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United States v. Brown

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

July 22, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Byron Brown, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          DANIEL L. HOVLAND, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion to suppress evidence filed by Defendant Byron Brown on March 26, 2019. See Doc. No. 62. On April 9, 2019, the Government filed a response in opposition to the motion. See Doc. No. 71. Brown did not file a reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Brown's motion to suppress.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 6, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted the Defendant, Byron Brown, on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances; two counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; and one count of possession of firearms by a convicted felon. See Doc. No. 2. On March 26, 2019, Brown filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a search warrant. See Doc. No. 62. On June 5, 2019, a superseding indictment adding a co-conspirator was filed. See Doc. No. 86.

         On February 12, 2019, Bismarck Police Department Detective Jerry Stein received a call from a source who wished to remain anonymous. Prior to the call, Detective Jerry Stein was working on a long-term investigation of heroin and methamphetamine trafficking into the Bismarck area. The anonymous individual provided information that a black male was coming to Bismarck from Minneapolis on the bus at 2:00 a.m. and that he was staying at the Quality Inn. This information led law enforcement to check the Quality Inn's guest registration, which lists the name and rooms of everyone staying at the hotel. Georgianna Hepperle's name was registered to room 305. Law enforcement recognize Ms. Hepperle's name and were aware she had been involved in drug-related activity in the past.

         Ms. Hepperle was under the supervision of North Dakota Parole and Probation and was subject to a search clause. Law enforcement decided to conduct a probationary search of Ms. Hepperle's hotel room. Law enforcement, along with a probation officer, knocked on the door and announced their presence. A black male, later identified as Byron Brown, answered the door and “quickly engaged in tumultuous behavior with the police.” See Doc. No. 62, p. 2. Officers noticed a strong odor of marijuana. Id. They observed an unzipped backpack sitting on a chair containing a substance appearing to be methamphetamine in excess of a quarter pound and a smaller plastic baggy that appeared to contain approximately one ounce of heroin. See id.; see also Doc. No. 71-1, p. 7.

         Once officers realized nobody else was in the hotel room, including Ms. Hepperle, they stopped the probation search, froze the scene, and sought a search warrant. Detective Jerry Stein with the Bismarck Police Department provided testimony to South Central Judicial District Court Judge Dan Borgen. See Doc. No. 71-1. In support of his request for a search warrant, Detective Jerry Stein testified that, upon entering the hotel room, Stein smelled the odor of marijuana and observed what appeared to be large quantities of both methamphetamine and heroin in plain view. See Doc. No. 71-1, p.7. Judge Borgen granted the search warrant after making a finding of probable cause based upon “an anonymous tip that led the officers to a probation search, odor of marijuana, large quantities of drugs in plain view that are indicative of dealing along with the fact that the tip was originally that someone would be coming in to deal.” See Doc. No. 71-1, pp.1011. Law enforcement returned to the Quality Inn to execute the search warrant. During the search of the black backpack, officers located a 9mm handgun, three bags of methamphetamine, a zip lock bag of heroin, a digital scale, a large amount of U.S. Currency, an opened box of zip lock bags, and a cellphone. See Doc. No. 62, p. 6.

         II. LEGAL DISCUSSION

         Brown argues the evidence seized pursuant to the search warrant should be suppressed because the search warrant was not issued by a neutral and detached magistrate and it was not based on reliable information. The Government disagrees and alternatively argues that if the search warrant was somehow defective, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but 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; see also Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13 (1948). However, the Fourth Amendment says nothing about suppressing evidence obtained in violation of its command. “The judicially-created exclusionary rule precludes admission of unlawfully seized evidence in criminal trials.” Thompson v. Carthage Sch. Dist., 87 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 1996). The exclusionary rule “is a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect [against police misconduct], rather than a personal constitutional right of the party aggrieved.” United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348 (1974).

         The general rule is that the government must secure a warrant before conducting a search. United States v. Alberts, 721 F.2d 636, 638 (8th Cir. 1983). “The Fourth Amendment requires a showing of probable cause to support a search warrant.” United States v. Gabrio, 295 F.3d 880, 882 (8th Cir. 2002). “Probable cause exists if the warrant application and affidavits describe circumstances showing a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place . . . .” United States v. Keele, 589 F.3d 940, 943 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Montes-Medina, 570 F.3d 1052, 1059 (8th Cir. 2009)). After a judicial officer has issued a search warrant upon a finding of probable cause, “that finding deserves great deference.” Walden v. Carmack, 156 F.3d 861, 870 (8th Cir. 1998).

         A. WHETHER JUDGE BORGEN WAS A NEUTRAL AND DETACHED MAGISTRATE

         Brown contends that Judge Borgen was not a neutral and detached magistrate when he granted the search warrant. Under the Fourth Amendment, a search warrant must be issued by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officers engaged in the competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. Johnson, 333 U.S. at 14. A neutral and detached magistrate is someone independent of the police and prosecution. Shadwick v. City of Tampa, 407 U.S. 345, 350 (1972). A magistrate failing to “manifest that neutrality and detachment demanded of a judicial officer when presented with a warrant application” and who acts instead as “an ...


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