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United States of America v. Ricardo Preciado-Rodriquez

March 28, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RICARDO PRECIADO-RODRIQUEZ



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is a motion to suppress (Doc. 338), filed by counsel for defendant Ricardo Preciado-Rodriquez (Rodriguez), wherein Rodriguez seeks to suppress evidence found at his residence during the execution of a search warrant issued by a state-court judge. Rodriguez argues that the affidavit upon which the search warrant was issued failed to establish probable cause, making the subsequent search a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the motion.

I. Background

On September 9, 2009, Franklin County District Attorney's Office personnel obtained and executed a search warrant for Rodriguez's residence in Franklin County. (Doc. 338-1, at 1.) Judge Richard Wald of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas signed the search warrant, which authorized the search of Rodriguez's residence for "[f]irearms, monies from the sale of firearms and any records associated with the illegal sale or distribution of firearms." (Id.) The supporting affidavit based its finding of probable cause on "[a]n illegal firearm sale [that] was conducted at the residence." (Id. at 2, 3 ¶ 6).

On November 18, 2009, a grand jury in the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an indictment charging Rodriguez and others with conspiracy to distribute (and the actual distribution of) over a hundred kilograms of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), respectively. (Doc. 1.) Rodriguez entered a plea of not guilty in January 2010. (Doc. 83). A grand jury issued a superseding indictment in October 2011, which amended the counts from the 2009 to include charges of conspiracy and distribution of at least five kilograms of cocaine. (Doc. 315, at 1--2.) The superseding indictment also added two further counts: Count III charges Rodriguez with possessing a firearm while an illegal alien, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and Count IV charges him with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, a violation of id. § 924(c)(1)(A). (Doc. 315, at 3--4.) Rodriguez subsequently entered a plea of not guilty. (Doc. 324.)

Rodriguez filed the instant motion to suppress (Doc. 338) on February 20, 2012; briefs in support and in opposition (Docs. 339, 349) have also been filed. A hearing had been scheduled on the motion (see Doc. 344), but when it became apparent that the motion's sole argument was the absence of probable cause in the affidavit supporting the September 2009 search warrant, it was evident that a hearing would serve no purpose.*fn1 The motion, being fully briefed, is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

Rodriguez sets forth two arguments in support of his motion: (1) the affidavit supporting the search warrant failed to establish probable cause because it alleged only an illegal sale, but no information that the alleged sale violated state or federal law; and (2) the affidavit "was so lacking in indicia of probable cause" that it was "entirely unreasonable" for officers to believe that probable cause existed. (Doc. 338, ¶¶ 3-5.) Each argument will be addressed in turn.

A. Probable Cause

A magistrate (or judge) whose authorization is requested for issuance of a warrant has a well-defined task: "to make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the veracity and basis of knowledge of persons supplying hearsay information, 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). As the question the magistrate must answer is only whether the affidavit establishes probable cause, "[f]inely-tuned standards such as proof beyond a reasonable doubt or by a preponderance of the evidence . . . have no place in the magistrate's decision." Id. at 235. Similarly, a valid finding of probable cause does not require that the affidavit make a prima facie showing of criminal activity. Id. (quoting Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 419 (1969), abrogated on other grounds by Gates).

A reviewing court has the duty "simply to ensure that the magistrate had a 'substantial basis for . . . conclud[ing]' that probable cause existed." Id. at 238--39 (alterations in original) (quoting Jones v. United States, 326 U.S. 257, 271 (1960), overruled on other grounds by United States v. Salvucci, 448 U.S. 83, 84--85 (1980)); accord United States v. Whitner, 219 F.3d 289, 296 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). Such a review is far from de novo; it entails affording "great deference" to the magistrate's assessment of probable cause while giving the affidavit its "most reasonable reading." Gates, 462 U.S. at 236 (quoting Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 419 (1969), abrogated on other grounds by Gates); United States v. Williams, 3 F.3d 69, 72 (3d Cir. 1993).

In the instant matter, Rodriguez characterizes Judge Wald's probable-cause determination as "based entirely on the allegation that [Rodriguez] illegally sold a firearm at the residence earlier that day." (Doc. 339, at 3; see also Doc. 338-1 at 3 ¶ 6 (containing the affiant's assertion of an illegal firearm sale).) Were this characterization based on a fair reading of the affidavit-that is, were the affidavit a mere "bare bones" recital of conclusions and allegations of illegal activity-Rodriguez's argument would surely be successful. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 239 (noting that such "bare bones" affidavits categorically fail to support a probable-cause finding). However, Rodriguez appears to have read the affidavit while fettered with blinders, his scope of vision narrowed to a couple of sentences contained within two pages of detailed information that provide context and support for the affiant's assertion -and Judge Wald's conclusion-that probable cause existed for a warrant to issue.

1. The Affidavit

The affidavit begins by identifying the affiant as a detective employed by the Franklin County District Attorney's Office and assigned to the Franklin County Drug Task Force. (Doc. 338-1, at 2 ΒΆ 1.) The detective states that he has been a police officer for eleven years and involved in law enforcement for fourteen years. (Id.) Before his employment with the District Attorney's office, he conducted drug investigations for four years as a patrolman with police departments in the area. (Id.) He describes his experience collecting intelligence about drug dealers and drug activity, conducting surveillance in drug investigations, ...


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