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United States v. Adams

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 29, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ERICK LEVAR ADAMS, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS

          George Z. Singal United States District Judge

         Before the Court are five motions to suppress brought by Defendant Erick Adams (ECF Nos. 65-69), which are described more fully below. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Second Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 66), and gave the parties the opportunity to present oral argument on the other motions, on November 18, 2016. The Court has considered the evidence and argument provided at the hearing, as well as the Government's Omnibus Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motions to Suppress Evidence (ECF No. 72) and Defendant's Reply (ECF No. 74). For the reasons briefly explained below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Motions to Suppress.[1]

         I. SECOND AND THIRD MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS (ECF Nos. 66 & 67)

         Defendant's Second and Third Motions to Suppress both involve the search and seizure of five cell phones that were found inside Defendant's rental vehicle. For this reason, the Court discusses the two motions together.

         A. Factual Findings

         The following facts are drawn from the record in this case, including the relevant search warrants and search warrant applications (see Attachs. to ECF Nos. 67-69; ECF Nos. 70, 73), and the testimony of Special Agent Randall Medeiros of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (“SA Medeiros”) at the evidentiary hearing on the motions.

         On December 4, 2014, at approximately 8:15 AM, two police officers conducted a traffic stop of a rental vehicle driven by Defendant, which was then traveling near Sanford, Maine.[2] The officers determined that Defendant was operating the vehicle without a valid license and arrested him. During a search of his person, Defendant was found to have approximately $500.00 cash in small denominations.

         At some point, SA Medeiros came on the scene to assist the officers. SA Medeiros was aware of information that Defendant was a drug trafficker in southern Maine. The officers ordered two separate dog sniffs of the vehicle, which both indicated the presence of drugs in the passenger compartment. SA Medeiros conducted a hand search of the passenger compartment with the assistance of one of the officers, during which he observed a cell phone on the front passenger seat, observed a cell phone in the cup holder, and found a cell phone inside a backpack in the backseat area. SA Medeiros also found a screw and washer on the floor of the backseat area, which raised for him the possibility that the interior of the passenger compartment had been disassembled to hide illegal drugs, a common practice for drug traffickers. The officer assisting in the hand search also found a second screw and the cut corner of a plastic baggie, which resembled a “Dominican tie” commonly used to package illegal drugs. Because positive dog sniffs, the presence of multiple cell phones, the loose screws, and the “Dominican tie, ” indicated to SA Medeiros that illegal drugs may have been hidden in the vehicle and that a further search was necessary, he had the vehicle secured and towed to the police barracks.

         SA Medeiros applied for a search warrant for the vehicle based on the aforementioned evidence of the presence of illegal drugs as well as Defendant's prior history of using rental cars to traffick drugs. Pursuant to the search warrant that was issued, SA Medeiros searched the vehicle and located a total of five cell phones, including the three he had previously found during the roadside hand search. He subsequently applied for, and was granted, search warrants for the contents of the phones.[3]

         B. Discussion

         In his Second and Third Motions to Suppress, Defendant seeks to suppress all evidence obtained from the search and seizure of the cell phones. The Court, however, can discern no illegality. Considering the events sequentially, the roadside hand search of Defendant's vehicle was supported by the two positive dog sniffs.[4] See United States v. Lopez, 380 F.3d 538, 544 n.4 (1st Cir. 2004) (noting that a reliable dog sniff can provide probable cause to search a vehicle). The scope of the hand search, including the search inside the backpack, was within the scope of the “automobile exception” to the warrant requirement. See United States v. Le, 377 F.Supp.2d 245, 252 (D. Me. 2005) (“The automobile exception allows ‘a probing search of compartments and containers within the automobile.'”) (quoting California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 570 (1991)). Further, once the police had probable cause to search the vehicle, they were authorized to transport the vehicle, including its contents, to effect any lawful search. See Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 52 (1970) (“[T]he blue station wagon could have been searched on the spot when it was stopped since there was probable cause to search . . . [t]he probable-cause factor still obtained at the station house . . . .”); Lopez, 380 F.3d at 545 (“The government has presented ample evidence demonstrating that law enforcement officers had probable cause to search the vehicle and the compartment. The relocation of the vehicle from the parking lot to the police station did not deprive the officers of probable cause to search.”); United States v. Panitz, 907 F.2d 1267, 1272 (1st Cir. 1990) (a warrantless search of a vehicle “need not be conducted contemporaneously with the seizure” and is not limited “temporally [or] spatially”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The cell phones themselves were subsequently searched and seized pursuant to valid warrants that were amply supported by probable cause, including the evidence of drug trafficking found in the vehicle, Defendant's prior arrests for drug offenses, and SA Medeiros's experience that cell phones often contain evidence of drug trafficking.[5] For these reasons, the Court determines that the search and seizure of the cell phones was not unlawful and therefore DENIES Defendant's Second and Third Motions to Suppress.

         II. FOURTH MOTION TO SUPPRESS (ECF No. 68)

         In his Fourth Motion to Suppress, Defendant seeks to suppress evidence seized from Storage Locker #407 at an Atlantic Mini Storage location in Arundel, Maine, pursuant to a search warrant. Based on the warrant application (see ECF No. 73-5), the Court determines that the warrant was supported by probable cause, including evidence connecting the storage locker to members of Defendant's drug trafficking operation, evidence that a vehicle used by the operation to transport drugs had visited the storage facility, and indications of the presence of drugs in the locker by a dog sniff. Further, even if the warrant was not supported by probable cause, the officers acted in “objective good faith” in executing the warrant because it is not “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely ...


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