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United States v. Ramsey

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 5, 2013



YVETTE KANE, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant David Ramsey's motion to suppress evidence in the above-captioned action, which is set for trial on January 6, 2014. (Doc. No. 131.) The motion has been fully briefed. The Court held a hearing on Defendant's motion on October 9, 2013. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.


On February 9, 2012, Detective Craig Fenstermacher of the York County District Attorney's Office, relying largely on information provided by a confidential informant, applied for a search warrant for 314 South George Street, 1st Floor, York, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 131-2.) According to the affidavit, Fenstermacher believed the informant was reliable because he had previously provided information to police in York that led to the arrest of a cocaine distributor and the seizure of cash. (Id.) The affidavit described the informant's admissions of marijuana use and distribution, and indicated that the informant had a two-year drug dealing relationship with Defendant. (Id.) It further indicated that the informant had made at least ten purchases of marijuana from Defendant inside 314 S. George Street in the last year and that he purchased marijuana from Defendant at that address within 72 hours prior to the application for the warrant. (Id.) While there, the informant observed additional marijuana that he believed was packaged for sale. (Id.) The informant was taken to George Street, where he identified the residence as belonging to Defendant, and also identified a photograph of the Defendant, and the name of the Defendant's girlfriend, Iris Bordonada. (Id.)

Detective Fenstermacher checked the Pennsylvania criminal history records and determined that Defendant had pled guilty in York County to a drug distribution offense in 2000. (Doc. No. 131-2.) In addition, Fenstermacher checked Pennsylvania Department of Transportation records, which revealed that 314 S. South George Street was the residence of Bordonada, Defendant's girlfriend. (Id.) The affidavit also indicated that two other officers, Detective Nadzom and State Police Trooper Chris Keppel, were familiar with Defendant Ramsey, his nickname "Knuckles, " and with his reputation for involvement with marijuana distribution in the York area. (Id.) Based on all of the above, Fenstermacher believed probable cause existed to search the residence, applied for and was granted a search warrant. (Id.)

The warrant identified the items to be seized as "Marijuana, a schedule I controlled substance, as well as any other controlled substances listed under Act #64 of 1972; any documentary evidence of, or proceeds from, the distribution, manufacture or possession of controlled substances; any paraphernalia associated with controlled substance use or distribution." (Doc. No. 131-1.) During the ensuing search, officers seized marijuana, two cellular telephones, and approximately 200 pages of documents and records. (Doc. No. 138 at 1.) According to the United States, a majority of the records seized relate to the Latin Kings organization, which is involved in marijuana trafficking in the York area. (Doc. No. 138 at 1-2.) Some of these documents were written in Spanish; the officers executing the warrant did not speak Spanish but nevertheless seized the documents. (Transcript at 23:13-25, 24:1-15.) Other items seized included cellular telephones and medical records pertaining to Bordonada's children. (Transcript at 25:1-11, 27:1-15.) On August 23, 2013, Defendant David Ramsey moved the Court to suppress the items seized during the search. (Doc. No. 131.)


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. When the search was pursuant to a warrant, the proponent of the motion to suppress bears the burden of establishing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. United States v. Correa , 653 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rakas v. Illinois , 439 U.S. 128, 132 n.1 (1978)); see United States v. Johnson , 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). The applicable standard of proof is the preponderance of the evidence standard. United States v. Matlock , 415 U.S. 164, 178 n.14 (1974). At a hearing on a motion to suppress, "the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge." United States v. Richardson , 501 F.Supp.2d 724, 734 (W.D. Pa.2007) (citations omitted). Even when a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred, the Court will not suppress evidence if the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies. United States v. Leon , 468 U.S. 897, 925 (1984). When determining whether the good faith exception applies, courts must ask whether a reasonably well-trained officer would have known that the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization; if not, then the exception applies. United States v. Loy , 191 F.3d 360, 367 (3d Cir. 1999).


Defendant argues that the evidence seized during the search of 314 S. George Street, 1st floor, York, Pennsylvania should be suppressed as fruits of an unconstitutional search because (1) no probable cause existed to support issuance of a warrant, (2) the warrant failed to describe with particularity the items to be seized, other than marijuana, and (3) the good faith exception does not apply in the face of these violations. (Doc. No. 132.) Defendant further argues that certain items seized were outside the scope of the warrant. (Doc. No. 143 at 7-8; Transcript at 36:4-20.) The Government maintains that probable cause existed in support of the warrant, and that the warrant described the items to be seized with adequate particularity. Should the Court find that the warrant is constitutionally defective, the government asserts that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply, and the Court should therefore deny the motion to suppress. (Doc. No. 138.)

A. Probable cause

Defendant asserts that no probable cause existed to support the warrant because the affidavit lacks details bolstering the reliability of the informant, lacks police corroboration of the informant's information, and is not sufficiently specific. (Doc. No. 132 at 11-16.) Therefore, he urges the Court to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to the allegedly defective warrant. The Court will examine these arguments.

Probable cause for the issuance of a warrant is found where, under the totality of the circumstances, "there is a fair probability that... evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place. Illinois v. Gates , 462 U.S 213, 238 (1983). "[P]robable cause can be, and often is, inferred by considering the type of crime, the nature of the items sought, the suspect's opportunity for concealment and normal inferences about where a criminal might hide the fruits of his crime." United States v. Hodge , 246 F.3d 301, 305 (3d Cir. 2001) (internal citations omitted) (internal quotations omitted). Upon a court challenge to a probable cause determination, courts apply a deferential standard of review. United States v. Ninety-Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Two Dollars and Fifty-Seven Cents , 307 F.3d 137, 146 (3d Cir. 2002). This means that "the resolution of doubtful or marginal cases in this area should be largely determined by the preference to be accorded to warrants." Id. at 147 (quoting United States v. Jones , 994 F.2d 1051, 1054 (3d Cir. 1993). The question before the Court is not whether probable cause actually existed, but instead whether there was "a substantial basis for finding probable cause." Id . (internal quotations omitted)

Upon review of the affidavit, the Court finds that there was clearly a substantial basis in the affidavit for the issuing authority to conclude there was probable cause. There were first-hand observations from an informant: the affidavit detailed that the informant had frequently purchased marijuana from "Knuckles" over the last two years, and, in the last 72 hours, had purchased marijuana from him at 314 S. George St, where the informant believed Defendant lived. (Doc. No. 131-2.) The informant identified a photo of Defendant Ramsey as "Knuckles." (Id.) The ...

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