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United States v. Thompson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 5, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Ryan Isiah Thompson, Defendant.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Katherine M. Menendez dated January 7, 2019 (Docket No. 45). The Court reviews de novo a magistrate judge's decision on dispositive issues. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); D. Minn. L.R. 72.2(b). Having conducted that review, the Court adopts the R&R in part and declines to adopt it in part.


         The facts of this matter are fully set forth in Magistrate Judge Menendez's thorough R&R and will not be repeated here. In brief, the instant dispute arises out of a traffic stop and preceding investigation into Defendant's drug-trafficking activities. Defendant seeks the suppression of information obtained through search warrants, tracking devices, and statements and evidence uncovered during the traffic stop that resulted in Defendant's arrest. The Government objects to the R&R's conclusion that some of the statements Defendant made during the traffic stop should be suppressed.

         The investigation into Defendant's activities began when a “concerned citizen, ” identified as “ABC, ” contacted a law enforcement officer alleging that Defendant was distributing heroin in St. Paul. Many of Defendant's objections stem from his belief that law enforcement did not adequately explain to the warrant-signing judge this individual's motivations for coming forward, noting that even after ABC became a paid informant, the police officers continued to refer to him as a “concerned citizen” rather than an informant. ABC's discussions with law enforcement led to the installation of a tracking device on one of Defendant's cars and a pen register on Defendant's cell phone in early March 2018. When ABC informed the officers in mid-March that Defendant had a new cell phone number and a different vehicle, law enforcement again applied for and received a warrant allowing tracking of the car and cell phone. According to Defendant, the information in the warrants was fatally incomplete, rendering the warrants invalid and all resulting evidence obtained in the investigation fruit of the poisonous tree.


         A. Warrants

         Although she characterized the warrant applications as “thin, ” Magistrate Judge Menendez concluded that the warrants were not lacking probable cause. (R&R at 15.) And the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals routinely upholds warrant applications where the information provided by an informant is corroborated, even if that corroboration is as to innocent details. See United States v. Tyler, 238 F.3d 1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2001) (“Even ‘the corroboration of minor, innocent details can suffice to establish probable cause.'”) (quoting United States v. Ramos, 818 F.2d 1392, 1397 n.7 (8th Cir. 1987)). Indeed, even if the information in the application was insufficient to issue the warrant, “[e]vidence should be suppressed only if the affiant-officer could not have harbored an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause.” United States v. Gibson, 928 F.2d 250, 254 (8th Cir. 1991). The warrants here did not include all the incriminating information the officer had about Defendant, and thus the officer had an objectively reasonable belief that probable cause for the warrants existed.

         Defendant argues that referring to ABC as merely a “concerned citizen” improperly bolstered ABC's credibility with the issuing judge, because “it implied [ABC] was disinterested in the events described in the affidavit.” United States v. Buchanan, 167 F.3d 1207, 1210 (8th Cir. 1999). The Court disagrees. As Magistrate Judge Menendez found, there was no evidence adduced at the hearing that the officer believed there was a significant difference between the term “concerned citizen” and “confidential informant, ” or that he used the term “concerned citizen” in an attempt to mislead the issuing judge. (R&R at 19.) But even if referring to ABC as a “concerned citizen” was somehow misleading, there was sufficient information in the affidavit to allow the issuing judge to find probable cause. Moreover, a more fulsome description of ABC's role would not have changed the reliability of the information he provided, or the propriety of law enforcement or the judge relying on that information.

         Defendant also takes issue with the R&R's conclusion that the good-faith exception applies even if the warrants were otherwise invalid. According to Defendant, it was unreasonable for the law enforcement officer to rely on ABC's statements, because the officer did not do any independent investigation such as conducting a controlled buy. But Defendant cannot dispute that the officer had more information from ABC than was included in the warrant application, including videos ABC had taken of Defendant with stacks of money, firearms, and baggies of what appeared to be a controlled substance. Thus, the officer reasonably believed that there was probable cause for the warrants he sought. As the R&R correctly found, none of the exceptions to Leon's good-faith doctrine are found here: the issuing judge did not “wholly abandon[] [her] judicial role, ” the application was not “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable, ” the judge was not misled by any information the officer “knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth, ” and the warrant was not “facially deficient.” United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 923 (1984) (quotation omitted).

         Defendant next attacks the R&R's determination that the warrant for tracking the location of his cell phone complied with recent Supreme Court precedent. The application law enforcement used to request Defendant's cell-phone tracking was an old version that did not acknowledge that such a warrant must be based on probable cause, not merely a belief that the information obtained would be relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. See Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2221 (2018) (finding that probable cause is required for law enforcement to secure a warrant for cell-phone tracking data).

         But as the R&R points out, although the application referenced an outdated standard, it is clear that the issuing judge found probable cause for the cell-phone warrant. Defendant contends that this finding is itself insufficient because the issuing judge merely found probable cause “to believe that the information likely to be obtained by [the cellphone tracking] is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation into possible violation(s).” (Gov't Ex. 22.) According to Defendant, a warrant can issue only if there is “probable cause to believe that evidence of criminal activity will be found in a particular place.” (Def.'s Obj. at 25.) But this standard cannot apply to cell-phone tracking and other cellphone data. The very purpose of tracking data is to monitor the movements of an individual suspected of criminal activity, in order to pinpoint the particular place where the individual is carrying out the suspected activity. Moreover, the judge's use of “possible” violations does not mean that law enforcement had not established probable cause to believe that Defendant was engaged in criminal activity. The totality of the circumstances demonstrates that law enforcement established that such probable cause existed.

         Because the Court agrees with the R&R's determination that the warrants at issue were valid, Defendant's argument that the traffic stop was fruit of the poisonous tree is without merit. Defendant's contention that his arrest was without probable cause similarly fails. Indeed, law enforcement had ample probable cause to arrest Defendant even before the traffic stop because of the information obtained during the course of the investigation, all of which corroborated the details ABC provided. Defendant's fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree argument is without merit.

         B. ...

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