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United States of America v. William Jones

May 11, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.


Defendant William Jones has been charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress physical evidence recovered during a November 20, 2009 search of 526 N. 59th Street in Philadelphia, including the Intratec, Model AB-10, 9mm Luger semiautomatic pistol, bearing an obliterated serial number (the "Tec-9"), and the extended large capacity magazine, loaded with 21 live rounds of ammunition (the "extended clip"), that Philadelphia police officers seized from the second-floor bedroom closet. We held a Hearing on the Motion on April 12, 2011. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.


Defendant has moved to suppress the evidence seized on November 20, 2009, asserting that the affidavit of probable cause submitted in connection with the application for the search warrant for 526 N. 59th Street (the "affidavit") did not establish probable cause. The affidavit states, in its entirety, as follows:

On Friday, 11/20/09 at or about 12:01 PM, 16th District police responded to a radio call "Meet a complainant, 3900 Brown Street." On arrival, police met with a complainant who is known to the Affiant and will be available for Court proceedings. He told the police that there were two occupants in his vehicle which was parked nearby. He stated that one of the occupants was William Jones who he has known for 8 to 9 years and he knows Jones to sell drugs to earn money. He stated that the other occupant was only known to him as "Gunplay" and that he has known "Gunplay" since October and has been in his company six or seven times. He told the officers that William Jones had told him that he had killed someone on 52nd Street. While driving through 52nd Street between Greenway and Kingsessing Avenue he pointed to the location at which he had killed someone by shooting him. The officers contacted the Homicide Unit and it was learned that Christian White had been shot and killed on 4/30/09 (M09-92, DC#09-12-037860) at that location. The witness further stated to police that he was with William Jones when Jones obtained a Tech 9 handgun. He stated that he saw the gun last approximately 2 to 3 weeks ago and that Jones kept the gun in his room. He stated that Jones rents a room from his grandmother, and that he occupies the 2nd floor middle bedroom. This witness then led Detectives to the residence that Jones occupies and it was found to be 526 N. 59th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. William Jones and Michael Williams were found to be in the witness's vehicle and they were transported to homicide for further investigation.

This Search Warrant is for the recovery of any weapons, handguns, ammunition, firearms of any type, proof of residence, photographs, and any other items of evidentiary value including any illicit narcotic drugs and paraphernalia.

The AFFIANT is respectfully requesting a Search Warrant for the residence 526 N. 59th Street so that it can be searched for any and all evidence that will assist further in this investigation. (Warrant at 2.) The warrant states that it issued in connection with a "violation of the Uniform Firearms Act." (Id. at 1.) The warrant describes the items to be seized as follows: "any and all ballistics[,] guns, ammo, magazines, proof of ownership, and any and all evidence that will assist further in this investigation including any and all illegal narcotic drugs, and drug paraphenalia [sic]." (Id.) At 7:30 p.m. on November 20, 2009, officers executed the warrant, and seized the Tec-9 and the extended clip from the second-floor bedroom closet of 526 N. 59th Street, as well as documents and photographs linking Defendant to the residence. Officers did not find any drugs or drug paraphernalia.


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The home, in particular, "is sacrosanct, and unreasonable government intrusion into the home is 'the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.'" United States v. Zimmerman, 277 F.3d 426, 431 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980)). "Ordinarily, 'for a seizure to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, it must be effectuated with a warrant based on probable cause.'" United States v. Johnson, 592 F.3d 442, 447 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 164, 167 (3d Cir. 2002)). A magistrate may find probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant if, considering the totality of the circumstances, "there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983).

The magistrate's determination that probable cause existed is to be "paid great deference." Id. at 236 (quotation omitted). Accordingly, "[a] reviewing court must determine only that the magistrate had a 'substantial basis' for concluding that probable cause existed to uphold the warrant." United States v. Whitner, 219 F.3d 289, 296 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). In making this determination, the reviewing court may consider only "'the facts that were before the magistrate, i.e., the affidavit, and [may] not consider information from other portions of the record.'" United States v. Miknevich, - F.3d -, 2011 WL 692973, at *2 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Jones, 994 F.2d 1051, 1055 (3d Cir. 1993)). The affidavit "must be read in its entirety and in a common sense and non-technical manner." United States v. Williams, 124 F.3d 411, 420 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing United States v. Conley, 4 F.3d 1200, 1206 (3d Cir. 1993)). Meanwhile, "'the resolution of doubtful or marginal cases . . . should be largely determined by the preference to be accorded to warrants.'" Miknevich, 2011 WL 692973 at *2 (quoting Jones, 994 F.2d at 1055, 1057-58). This, however, "'does not mean that reviewing courts should simply rubber stamp a magistrate's conclusions.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Tehfe, 722 F.2d 1114, 1117 (3d Cir. 1983)). The defendant bears the burden of establishing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. United States v. Acosta, 965 F.2d 1248, 1257 n.9 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted).

Even if the magistrate lacked a substantial basis for the issuance of a search warrant, the Court ordinarily should not suppress evidence seized pursuant to that warrant "when an officer acting with objective good faith has obtained [the] search warrant from a judge or magistrate and acted within its scope." United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 920 (1984) (footnote omitted); see also United States v. Stearn, 597 F.3d 540, 560 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Leon, 468 U.S. at 926). Typically, "[t]he mere existence of a warrant . . . suffices to prove that an officer conducted a search in good faith and justifies application of the good faith exception." United States v. Hodge, 246 F.3d 301, 307-08 (3d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). There are four circumstances, however, in which the good faith exception is not applied:

(1) the magistrate issued the warrant in reliance on a deliberately or recklessly false affidavit; (2) the magistrate abandoned his judicial role and failed to perform his neutral and detached function; (3) the warrant was based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable; or (4) the warrant was so facially deficient that it failed to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized.

Stearn, 597 F.3d at 561 n.19 (internal quotations and citations omitted). "The test for whether the good faith exception applies is 'whether a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization.'" United States v. Loy, 191 F.3d 360, 367 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Leon, 468 U.S. at 922 n.23). The Government ...

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