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United States v. Nguyen

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 28, 2019



          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge

         Before the court are Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Search Warrant) Search, Arrest, Statements, Confiscation, Etc. (“Motion” or Motion to Suppress”) (Doc. 13), filed April 23, 2019; and Defendant's Motion for Leave to File (Unopposed) Attachment A (“Motion for Leave”) (Doc. 16), filed May 24, 2019. After considering the Motion, the evidence submitted by Defendant in support of his Motion, the Government's response to the Motion, and applicable law, the court denies Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Search Warrant) Search, Arrest, Statements, Confiscation, Etc. (Doc. 13). For the reasons herein explained, the court also denies Defendant's Motion for Leave to File (Unopposed) Attachment A (Doc. 16), in which Defendant requests to file a reply in support of his Motion to Suppress, and does not consider Defendant's proposed reply in ruling on his Motion to Suppress.

         I. Motion to Suppress

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant Oui Nguyen (“Defendant”) contends that the December 12, 2017 search of his mother's residence located at 422 Pebblecreek Drive, Garland, Texas 75040 (“422 Pebblecreek” or “the Premises”), where he resided, [1] was conducted pursuant to a “bare bones” and stale federal search warrant. He, therefore, maintains that all evidence seized during the search should be suppressed because the warrant is not supported by probable cause, and the Government is not entitled to rely on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Specifically, Defendant requests that the court suppress “the entry, [his] arrest, statements, confiscation of the contraband (firearm) and all other evidence” obtained as a result of the allegedly illegal search. Def.'s Mot. to Suppress 9.

         The warrant to search 422 Pebblecreek Drive was issued by a federal magistrate judge based on the 21-page affidavit of United States Postal Inspector G.C. Carter (“Carter”), who averred, based on his knowledge and experience, that persons involved in drug trafficking and related money laundering often maintain financial and other crime-related information and records in their residences or the residences of coconspirators for long periods of time; that large-scale drug traffickers frequently maintain on hand large amounts of cash to finance their drug trafficking business; and that drug traffickers often place drug proceeds and assets in the names of others or legal entities to avoid detection and seizure of the assets by law enforcement. Carter also describes an investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), and the Irving Police Department of a criminal organization led by Hung Phan (“Phan”) and other coconspirators that involved the illegal drug trafficking of marijuana purchased in the state of Washington and shipped using the United States mail and other means, money laundering of the drug proceeds, and other related illegal activity to facilitate the criminal enterprise.

         Carter's affidavit describes facets of that investigation that led him and law enforcement to believe that Defendant's mother Men Quach (“Quach”) was involved in the illegal distribution of marijuana and money laundering. According to Carter's affidavit, the entirety of the investigation, which commenced in the summer of 2016 and culminated in the arrests of Phan, Quach, and other coconspirators in December 2017, [2] showed that Quach was in frequent, ongoing contact with Phan and other coconspirators; she moved packages of marijuana and/or cash; she was arrested during a traffic stop on April 4, 2017, and found to be in possession of a large quantity of marijuana after being observed earlier that day meeting outside of the residence of coconspirators Helena Truong (“Truong”) and Phuong Phan, and giving Truong a cardboard box, small shopping bag, and a “white plastic flex trash bag” that contained several rectangular-shaped packages similar in appearance to marijuana packages that law enforcement had previously seen in this and other cases;[3] and text messages recovered from Phan's cell phone in July 2016 indicate that Quach was involved in the conspiracy since its inception.

         In addition, Carter's affidavit indicates that a “trash pull” was conducted on November 17, 2017, at 422 Pebblecreek. As a result of this “trash pull, ” a utility bill addressed to Quach at 422 Pebblecreek Drive was uncovered. From this and prior surveillance, law enforcement determined that Quach resided at this address, the same address where Defendant was arrested and approximately 25 pounds of marijuana and $50, 000 was seized on January 21, 2016, by the Garland Police Department (“GPD”), according to a GPD report obtained by a DPS agent in August 2016. The “trash pull” also revealed several cash purchases and deposits by Quach in October 2017 totaling approximately $5, 000, despite Carter's confirming with the Texas Work Force Commission that Quach had not had any legitimate employment for the past 10 years. Based on this information and her prior but recent interactions with other coconspirators, Carter states in his affidavit that he believed, based on his prior training and experience, that Quach was still receiving and distributing marijuana, and that evidence of the drug trafficking described in his affidavit and related money laundering would be located at her residence. He believed that such evidence would include illegal drugs, firearms, financial and other records evidencing drug trafficking and money laundering; similar information stored on computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices; drug proceeds in the form of currency or other valuable property, including vehicles; and information regarding customers and coconspirators.

