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United States of America v. Francisco Mejia

September 24, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRANCISCO MEJIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Defendant Francisco Mejia is charged in an indictment with nine counts relating to the transportation, possession, and receipt of child pornography, and one count of failing to appear before the court. Before the court is Mejia's pre-trial motion to suppress evidence obtained during the search of his apartment, along with all fruits of the search. The court concludes that although the search warrant incorrectly identified the residence to be searched as a single-family residence, and an evidentiary hearing would be required to determine whether the officers reasonably believed the warrant was valid when issued,*fn1 the inevitable discovery doctrine applies to the evidence discovered pursuant to the search. The court therefore denies Mejia's motion to suppress.

I. FACTS

The following facts are undisputed by the parties unless otherwise indicated. Mejia was charged on August 26, 2010, with transportation, receipt, and possession of materials containing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(1), (a)(2)(A), and (a)(5)(B). The investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that led to the charges began after an undercover officer used a peer-to-peer file sharing program to identify a user with files allegedly containing child pornography. Based on information from the Internet Service Provider, the user's IP address was linked to the billing name "Irma Canas" and the billing address "4318 N. Albany Av Flr 2, Chicago, Illinois." According to the government, FBI Special Agent Byron Militello then searched the Lexis Nexis Accurint database, which revealed that Irma Canas resided at 4318 N. Albany Avenue, along with four individuals with the last name of Mejia.*fn2 From a location on the curb, Agent Militello conducted surveillance of the address from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on October 3, 2006, and took photographs of the residence. He saw no activity at the building. In his report on that date, he stated,

The residence is a two-story house. . . . There are wooden stairs leading to the front door. . . . Next to the front door was a single white mailbox. The numbers "4318" . . . were displayed across the top of the front door. The rear of the residence had a detached garage . . . . Above the garage door were numbers in black coloring "4318." The front of the residence was accessible by street. The rear of the residence was accessible by an alley way.

On or about October 4, 2006, law enforcement agents used Illinois Secretary of State records to verify that Canas and the Mejias lived at 4318 N. Albany Avenue. Agent Militello contacted a Postal Inspector, who reported that Canas and four members of the Mejia family received mail at the address and that the residence had one mailbox. It is unclear whether the Postal Inspector was asked whether anyone else received mail at that address.

On October 10, 2006, Agent Militello requested a search warrant for evidence of child pornography at 4318 N. Albany Avenue, Chicago, IL. The affidavit accompanying the complaint for the search warrant stated that the Special Agent's investigation had led him to an IP address owned by Irma Canas, located at "4318 N. Albany Av Flr 2." It then summarized Militello's efforts to verify the occupants of the residence. Magistrate Judge Keys issued a search warrant for "A Two Story Single Family Residence Located at 4318 North Albany Avenue," as described in the agent's report quoted above.

The FBI conducted a search of the property on October 12, 2006. Upon entering the front door of the building, the investigators discovered a vestibule with two doors that bore no names or numbers. The agents approached the door on the left. A resident answered, and advised the agents that that unit, the first floor apartment, did not belong to the Canas/Mejia family, but rather to the Cortez family. The agents then knocked on the door to the right. The door was opened by Roberto Mejia, who later identified himself as the building owner. The agents went up a flight of stairs to the second floor apartment. They confirmed that Irma Canas and four members of the Mejia family resided there. The defendant was questioned and his computer was seized.

II.ANALYSIS

In addressing Mejia's motion to suppress, the court follows the framework set out in Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 85 (1987), in which the defendant moved to suppress evidence on the grounds that a search based on an overbroad warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court stated that "[i]n our view, the case presents two separate constitutional issues, one concerning the validity of the warrant and the other concerning the reasonableness of the manner in which it was executed." Id. at 84.

The court will first address whether suppression of the evidence is required under Garrison, then turn to the government's alternative argument that the inevitable discovery doctrine prevents the application of the exclusionary rule in this case.

A. Validity of the Search Warrant

Mejia argues that the initial search warrant was overbroad and invalid, because Judge Keys did not determine that probable cause existed to search each residential unit at 4318 N. Albany Avenue. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the issuance of a warrant that fails to "particularly describe[e] the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized." Id. When a building has separate residences, the particularity requirement is satisfied only if the search warrant specifies the unit subject to search. United States v. White, 416 F.3d 634, 637 (7th Cir. 2005). "[A] distinct probable cause determination must be made for each unit." United States v. Butler, 71 F.3d 243, 249 (7th Cir. 1995); see also United States v. Hinton, 219 F.2d 324, 325-26 (7th Cir. 1955) ("For purposes of satisfying the Fourth Amendment, searching two or more apartments in the same building is no different than searching two or more completely separate houses. Probable cause must be shown for searching each . . . apartment.").

There is no dispute that, in this case, the warrant failed to satisfy the particularity requirement because probable cause was not established for each apartment of the dwelling. An exception to the particularity requirement applies, however, if the officers seeking the warrant reasonably believed the residence was a single unit. Garrison, 480 U.S. at 85-86. In Garrison, police obtained a warrant for a floor of a residential building, under the mistaken belief that the floor contained only one apartment, when it in fact contained two. The fact ...


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