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United States v. Knutson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
TODD SEAVER KNUTSON, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHERINE MENENDEZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Todd Knutson moved to suppress evidence obtained from the seizure and search of a digital video recorder (“DVR”), which was taken pursuant to a warrant. [Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 35.] Raising a “four corners” challenge, Mr. Knutson asserts that any evidence obtained from the DVR should be suppressed because the warrant was not supported by probable cause and did not particularly describe the objects sought. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the affidavit upon which the warrant was based established probable cause to search the DVR and that the warrant described the item to be searched. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the motion to suppress be denied.

         I. The Search Warrant and Affidavit

         United States Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer[1] issued a warrant authorizing the search of Mr. Knutson's DVR on June 20, 2017. FBI Special Agent Matthew Parker submitted a sworn affidavit in support of the warrant application. In the affidavit, Agent Parker described that the FBI and St. Paul Police Department had been investigating Mr. Knutson's suspected involvement in the possession and distribution of large amounts of methamphetamine and his possession of multiple firearms at his residence on Arkwright Street in St. Paul. [Parker Aff. ¶ 4.][2]

         On June 6, 2017, law enforcement personnel seized three pounds of methamphetamine, a bullet proof vest, multiple firearms, and ammunition from the Arkwright residence through the execution of a state search warrant. [Parker Aff. ¶ 4.][3] During the search officers also seized the DVR at issue. [Parker Aff. ¶ 2.] Officers noticed several video surveillance cameras situated inside and outside the home, and Agent Parker believed the DVR was connected to the surveillance system at Mr. Knutson's residence. [Parker Aff. ¶ 5.] Following the seizure of the DVR, Agent Parker applied for the federal search warrant at issue here, seeking permission to review its contents.

         In his application for the DVR search warrant now at issue, Agent Parker explained that following the execution of the residential search warrant Mr. Knutson had been arrested and was charged in federal court with intent to distribute methamphetamine. [Parker Aff. ¶ 4.] He had also been charged with unlawfully possessing firearms after having been convicted of a felony. [Id.] With respect to the DVR, Agent Parker stated that he “does not know whether there are any photographs or additional digital media contained on the DVR.” [Parker Aff. ¶ 6.] Nevertheless, Agent Parker stated that:

[he] believe[d] that if th[e] DVR recorded activities of the persons coming and going from the Arkwright residence, there is probable cause to believe that those photographs or other digital media contain evidence relevant to the criminal activities charged in this case, namely illegal possession of firearms and distribution of methamphetamine.

[Id.] Agent Parker asserted that the existence of photographs and other digital media evidence could identify suppliers, purchasers, and other individuals associated with the distribution of methamphetamine or possession of firearms. [Id.]

         Based on this information, Special Agent Parker received permission from Magistrate Judge Bowbeer to search the DVR seized from Mr. Knutson's residence.

         II. Analysis

         Mr. Knutson raises two arguments in support of his motion to suppress. First, he asserts that the warrant was not supported by a sufficient showing of probable cause to search the DVR. [Def.'s Mem. at 8-9, ECF No. 56.] Second, he argues that the warrant fails the Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement. [Def.'s Mem. at 9.] For the reasons that follow, the Court finds neither of these arguments persuasive.

         Probable Cause

         After carefully reviewing the materials submitted by the parties, the Court concludes that the warrant to search the DVR was based on probable cause. “Probable cause exists where there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Skoda, 705 F.3d 834, 838 (8th Cir. 2013) (quotation marks omitted) (citing United States v. Donnelly, 475 F.3d 946, 954 (8th Cir. 2007) and Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983)). To determine whether probable cause exists, a court does not independently assess each piece of information; rather, it considers “all of the facts for their cumulative meaning.” United States v. Allen, 297 F.3d 790, 794 (8th Cir. 2002). “There must be evidence of a nexus between the contraband and the place to be searched.” United States v. Johnson 848 F.3d 872, 878 (8th Cir. 2017) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Tellez, 217 F.3d 547, 550 (8th Cir. 2000)).

         The task of a court issuing a warrant is “to make a practical, commonsense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit . . . there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” Gates, 462 U.S. at 238; see also United States v. Shockley, 816 F.3d 1058, 1061 (8th Cir. 2016). The issuing court's “‘determination of probable cause should be paid great deference by reviewing courts.'” Gates, 462 U.S. at 236 (quoting Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 419 (1969)). “[T]he duty of a reviewing court is simply to ensure that the ...


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