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United States v. Sukhtipyaroge

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 10, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Pisanu Sukhtipyaroge, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge.

         On January 11, 2018, United States Magistrate Judge Katherine M. Menendez issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) in this case. (Dkt. 83.) The R&R recommends granting in part and denying in part Defendant Pisanu Sukhtipyaroge's Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure. (Dkt. 46.) Both Plaintiff United States of America and Sukhtipyaroge timely objected to the R&R. For the reasons that follow, the objection of the United States to the R&R is sustained, Sukhtipyaroge's objection to the R&R is overruled, and Sukhtipyaroge's motion to suppress evidence is denied.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         In July 2017, Detective Michael Schantzen of the Anoka County Sherriff's Office interviewed A.M., an alleged victim of human trafficking. During the interview, A.M. reported that his family and Sukhtipyaroge agreed in 2015 that A.M. would move to the United States and Sukhtipyaroge would pay for A.M.'s education. According to Detective Schantzen, A.M. stated that Sukhtipyaroge began engaging in unwanted sexual contact with him “not too long” after A.M. arrived in the United States. When Sukhtipyaroge subsequently prevented A.M. from attending school, A.M. began working at Sukhtipyaroge's restaurant, Royal Orchid. A.M. reported that while working at Royal Orchid, Sukhtipyaroge threatened A.M. with deportation to coerce A.M.'s compliance with ongoing sexual contact. After A.M. disclosed that his cell phone contained photographs of his sexual contact with Sukhtipyaroge, Detective Schantzen copied the contents of A.M.'s cell phone with A.M.'s consent.

         A.M. also reported that Sukhtipyaroge permitted him to use Sukhtipyaroge's computer at Royal Orchid to communicate with A.M.'s family. A.M. advised Detective Schantzen that this computer may contain videos of Sukhtipyaroge engaging in sexual acts, including one video that A.M. believed may depict a minor. According to A.M., these videos were on an S.D. card[2] that A.M. had removed from Sukhtipyaroge's computer and possessed for the past year. A.M. voluntarily gave this S.D. card to Detective Schantzen. Detective Schantzen obtained a warrant to search the contents of the S.D. card because he believed that A.M. could not consent to the search of an S.D. card that A.M. did not own. Detective Schantzen also secured search warrants for Sukhtipyaroge's residence and Royal Orchid. The warrants authorized a broad range of items and data to be searched, including “[c]ellular phones and other devices that may contain text messages, voicemails, photographs, emails and other types of communication” and authorized a “forensic examination” of any recovered electronic media.

         Detective Schantzen arrested Sukhtipyaroge at a retail store on August 1, 2017, and, during a search incident to arrest, seized a fanny pack, keys to Sukhtipyaroge's vehicle, and Sukhtipyaroge's HTC cell phone. Law enforcement officers thereafter executed the search warrants at Sukhtipyaroge's residence and Royal Orchid. Detective Schantzen subsequently realized that he submitted Sukhtipyaroge's HTC cell phone for forensic analysis without a warrant because the cell phone was seized during Sukhtipyaroge's arrest rather than during a search of Sukhtipyaroge's residence or Royal Orchid. Homeland Security Special Agent Charles Bautch thereafter applied for a search warrant for Sukhtipyaroge's HTC cell phone. Special Agent Bautch explained in the search warrant application that state authorities had erroneously searched the cell phone and the application did not rely on any information recovered from the warrantless search. A magistrate judge issued a search warrant for Sukhtipyaroge's HTC cell phone based on the application.

         Sukhtipyaroge moves to suppress the S.D. card, the HTC cell phone, and any evidence obtained from either device, arguing that the S.D. card was unlawfully seized and that the HTC cell phone was unlawfully searched. The R&R recommends granting Sukhtipyaroge's motion to suppress the S.D. card because no exception to the warrant requirement justifies seizure of the S.D. card and denying the motion as to Sukhtipyaroge's HTC cell phone based on the independent-source doctrine.

         ANALYSIS

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). Evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is subject to the exclusionary rule, Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135, 139 (2009), unless the government proves by a preponderance of the evidence that an exception to the exclusionary rule applies, Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 444 (1984); United States v. Kennedy, 427 F.3d 1136, 1144 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Both the United States and Sukhtipyaroge object to the R&R. The United States objects to the recommended suppression of the S.D. card, arguing that an exception to the warrant requirement justifies the seizure of the S.D. card. In support of his objection, Sukhtipyaroge argues that the independent-source doctrine does not excuse the warrantless search of the HTC cell phone. The Court reviews these objections de novo, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); accord LR 72.2(b)(3), and analyzes each in turn.

         I. The S.D. Card

         The R&R recommends granting Sukhtipyaroge's motion to suppress the S.D. card because neither exigent circumstances nor the inevitable-discovery doctrine excuse the warrantless seizure of the S.D. card. In support of its objection, the United States argues that the warrantless seizure of the S.D. card is excused by A.M.'s consent, exigent circumstances, the inevitable-discovery doctrine, or the good-faith exception. Sukhtipyaroge counters that A.M. lacked the authority to consent to the seizure of the S.D. card and that no other exception to the warrant requirement exists under these circumstances.

         Property is seized when there is a meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interest in the seized property. United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984). Consent is a “well settled” exception to the requirement to obtain a warrant before seizing property, Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973), and must be obtained from a party with a possessory interest in the property, United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974). A third party may consent to the seizure of property if the third party shares sufficient common authority over the property. United States v. Clutter, 674 F.3d 980, 983 (8th Cir. 2012); see also Matlock, 415 U.S. at 176. The Fourth Amendment is not violated when law enforcement officers reasonably rely on a third party's apparent authority to consent to seizure. Clutter, 674 F.3d at 983.

         The United States relies on Clutter to support its contention that a warrant was not required to seize the S.D. card in light of A.M.'s consent. In Clutter, after the defendant was arrested for burglary, he identified certain computers that he used to facilitate his crime. Id. at 982-83. These computers were located in a residence that the defendant shared with his father. Id. During a search of these computers, law enforcement officers discovered suspected images of child pornography. Id. The officers then seized other computers from the residence with the consent of the defendant's father. Id. The Eighth Circuit determined that the warrantless seizure of these computers was lawful because the defendant's father had actual possession of and joint access to the computers, he consented to their seizure, law ...


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