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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

July 14, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant Johnson's amended motion to suppress evidence, ECF No. 15. Johnson challenges the probable cause supporting a warrant issued to search his trailer, and also seeks a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED. Johnson's prior motion to suppress, ECF No. 14, is MOOT.


         On September 29, 2014, a warrant issued to search Johnson's mobile home trailer in East Moline, Illinois. Warrant, Am. Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 15-1. The warrant was supported by the affidavit of Village of Hampton police officer Devin McNeill. See McNeill Aff, Am. Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 15-1. He related the following facts in support of his application for a warrant.[1]

         On September 27, 2014, McNeill saw Johnson and another man, Dakota Johnson, standing outside of a mobile home trailer parked at the Village of Rapids City Village Hall. The trailer had Illinois plates and was registered to Robert Johnson. McNeill also at some point saw the Johnsons in the bed of the truck that the trailer attached to, and in the truck itself. Later, he saw the Johnsons leave the trailer in a Chevy Cavalier, with Dakota driving. McNeill then stopped the men (Dakota's license was suspended), and "removed" Dakota from the car. Smelling the telltale scent of burnt cannabis inside, McNeill searched the car. He found a glass pipe, a plastic baggie containing about 18 grams of marijuana, a corn cob pipe, 11 baggies, 11 latex gloves, small amounts of methamphetamine, more small baggies, a loaded handgun, and ammunition for the gun.

         Robert Johnson told McNeill that he "currently had multiple narcotics pipes inside the trailer" that Robert had been standing next to earlier. He also told McNeill that both the pipes found in the search of the Cavalier belonged to him. McNeill ran a criminal history check on Robert and found that he had "a prior delivery/manufacturing of cannabis charge dating from 2005 as well as Felony Burglary convictions." Dakota separately admitted to having bought the gun in Rock Island, Illinois for protection while dealing drugs.


         Johnson makes two arguments: first, that the search warrant was unsupported by probable cause, requiring the fruits of the search to be suppressed, Am. Mot. Suppress 4-10; and second, that because Officer McNeill's affidavit contained a false statement and a material omission, Johnson is entitled to a Franks hearing, at which the Court should set aside the false material and add back in the missing material, then determine whether the warrant should have issued, id. at 10-13. Johnson also argues that in either case, the "good faith exception, " which allows police to rely on a facially valid but unconstitutional warrant, does not apply. Id. at 13-15. The government responds that the affidavit presented probable cause sufficient to justify the warrant, Resp. 9-10, ECF No. 17; and that Johnson has presented insufficient evidence for a Franks hearing, id. at 10-13. If Johnson's first argument succeeds, he is entitled to suppression and there is no need to address whether the Court must hold a Franks hearing. However, because the affidavit provided enough support for a warrant, the Court will first explain why, and then discuss whether Johnson is entitled to & Franks hearing.

         I. Facial Sufficiency of Affidavit to Support Warrant

         The Constitution secures "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend. IV. Warrants cannot issue without a judicial determination of probable cause. Id. When reviewing a warrant-issuing judge's determination that probable cause existed, a reviewing court defers to that judge's determination if "there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the judge's decision." United States v. Lloyd, 71 F.3d 1256, 1262 (7th Cir. 1995). Any factual determinations made by the warrant-issuing judge are reviewed for clear error, and review of conclusions of law-most particularly, whether probable cause existed to justify issuance of a warrant-is de novo. United States v. Koerth, 312 F.3d 862, 865 (7th Cir. 2002).

         The warrant affidavit stands on its own: the information supporting the warrant must be found within the "four corners of a written affidavit" presented to the judge (assuming she was presented with no other evidence in support of the warrant). United States v. Anderson, 453 F.2d 174, 175 (1971). The task of the issuing judge is then to make a "common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 214 (1983).

         Taken as a whole, the affidavit in Johnson's case presented probable cause. The affidavit stated that officers discovered physical evidence of drug use and distribution: two pipes, many plastic baggies and gloves, drug residue, and a gun and ammunition. It stated that Dakota admitted that the gun was used in drug distribution. It stated that Robert admitted ownership of the pipes in the car, and told Officer McNeill where more-specifically, more "narcotics pipes"-were to be found. And it stated that Robert was the registered owner of the trailer and had been seen in and on the truck attached to it a short time earlier. Thus, the affidavit presented 1) evidence of drug distribution in the car, 2) evidence that the men in the car with the drugs knew each other, and that each possessed some of the contraband in the car, and, most importantly, 3) a direct admission by Robert that contraband was to be found in the trailer, which he owned and had recently been near. This information was more than sufficient ground upon which to base a probable cause determination.

         Johnson argues, incorrectly, that there was no nexus between the trailer and the drug equipment found in the Cavalier. Am. Mot. Suppress 9-10. But this case is distinguishable from United States v. Ramos, 923 F.2d 1346 (9th Cir. 1991), overruled on other grounds by United States v. Ruiz, 257 F.3d 1030 (9th Cir. 2001), upon which Johnson relies. There, the appellate court found that police had lacked probable cause to search a defendant's apartment, at which he had stopped after making a suspected drug delivery, but which officers had no other reason to believe would contain drugs. 923 F.2d at 1352. Here, the officers had reason to believe contraband would be found in Johnson's trailer because 1) Johnson told them it would be, and 2) Johnson was found in a car with evidence of drug distribution immediately after having left the trailer, which he owned. While the former reason is plainly stronger, the latter is also more compelling than the one that the Ninth Circuit rejected in Ramos. That is, there is more reason to believe that contraband will be found in a trailer when a person has just departed from the trailer, which he owns, in a car full of drug dealing equipment, than there is to believe that contraband will be found in an apartment when a person has briefly stopped there after making a suspected drug delivery somewhere else. Furthermore, the two reasons in Johnson's case reinforce each other. His admission that drug paraphernalia would be found in the trailer is consistent with and supports the inference that more contraband of the same kind the police had just seized would be found in the trailer. Conversely, the two pipes Johnson had just claimed, as well as the gun, gloves, bags, and drugs that he had not claimed, make credible his claim that more narcotics pipes were to be found in his trailer.

         In any case, Johnson's admission would have been sufficient on its own. See United States v. Harris,403 U.S. 573, 583 (1971) ("Admissions of crime, like admissions against proprietary interests, carry their own indicia of credibility-sufficient at least to support a finding of probable cause to search."). The affidavit supported the warrant, and ...

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