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United States v. Baonar

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SCOTT BODNAR and ROBERT CAPELLI

          RULING DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          JANET BOND ARTERTON, U.S.D.J.

         Defendants Robert Capelli and Scott Bodnar ("the Defendants") are each charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and laundering of monetary instruments. Though neither was present at the time of the challenged DEA search, Mr. Capelli and Mr. Bodnar move jointly to suppress evidence seized during the search of a private airplane. Oral argument was held on January 17, 2019 regarding the Defendants' standing to challenge the search of the airplane. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion to Suppress [Doc. # 153] is denied.

         I. Background

         On June 29, 2017, a small private airplane flown by non-movant co-defendant Donald Burns arrived at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, Connecticut. (Defs,' Mem. Supp. Mot. to Suppress [Doc. # 154] at 4; Govt. Opp. to Mot. to Suppress [Doc. # 156] at 3.) Upon landing, Mr. Burns was approached by agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency conducting a "ramp-check" of the plane pursuant to Federal Aviation Administration authority. (Govt. Opp. at 3.) The government contends that during this ramp check, Mr. Burns admitted that there was "some marijuana" on the plane and subsequently consented to a search of the plane by the agents. (Id. at 4.) DEA agents searching the plane found "16 large duffle bags, containing a total of approximately 393 pounds" of marijuana. (Id.)

         The government alleges that Mr. Burns told agents that "Robert Capelli was expecting the delivery of the marijuana;" that the "marijuana was bought and secured by Capelli from" a source in California and that he had "made between 12 to 15 aircraft related trips that have been organized and coordinated by Capelli," who tasked Mr. Burns with "fly[ing] the bulk quantity of U.S. Currency .. . which is used to secure the purchase of the bulk quantities of marijuana." (Id. at 5.) Working with the agents, Mr. Burns then made contact with Mr. Capelli and made plans to deliver the marijuana. (Id.) At the time of delivery, both Mr. Capelli and Mr. Bodnar were arrested. (Id. at 6.)

         The Defendants contend that," [w]hile the airplane was solely registered to Mr. Burns," the plane was "jointly own[ed]" by Burns, Capelli, and Bodnar. (Defs.' Mem. at 3.) They claim that, along with "a third individual," Capelli and Bodnar "purchased the airplane with their personal funds and Mr. Burns was making installment payments to Mr. Bodnar, Mr. Capelli, and [that] third individual for the airplane." (Id.; see Exhibit A (Affidavits of Bodnar and Capelli) to Defs.' Mem. [Doc. #154-1].) Mr. Bodnar and Mr. Capelli each claim separately that the "black duffle bags inside of the aircraft on June 29, 2018 belonged to myself and two other individuals" and that they "intended the contents of the black duffle bags to remain private while they were in the custody of Donald Burns." (Affidavits at 1-2.)

         Mr. Capelli, Mr. Bodnar, Mr. Burns, and a fourth individual, Mr. Terrell Givens, were subsequently indicted on a variety of related charges.

         II. Discussion

         Defendants Bodnar and Capelli move jointly to suppress evidence obtained during the search of the airplane as the fruit of a "flagrant[] violat[ion] of the defendants' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights." (Defs.' Mem. at 2.) The government argues that the Defendants lack standing to challenge the search of the airplane.[1] (Govt. Opp. at 6.)

         The Fourth Amendment protects only those persons with a "legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place." Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143 (1978). It is well established that "Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights which . . . may not be vicariously asserted." Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 174 (1969). Therefore, only those who were entitled to Fourth Amendment protections in the searched area - i.e., those who had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area - may seek exclusion of evidence seized there. The Defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched. See Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 104 (1980) (Defendant, "of course, bears the burden of proving not only that the search . . . was illegal, but also that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in" the searched area.).

         A. Subjective Expectation of Privacy

          First, in order to challenge the search of the airplane, Defendants must have '"exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy'" in the searched area. Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 740 (quoting Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring)).

         Defendants argue that they did exhibit a subjective expectation of privacy in the airplane, and especially in the duffle bags, given the "style of bag" and their decision to transport the bags "us[ing] a trusted private pilot." (Defs.' Mem. at 8.) Because the "contents [of the duffle bags] could not be identified without opening the bags," Defendants argue that "it is evident that [they] intended to keep the contents of the bag private." (Id.) The government does not appear to dispute that Defendants manifested a subjective expectation of privacy. (See generally Govt. Opp. at 7-13). Thus the Court finds that the Defendants' efforts to conceal the inner contents of the bags did manifest their subjective expectation of privacy.

         B. Reasonable ...


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