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United States v. Webster

November 10, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTOPHER E. WEBSTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

Defendant, Christopher E. Webster, was indicted on one count of possession of 50 or more grams of cocaine base (crack) with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and § 841(b)(1)(A) and one count of possession of 5 or more grams of crack with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and § 841(b)(1)(B). On May 13, 2009, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and Quash Warrant (#18). Following a July 22, 2009 evidentiary hearing, Defendant filed his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (#25) on October 9, 2009. The government filed its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (#27) on October 30, 2009. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence and Quash Warrant (#18) is DENIED.

FACTS

Danville police officer Troy Wasson*fn1, in an application for a search warrant for the address of 1319 East English Street in Danville, Illinois, testified as to the following on August 14, 2008, before Illinois state Fifth Circuit Associate Judge Joseph Skowronsk:

A week prior to applying for the warrant he received a telephone call at the VMEG office from an anonymous source indicating that a person named "Chris" was selling powder cocaine across from the Northeast Magnet School, a grade school in Danville. Wasson provided the caller with his name and telephone number and told them to call back if they had further information. He then began to investigate the caller's claim with other agents in the VMEG office. He learned that another agent, about three months earlier, had received information that a black male named Chris had been selling cocaine in the same neighborhood across from the grade school. Wasson also consulted with "Drug Track," an information gathering tool used by law enforcement at VMEG that assisted in drug investigations. He then ran a background check on Defendant, and obtained Defendant's photograph from the Secretary of State website and Defendant's criminal history. Wasson learned that Defendant had a history of drug arrests and weapons offenses.

Wasson was contacted again by the anonymous caller and they agreed to meet, at which meeting Wasson signed the caller up as a confidential informant (CI), who was working purely for compensation. Wasson admitted he had not used this informant before and had no track record as to her reliability. The CI provided Wasson with information on her relatives' dealings with Defendant involving drugs and the mention of weapons.

That day, August 14, 2008, Wasson arranged for the CI to make a controlled drug buy from Defendant. Under Wasson's observation, the CI placed a phone call to Defendant to arrange for the purchase of $100 of cocaine. Defendant and the CI arranged to meet at a gas station. At the same time, other police agents were conducting surveillance on the 1319 East English address and observed Defendant, with another black male, leave the house and go straight to the gas station where the drug transaction was to happen on Bowman and Voorhees streets in Danville. Defendant then entered the CI's car. Constant surveillance was maintained by the police on Defendant and the CI during the entire transaction. After the transaction the CI met with Wasson and turned over to the police the drugs purchased from Defendant. The drugs field tested positive for cocaine. The CI and her vehicle were both searched before and after the transaction and no contraband was found.

About an hour prior to meeting with Judge Skowronski, Wasson had the CI place another phone call to Defendant to inquire about purchasing the same amount of cocaine. Defendant told the CI that he was out of town, but that the CI could meet him later that day at the 1319 East English address to purchase the drugs. Judge Skowronski issued the search warrant*fn2 for 1319 East English after questioning Wasson and hearing questions put to the officer by the State's Attorney.

Wasson then testified to the following at an evidentiary hearing held before this court on July 22, 2009:

Agents arrived at Defendant's home to execute the search warrant at around 6 p.m. on August 14, 2008. In the preparation for the warrant's execution, Wasson met with Master Sergeant Steve Guess and went over the relevant information, including Defendant's background and the fact that the criminal history had tagged Defendant as "armed and dangerous." Also, the CI had provided Wasson with information on her relatives' dealings with Defendant involving drugs and the mention of weapons. As Defendant pulled up in his vehicle to the driveway of 1319 East English, Wasson pulled in behind him, blocking Defendant's path. Wasson approached Defendant on the driver's side of Defendant's vehicle and informed him that they had a warrant to search his house. Defendant was placed into handcuffs. After Defendant had been placed in handcuffs Wasson heard Guess ask if he would consent to a search of the vehicle. Although he did not hear Defendant's actual response, Wasson assumed it was a "yes" and that it was not possible Defendant did not give consent. Cocaine was found during the search of the vehicle. Drugs were also found in the residence.

Master Sergeant Steve Guess of the Illinois State Police testified that he was aware that Defendant had prior arrests for weapons offenses. Guess approached Defendant's car with Wasson at the initiation of the search warrant execution. Like Wasson, he was in uniform and clearly identifiable as a police officer. When Guess went to speak with Defendant, Defendant was already in handcuffs because the officers had a search warrant for the residence and Defendant had a prior history of weapons and had been tagged in police computers as being armed and dangerous. Guess asked Defendant if he could search Defendant's vehicle. Guess did not remember exactly verbatim what Defendant's reply was, but it was along the lines of "yeah, go ahead" or "I don't care." Guess remembered that Defendant had given him a positive answer in allowing him to search the vehicle. Defendant's car was then search and cocaine was recovered.

ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that there is nothing in the record that provides probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant for the 1319 East English address and because the search warrant was invalid, Defendant's detention during the search was illegal, ...


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