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United States v. Oglesby

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 26, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Jcolby Oglesby's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. No. 21.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Oglesby has been federally charged as a felon in possession of a firearm. Evidence of the alleged crime was discovered by the Government upon Mr. Oglesby's arrest by Houston police for burglary of a vehicle and evading arrest. (Doc. No. 21.) The arrest occurred during an investigation of a string of “jugging”[1] incidents at a shooting range. (Doc. No. 23 at 2.)

         Here, the Government alleges that police received several complaints that a black Jeep Liberty with paper license plates stole firearms from patrons exiting a shooting range. (Doc. No. 23 at 2.) Police were surveilling the shooting range when a Jeep matching this description entered the parking lot. (Doc. No. 23 at 2.) Police observed a patron exit the shooting range and place a bag in the back seat of his pickup truck. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 2.) Officers saw the Jeep follow the pickup as it left the shooting range and proceeded to a nearby restaurant. (Doc. No. 23 at 2.) Once the driver of the pickup entered the restaurant, police observed a man, whom they later identified as Mr. Oglesby, exit the Jeep, break the pickup's rear passenger window, remove items from the backseat, and place them in the Jeep. (Doc. No. 23 at 2.)

         Police allege that they attempted to approach Mr. Oglesby, who got back into the Jeep and drove away. (Doc. No. 23 at 3.) Police pursued the Jeep, and Mr. Oglesby was arrested. (Doc. No. 23 at 3.) The Government claims another individual was arrested with Mr. Oglesby and was inside the Jeep as these events transpired.[2] (Doc. No. 23 at 3.)

         After Mr. Oglesby was arrested, police found a cell phone on the Jeep's front seat. (Doc. No. 21-2.) The police sought and received a search warrant for the phone. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 1.) The search revealed incriminating photographs and videos. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 8.) Specifically, Mr. Oglesby has previously been convicted of felonies, and the phone contained pictures of him with firearms. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 8.) Police also extracted GPS data indicating that Mr. Oglesby was making purchases from a local gun store. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 8.) Further investigation at the gun store uncovered evidence that Mr. Oglesby was setting up “straw purchases, ” during which friends would buy guns on his behalf. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 8-10.) Police suggest that Mr. Oglesby was acquiring the guns to sell on the black market. (Doc. No. 21-2 at 10.) Mr. Oglesby was indicted on two counts of felon in possession of a firearm on October 18, 2018.

         Mr. Oglesby now moves to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of his cell phone, and “all evidence derived as the fruit of the cell phone search, including any firearms or ammunition, statements, and any additional, subsequent evidence obtained from the firearm investigation.” (Doc. No. 21 at 2.) Mr. Oglesby bases his motion on two alleged deficiencies in the warrant: (1) the warrant did not establish probable cause to believe that evidence of the offense being investigated at the time of the warrant application-burglary of a vehicle-would be found on the phone; and (2) the warrant was facially overbroad in violation of the Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement. (Doc. No. 21 at 1.) It is undisputed that the warrant specified the cell phone itself with particularity (by including identifying features like cracks and an identification number). Mr. Oglesby argues instead that the warrant was overbroad in its description of which categories of data on the cell phone could be searched, as it allowed the police to search the entire contents of the phone, without limitations. (Doc. No. 21 at 1.)


         The Fourth Amendment mandates that search warrants issue only “upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Search warrants must be supported by a sworn affidavit establishing probable cause. United States v. Perez, 484 F.3d 735, 740 (5th Cir. 2007). Exceptions to the warrant requirement exist, but the Supreme Court has ruled that police are required to obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone seized incident to an individual's arrest. Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 403 (2014).

         Ordinarily, the exclusionary rule mandates that “evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used in a criminal proceeding against the victim of the illegal search and seizure.” United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 347 (1974); see also Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). Searches conducted pursuant to warrants that are later held invalid often fall under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, which provides that “evidence obtained during the execution of a warrant later determined to be deficient is admissible nonetheless, so long as the executing officers' reliance on the warrant was objectively reasonable and in good faith.” United States v. Payne, 341 F.3d 393, 399 (5th Cir. 2003); see also United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). An officer's reliance on the warrant is not objectively reasonable and in good faith if “a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization.” Payne, 341 F.3d at 400 (quoting Leon, 468 U.S. at 922 n.23).

