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United States v. Sechler

August 9, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kosik


We have before us a defense motion to suppress physical evidence seized during January 11, 2003 searches and any statements made by defendant Charles Sechler during the searches.

On January 11, 2003, the Pennsylvania State Police conducted searches for financial records and related instruments following a drug investigation of a drug organization involving Sechler which commenced in 2000. The searches were based on two separate warrants on the residence of Charles Sechler at 705 Carey Hill Road, Montoursville, Pennsylvania, and a property owned by Sechler's father and rented by the defendant at 5958 Route 864, Mountoursville. The warrants were issued on January 10, 2003 by President Judge Kenneth D. Brown of Lycoming County and were supported by two identical affidavits of probable cause prepared by two experienced state police officers specially trained in drug investigations and financial transactions related to drug activities. The purpose was to conduct a source and application of funds analysis/investigation of Charles Sechler and a Lamar Ploppert. The motion to suppress is also directed at a third search, which the defense characterizes as an "ex post facto search," authorized on January 11, 2003 by a state district magistrate on the father's property. The latter search resulted when the officers were executing the records search on the father's property and came upon in plain view evidence of various items indicative of a marijuana manufacturing and growing operation , the seizure of which was not authorized by the financial records search warrant.

The motion to suppress statements of Sechler after his arrest resulted from conversations during one of the searches when he claims he did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights.


On February 11, 2003, a drug conspiracy indictment was returned against a number of individuals other than defendant Sechler. On March 25, 2003, a superseding indictment was returned adding individuals other than Sechler. Between May and July, 2003, six charged defendants entered guilty pleas. Thereafter a second superseding indictment was filed on June 17, 2003 adding Sechler. Finally, a third superseding indictment was filed adding Steven Fausnaught to the drug conspiracy with Sechler.

Between September 18, 2003 and September 7, 2004, the defense filed fourteen motions to extend the time for filing pre-trial motions. On October 7, 2004, Sechler filed a motion to sever and to suppress his statements. The motions were briefed and a suppression hearing was scheduled for November 11, 2004. Between November 5, 2004 and July 12, 2005, Sechler filed eight motions to continue the suppression hearing.

In July, 2003, Sechler hired private counsel who shortly withdrew because he was not paid. The court appointed a public defender who left the public defender's office in October, 2004. Accordingly, another public defender was appointed. Sechler felt this counsel had a conflict of interest, and sought to have the court appoint a lawyer of his choosing. This was refused. On October 11, 2005, we appointed Sechler's present counsel from a panel of lawyers. Present counsel was specifically selected because of her experience as a zealous defender. Although the time for motions had expired, present counsel filed some fourteen pre-trial motions on November 14, 2005, including the present motion to suppress.

In her brief, present counsel acknowledges that extensive discovery has been provided and that she was allowed to confer with Sechler's co-conspirators. On January 31, 2006, the court authorized additional funds which authorized a total of $4,200 for a private investigator to interview co-defendants, expected government witnesses, as well as the defendant, in preparation for the suppression hearing. This was subsequently increased another $1,648.

Discussion and Conclusion

Defendant Sechler seeks to suppress the evidence acquired in all the searches, as well as any statements made by the defendant for numerous reasons.

1. The identical affidavits in support of the search warrants issued on January 10, 2003 and executed on January 11, 2003 on the properties located at either location (705 Carey Hill Road or 5958 Route 864) failed to set forth facts which would allow a neutral and detached judge to conclude that there was probable cause to believe illegal conduct at either location. Specifically, the defense maintains the information in the affidavits was stale and mostly based on information from multiple sources, including named individuals of unproved reliability.

2. The two search warrants were unconstitutionally overbroad and amounted to general warrants in that they failed to specify with sufficient particularity the things to be seized.

3. The affidavits for a search of the two properties on January 11, 2003 contain statements by both affiants which intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth were false and therefore materially affected probable cause. The intentional falsities related primarily to statements in the affidavits attributable to a Timothy Moore, Lamar Ploppert and a Robert Levan.

4. The third affidavit for the search warrant issued on January 11, 2003 styled the "ex post facto search" lacked independent probable cause as well as constitutional substance in that it was based on the "fruit of the initial warrant," i.e., evidence discovered in the earlier two defective searches, and further failed to indicate the drug training qualification of the canine accompanying the search.

5. Any statements made by defendant Sechler, after his arrest, were involuntary and made in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 346 (1966).

6. The defense next claims the executing officers violated the defendant's right to privacy by entering the various structures without proper notice and before the occupants could voluntarily surrender the premises.

A hearing was held on the suppression motion on March 21 and 22, 2006. In addition, the court held a hearing on the defendant's request under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674 (1978). In support of the latter, the defense ...

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