment is reasonableness, its warrant requirement is
subject to certain reasonable exceptions.” United
States v. Iverson, 897 F.3d 450, 458 (2d Cir. 2018)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
well established exception is that “a warrantless entry
and search are permissible if the authorities have obtained
the voluntary consent of a person authorized to grant such
consent.” Id. The government has the burden of
proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the consent
was voluntary. United States v. Cacace, 796 F.3d
176, 189 (2d Cir. 2015). Consent is given voluntarily when it
is “the product of an essentially free and
unconstrained choice by its maker, as opposed to mere
acquiescence in a show of authority.” United States
v. Moreno, 701 F.3d 64, 76 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
question of whether consent “was in fact
‘voluntary' or was the product of duress or
coercion, express or implied, is a question of fact to be
determined from the totality of all the circumstances.”
Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 227 (1973).
The standard for evaluating consent is an objective one that
asks whether a reasonable person would have believed a
suspect's consent to be voluntary. See Florida v.
Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 251 (1991) (“The standard
for measuring the scope of a suspect's consent under the
Fourth Amendment is that of ‘objective'
reasonableness - what would the typical reasonable person
have understood by the exchange between the officer and the
suspect?”); Southerland v. Garcia, 483
Fed.Appx. 606, 607-08 (2d Cir. 2012) (“[W]e assess [ ]
consent on an objective basis.”). Courts in the Second
Circuit look to a number of factors in determining the
voluntariness of consent, including: (1) the age of the
consenter; (2) his educational background; (3) his
intelligence; (4) the length of detention; (5) the use of
physical punishments or deprivations; (6) whether he was
advised of his constitutional rights; (7) whether the
consenter was in custody; (8) whether guns were drawn; (9)
whether the consenter was frisked; (10) whether the consenter
was threatened; (11) whether he was in a public area; and
(12) whether he was informed that ...