         The good-faith exception does not apply in any of the following circumstances:

(1) If the issuing magistrate/judge was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known except for reckless disregard of the truth; (2) where the issuing magistrate/judge wholly abandoned his or her judicial role; (3) where the warrant is based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable; and (4) where the warrant is so facially deficient in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.

United States v. Webster, 960 F.2d 1301, 1307 n.4 (5th Cir. 1992). Only the final two circumstances are at issue here.

         The quintessential example of an affidavit that is “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable” is a “bare bones” affidavit lacking “sufficient information to determine that probable cause exists.” United States v. Brown, 941 F.2d 1300, 1303 (5th Cir. 1991); United States v. Craig, 861 F.2d 818, 821 (5th Cir. 1988). A “bare bones” affidavit “contain[s] wholly conclusory statements, which lack the facts and circumstances from which a magistrate can independently determine probable cause.” United States v. Satterwhite, 980 F.2d 317, 321 (5th Cir. 1992). Examples include affidavits that “merely state that the affiant ‘has cause to suspect and does believe,' or ‘has received reliable information from a credible person and does believe,' that contraband is located on the premises.” United States v. Pope, 467 F.3d 912, 920 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting Brown, 941 F.2d at 1303 n.1).

         A. Probable Cause

         A magistrate judge's decision that a search warrant was supported by probable cause “is entitled to great deference by reviewing courts.” Brown, 941 F.2d at 1302. The finding of probable cause need only be supported by “a substantial basis for concluding that a search would uncover evidence of wrongdoing.” Id. Review of probable cause determinations must focus solely on the information presented to the magistrate judge who issued the warrant. United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 112 n.2 (1984); Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 109 n.1 (1964) (“It is elementary that in passing on the validity of a warrant, the reviewing court may consider only information brought to the magistrate's attention.”), abrogated on other grounds by Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983); see also Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 568 n.8 (2012) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting) (quoting Aguilar); Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 293 n.6 (1983) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (“It is a truism that ‘a search warrant is valid only if probable cause has been shown to the magistrate and that an inadequate showing may not be rescued by post-search testimony on information known to the searching officers at the time of the search.'” (collecting cases)); Spinelli v. United States¸ 393 U.S. 410, 413 n.3 (1969) (quoting Aguilar), abrogated on other grounds by Gates, 462 U.S at 213.

         Probable cause determinations are “practical, common sense decision[s] as to whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Cavazos, 288 F.3d 706, 710 (5th Cir. 2002). “Facts in the affidavit must establish a nexus between the [thing] searched and the evidence sought.” Payne, 341 F.3d at 400. The nexus may be established “through normal inferences as to where the articles sought would be located.” United States v. Freeman¸ 685 F.2d 942, 949 (5th Cir. 1982).

         B. Particularity

         The Fourth Amendment requires search warrants to demonstrate particularity in (1) the description of the place or item to be searched, and (2) the identification of the persons or things to be seized. U.S. Const. amend. IV. The particularity requirement prevents the authorization of “a general, exploratory rummaging in a person's belongings.” Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 467 (1971).

         A search warrant “satisfies the particularity requirement if its text constrains the search to evidence of a specific crime.” United States v. Castro, 881 F.3d 961, 964 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Andresen v. Maryland, 427 U.S. 463, 480-81 (1976)).

[T]he scope of a lawful search is “defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found. Just as probable cause to believe that a stolen lawnmower may be found in a garage will not support a warrant to search an upstairs bedroom, probable cause to believe that undocumented aliens are being transported in a van will not justify a warrantless search of a suitcase.”

Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 84-85 (1987) (quoting United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 824 (1982)). In this way, like the probable cause requirement, the particularity requirement mandates that a nexus be established between the specific thing to be searched and the evidence for which law enforcement is looking.

         Items seized pursuant to a search warrant “must be described with sufficient particularity such that the executing officer is left with no discretion to decide what may be seized.” Williams v. Kunze, 806 F.2d 594, 598 (5th Cir. 1986). “However, in circumstances where detailed particularity is impossible, generic language suffices if it particularizes the types of items to be seized.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the Fifth Circuit has upheld warrants authorizing the seizure of “all records” in “extreme cases, ” such broad language triggers “much closer scrutiny” under the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Humphrey, 104 F.3d 65, 69 & n.2 (5th Cir. 1997).

         III.PROBABLE ...

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