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United States v. Benjamin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GLADSTONE O. BENJAMIN, JR.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: MOTION TO SUPPRESS (ECF NO. 32)

          Kari A. Dooley, U.S.D.J.

         By motion dated September 3, 2019, the Defendant seeks to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant executed at Apartment 317, 280 Collins Street, Hartford, Connecticut. The Defendant also seeks to suppress statements he purportedly made in a phone call to Keiara Elezya and a Hartford Police Detective at the time the search warrant was being executed as fruit of the illegal search. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

         The Search

         On April 23, 2019, Hartford Police officers executed a search warrant for premises described therein as 280 Collins Street, Apartment 317, Hartford, Connecticut. They seized controlled substances, various tools of the drug trafficking trade, multiple firearms and a significant amount of ammunition of various calibers. The search warrant at issue, was signed by a judge of the superior court upon application of Officer Larson and Detective Caron of the Hartford Police Department. The affidavit in support of the search warrant application will be detailed below.

         Discussion

         In seeking suppression of all evidence seized at his apartment, the Defendant raises three distinct issues. He first asserts that the warrant application did not set forth probable cause to believe that the evidence sought would be located at the target location. He next asserts that the warrant application did not set forth probable cause that there would be firearms at the target location. Finally, pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), the Defendant asserts that the affiants made several false statements and material omissions in the affidavit in support of the application for the search warrant. On this last issue, the Defendant seeks an evidentiary hearing.

         Standard of Review

         The Fourth Amendment provides that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation . . .” U.S. CONST. amend. IV. “[P]robable cause is a fluid concept-turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts-not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983). Therefore, “[i]n determining whether probable cause exists to support the issuance of a warrant, a judge must make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, . . . there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Boles, 914 F.3d 95, 102 (2d Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To establish probable cause to search a residence, two factual showings are necessary-first, that a crime was committed, and second, that there is probable cause to believe that evidence of such crime is located at the residence.” United States v. Travisano, 724 F.2d 341, 345 (2d Cir.1983) (internal citations omitted).

         A court reviewing an issuing judge's finding of probable cause “must accord considerable deference to the probable cause determination . . .” Walczyk v. Rio, 496 F.3d 139, 157 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Gates, 462 U.S. at 236 (“[W]e have repeatedly said that after-the-fact scrutiny by courts of the sufficiency of an affidavit should not take the form of de novo review. A magistrate's determination of probable cause should be paid great deference by reviewing courts.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The reviewing court's task “is simply to ensure that the totality of the circumstances afforded the [issuing judge] ‘a substantial basis' for making the requisite probable cause determination.” United States v. Thomas, 788 F.3d 345, 350 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). Additionally, the issuing judge's “finding of probable cause is itself a substantial factor tending to uphold the validity of [a] warrant.” Travisano, 724 F.2d at 345 (internal citations omitted). In the end, any doubts that remain “should be resolved in favor of upholding the warrant.” Id.

         The target location

         The Defendant first claims that the warrant application lacked probable cause as to the target location, specifically Apartment 317, within 280 Collins Street, Hartford, Connecticut. According to the Affidavit, in April 2019, the Hartford Police received information from a registered confidential informant that an individual was selling marijuana from 280 Collins Street, Apartment 317, in Hartford, Connecticut. The confidential informant, in addition to being registered as such, had previously provided reliable and detailed information which had led to both arrests and convictions. Thereafter, the confidential informant, on two separate dates, arranged to purchase marijuana from the individual purportedly at the subject address known only to the informant as “Benjamin.” Prior to each transaction, the informant contacted “Benjamin” by telephone to arrange the sale. On each occasion, the informant was surveilled entering 280 Collins Street, Hartford, Connecticut and then exiting a few minutes later. At the prearranged meeting point he produced his purchase, which appeared to be, and field tested positive for, marijuana. On each occasion, the informant advised the officers that he had proceeded to Apartment 317 and that the transaction had occurred inside Apartment 317.

         The Defendant avers that the informant could have entered any of the many apartments within 280 Collins Street and that therefore the necessary nexus to Apartment 317 is simply lacking. The Court disagrees. The previously reliable and registered confidential informant identified “Benjamin's” apartment as being at 280 Collins Street, Hartford, Connecticut and further identified the apartment as 317. The informant advised that “Benjamin” was selling marijuana. His information with respect to the building, 280 Collins Street, was corroborated on two different dates when he engaged in the controlled purchases. The information regarding the sale/distribution was corroborated on two different dates when he successfully purchased marijuana inside 280 Collins Street. Although the informant was not surveilled entering Apartment 317, his statements that he did so, given this corroboration and his proven track record, provided probable cause for the target location. When a reliable and proven confidential informant provides information that is in significant measure verified or corroborated, a judge may rely upon other of his statements in finding probable cause. See Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 147 (1972) (Police may rely on information provided by a confidential informant to establish probable cause where the information “carrie[s] enough indicia of reliability to justify the officer's [reliance].”); United States v. Elmore, 482 F.3d 172, 180 (2d Cir. 2007) (Information from an informant who is known to law enforcement requires less corroboration and may be relied upon in light of the historical reliability of the informant.).

         The Search for Firearms

         The Defendant next asserts that the warrant lacked probable cause to search for firearms and related items. The Defendant asserts that the only information as to the possible presence of firearms at the apartment was an “unattributed” statement that “‘Benjamin' is in illegal possession of multiple firearms” and the stock opinion of the affiants that “[p]ersons involved in criminal activities often keep and use weapons and other devices to protect and further their criminal enterprises … weapons and other devices include but are not limited to: body armor, firearms, ammunition, night vision, police scanners, gun boxes and surveillance equipment. These items ...


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