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United States v. Faulkner

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 27, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Alexander Faulkner, Defendant-Appellant United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Alexander Faulkner, Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: March 16, 2016

         Appeals from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before MURPHY, BEAM, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

          BEAM, Circuit Judge.

         Alexander Faulkner appeals the district court's[1] denial of his motion to suppress evidence, his conviction for being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, and his 280-month sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September 2013, Minneapolis Police Department officers received a tip from a Confidential Reliable Informant (CRI), with whom they had previously worked successfully, that Faulkner was dealing heroin in the Twin Cities. The CRI personally informed the officers that Faulkner had been traveling to and from Chicago to obtain heroin and then distribute it in Minneapolis. The CRI gave the officers two known addresses frequented by Faulkner–one on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul, and one on James Avenue in North Minneapolis–and a description of two of Faulkner's vehicles. Officers were able to independently verify that the James Avenue address was listed on Faulkner's driver's license; that he owned the two vehicles described by the CRI; and that the vehicles were registered to the Hamline Avenue address. Officers also conducted independent surveillance and observed Faulkner driving the vehicles at both residential locations and at other various points in Minneapolis. Accordingly, based upon this information and subsequent corroboration, the officers applied for, and received, a warrant to place GPS tracking devices on either or both of Faulkner's two vehicles. The warrant and resulting order specified that the device could be placed on either of Faulkner's vehicles located in Hennepin County (Minneapolis), but the officers ultimately placed the device on one of the vehicles (a Chevy Avalanche) while it was in Ramsey County, in the City of St. Paul. The GPS on the Avalanche verified that on Wednesday, October 16, 2013, Faulkner indeed traveled to Chicago, as the CRI predicted. Within four hours' time, the Avalanche returned to the Twin Cities area to Faulkner's Hamline Avenue address. The next morning, the vehicle made several stops around the two cities, and ended up at the James Avenue address. The Avalanche made a substantially similar route to Chicago the next week, but this time officers stopped the car when it returned to Minnesota in the early morning hours of October 22 and arrested Faulkner. A search of his person and vehicle produced a small baggie of marijuana. Officers also seized a set of keys from the vehicle. Faulkner was ultimately released from custody after this initial arrest.

         On October 21, Officers obtained search warrants for the Avalanche and the two residential addresses supplied by the CRI. When officers arrested Faulkner in his vehicle early on October 22, the residential search warrants were executed the same day.[2] Officers found heroin, firearms, and ammunition in Faulkner's locked bedroom at the Hamline Avenue address. Officers later applied for and obtained a second warrant to search the Hamline Avenue address, primarily to determine whether the keys seized from Faulkner's vehicle fit into the locks at the Hamline Avenue address (an apartment building). The keys fit the lock to the main apartment building and also the door to the bedroom where the heroin, firearms, and ammunition were found.

         Following Faulkner's indictment, the district court issued a warrant for Faulkner's arrest. Officers executed this arrest warrant and Faulkner was arrested at 8:30 a.m. at a residence on Irving Avenue in Minneapolis on January 14, 2014. During that arrest, officers observed several loose rounds of ammunition in the room where Faulkner had been sleeping. Faulkner was a convicted felon and on supervised release at the time, having been convicted in 1996 in federal court for a narcotics- distribution conspiracy and money laundering. Officers obtained a search warrant to search the residence at the Irving address following Faulkner's arrest.

         Faulkner was indicted on two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition as an Armed Career Criminal, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1), and with one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). Faulkner moved to suppress evidence found during the searches of the residences and vehicle, arguing there was no probable cause to support the various warrants, including the tracking order for the GPS unit, and also seeking disclosure of the identity of the CRI. The magistrate judge[3] held a two-day evidentiary hearing and later issued a report and recommendation denying the motion to suppress, finding ample probable cause to support the warrants and tracking order. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The district court also denied Faulkner's motion to compel disclosure of the CRI's identity, finding that the CRI was a "mere tipster" and his or her identity was not subject to disclosure. Faulkner proceeded to trial, where he was found guilty by a jury of the felon-in-possession counts. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the heroin count. Because Faulkner had two previous serious drug offenses and a violent felony (burglary), Faulkner was sentenced under the ACCA to 280 months in prison. On appeal, Faulkner repeats his arguments from the motion to suppress hearing about the probable cause supporting the various warrants and the identity of the informant, and further challenges his qualifications to be sentenced as an Armed Career Criminal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Suppress

         In reviewing the district court's denial of a motion to suppress, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. United States v. Lemon, 590 F.3d 612, 614 (8th Cir. 2010). Issuance of a search warrant must be supported by probable cause, which depends on whether, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a fair probability evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place. United States v. Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 928, 936 (8th Cir. 2013). "As a reviewing court, we pay 'great deference' to the probable cause determinations of the issuing judge or magistrate, and our inquiry is limited to discerning whether the issuing judge had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed." United States v. Lucca, 377 F.3d 927, 933 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236 (1983)).

         1. GPS Tracking Device

         Faulkner argues that all evidence from the GPS warrant should have been suppressed because (1) probable cause was lacking based upon the contents of the affidavit, (2) execution of the warrant outside the geographical limitations set forth in the warrant transformed the installation of the GPS tracking device into a warrantless search, and (3) installation of the device outside of Hennepin County violated state law. Placement of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle is a "search" within ...


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