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United States v. Welch

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 18, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Chris Maurice Welch, Defendant.

          Jeffrey S. Paulsen, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Chris Maurice Welch, pro se.




         This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge for a ruling on Defendant Chris Maurice Welch's ("Welch") Motions for New Trial [Docket Nos. 141, 142].[1]Welch claims he has newly discovered evidence showing Minneapolis Police Officer Jeffrey B. Werner ("Officer Werner") provided false information in a search warrant application and in court testimony when he stated that he obtained Welch's driver's license photo for use in an investigation. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.


         On March 27, 2017, Officer Werner applied to a Hennepin County judge for a search warrant for a North Minneapolis home. In the search warrant application, Officer Werner stated that a reliable Confidential Informant ("CI") told him he had personally witnessed Welch storing guns and selling drugs in the home. Def's Mot. [Docket No. 142] Ex. A at 2. Officer Werner also stated that he corroborated the information by searching Welch's name in the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") website, printing Welch's picture from the website, and showing it to the CI to confirm Welch's identity. Id. Officer Werner further stated that during his surveillance of the identified North Minneapolis residence, he observed a pattern of foot and vehicle traffic consistent with drugs being sold from the home. Id. Officer Werner then stated that this information led him to believe that illegal narcotics were being stored and distributed from the home. Id.

         The search warrant application was judicially approved the morning of March 27, 2017. Id. at 4. Also that morning, law enforcement followed Welch from his probation officer's office in St. Paul to the North Minneapolis address. Mot. Hr'g Tr. [Docket No. 32] at 10, 26. Officers executed the search warrant and found four guns and a large amount of synthetic marijuana in the kitchen. Id. at 14-15. Welch was found and arrested in a bedroom with two other men present. Id. at 11-12. In the bedroom with the three men were three cell phones, all which had been broken in half. Id. at 12. DNA on one of the recovered guns was later revealed to be consistent with Welch's DNA. Trial Tr. Vol. II [Docket No. 107] at 192-94, 213-14.

         Welch initially moved to suppress the fruits of the search warrant. See Def's Mot. Suppress [Docket No. 22] (challenging search warrant); Def's Mot. Franks Hearing [Docket No. 24] (same). However, Welch later withdrew his challenge to the search warrant because he was not a resident or overnight guest of the home and thus lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the residence. See Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 90 (1998) ("[A]n overnight guest in a home may claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment, but one who is merely present with the consent of the householder may not."); Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 3-4 (withdrawing challenges to search warrant); Trial Tr. Vol. II at 257 (defense counsel stating, "If he were an overnight guest, I would have challenged the warrant. . . ."). Welch's defense at trial was that he was a casual visitor to the home and had no connection to the guns or drugs found there. Trial Tr. Vol. I [Docket No. 106] at 52.

         On March 6, 2018, after a two day trial, a jury found Welch guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Verdict [Docket No. 78]. Welch was sentenced to 204 months imprisonment. Sentencing J. [Docket No. 127] at 2. Welch appealed his conviction and sentence on November 21, 2018. Notice Appeal [Docket No. 132]. His appeal remains pending.

         On February 5, 2019, Welch filed this Motion for a new trial. He contends that in December 2018 he asked the DMV to provide him with a report identifying the dates his name was searched in the DMV database. The DMV provided a report showing Welch's name had not been accessed during March 2017. Welch then requested a similar report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ("BCA"). The BCA provided a January 2019 report showing Welch's drivers license information was not searched between 2:20 p.m. on March 15, 2017 and 11:40 p.m. on March 26, 2017.

         Welch argues the reports show Officer Werner lied when he stated that he used Welch's photo from the DMV website to confirm Welch's identity with the CI and to conduct surveillance on the North Minneapolis home, because Officer Werner testified at trial that he conducted surveillance on the home on March 24, 2017, yet Welch's photo was not retrieved until late on the night of March 26. Welch contends the record shows "Officer Werner [n]ever used the DMV or BCA websites." Def's Mot. [Docket No. 142] at 12. Welch also argues the evidence raises a question of whether Officer Werner "acted in bad faith by exclusively pursuing [Welch] as a suspect, since Officer Werner recklessly and intentionally manipulated exculpatory documents to obtain a warrant." Id. Welch contends that the allegedly false statements were a "key component" to the issuance of the search warrant and the justification for his arrest, and that Officer Werner's conduct violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial and his Fourth Amendment right to substantive due process. Id. at 1-2.

         The Government opposes the Motion, arguing Welch waived his right to challenge the search warrant by denying he had standing as a mere visitor of the residence. The Government also argues Welch's claim that Officer Werner never accessed the DMV or BCA databases is factually incorrect. The Government has submitted a DVS printout for March 2017 showing that Officer Werner, whose user name for the DVS database is "wernerjb", queried the name "Christopher Welch" on March 26, 2017 at 11:05 p.m. See Gov't Mem. Opp'n Mot. [Docket No. 143] Attach. 2 at 1-2. The DVS printout further shows that after narrowing the search to "Chris Welch," Officer Werner searched for "DLPhotoSignature." Id. at 21-26. The Government also argues this Court lacks jurisdiction to grant a new trial while Welch's appeal is pending, and even if the Court had jurisdiction the Motion fails because Welch cannot satisfy the standard for a new trial.

         III. ...

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