         The search of 422 Pebblecreek was conducted by law enforcement on December 12, 2017, pursuant to the search warrant issued by United States Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney on December 11, 2017. According to the Government, police officers recovered approximately $29, 000 in cash in Quach's bedroom, which she admitted was drug proceeds. Although the search warrant was issued as a result of law enforcement's investigation of his mother's conduct, police officers, according to the Government, also found a firearm, an unspecified amount of cash, and marijuana in Defendant's bedroom located inside the residence at 422 Pebblecreek.

         As a result of the search conducted on December 12, 2017, Defendant was arrested and charged in a related state case with the unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. In a suppression hearing in the state case, Defendant filed a motion to suppress, which was granted in a one-page order without discussion on March 8, 2019. On February 5, 2019, Defendant was indicted in this District for the federal offense of Felon in Possession with a Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a). The Motion to Suppress that is the subject of this opinion was filed April 23, 2019, to which the Government filed a response in opposition on May 10, 2019. Thereafter, Defendant filed his Motion for Leave, in which he requests to file a reply in support of his Motion to Suppress.

         B. Applicable Law

         “The suppression or exclusionary rule is a judicially prescribed remedial measure . . . [that] reaches not only primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure, but also evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality or ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.'” (internal citations omitted)). Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 804 (1984). In evaluating the sufficiency of a search warrant, the court first determines “whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies.” United States v. Shugart, 117 F.3d 838, 843 (5th Cir. 1997). Under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, “evidence obtained by officers in objectively reasonable good-faith reliance upon a search warrant is admissible, even though the affidavit on which the warrant was based was insufficient to establish probable cause.” United States v. Satterwhite, 980 F.2d 317, 320 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922-23 (1984)).

         The court applies a two-part test in determining whether evidence should be suppressed under the exclusionary rule. The court first asks whether the good-faith exception to the rule applies, and then asks whether the search warrant was supported by probable cause. United States v. Mays, 466 F.3d 335, 342-43 (5th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). In determining whether the good-faith exception applies, the court is limited “to the objectively ascertainable question [of] whether a reasonably well[-]trained officer would have known that the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization.” Leon, 468 U.S. at 923 n.23.

         Generally, “[i]ssuance of a warrant by a magistrate” is sufficient “to establish good faith on the part of law enforcement officers who conduct a search pursuant to the warrant, ” United States v. Craig, 861 F.2d 818, 821 (5th Cir. 1988), unless: (1) “the magistrate issuing the warrant was intentionally or recklessly misled by the affiant on whom he [or she] relied”; (2) the magistrate “wholly abandoned his [or her] judicial role and acted as a part of the law enforcement team, rather than as a check on its zeal”; (3) the warrant was based on an affidavit “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render belief in its existence entirely unreasonable”; or (4) the warrant itself was “so facially deficient, for instance, so lacking in particularity, that an officer would be unreasonable to rely on it.” United States v. Davis, 226 F.3d 346, 351 n.1 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The judge who issues the search warrant may rely on his common sense and “draw reasonable inferences from the material he receives, ” and reviewing courts give great deference to the issuing judge's determination regarding the adequacy of the affidavit. Id. (quoting United States v. May, 819 F.2d 531, 535 (5th Cir. 1987)). The initial burden is on the defendant to establish that the law enforcement officers were not protected by the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. United States v. Cavazos, 288 F.3d 706, 710 (5th Cir. 2002).

         In United States v. Robinson, the Fifth Circuit explained that a “bare bones” affidavit will not support a finding of good faith:

An officer is not entitled to invoke the good faith exception if the affidavit upon which the warrant is founded is a “bare bones” affidavit “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable.” A “bare bones” affidavit contains “wholly conclusory statements, which lack the facts and circumstances from which a magistrate can independently determine ...

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