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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

September 8, 2014




Sergio Rodriguez, charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine under 21 U.S.C. § 841 and 21 U.S.C. § 846, moves to suppress evidence the police discovered when they searched his apartment pursuant to a warrant. The Court finds that the search violated the Fourth Amendment because there was not a substantial basis to believe that the affidavit supporting the warrant established probable cause to search Rodriguez’s apartment. Furthermore, the Court concludes that the police did not act in good faith in relying on the search warrant. Therefore, the Court grants Rodriguez’s motion to suppress.


On October 11, 2013, Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI) agents searched Rodriguez’s residence at 3300 Street Road, Apartment L1, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. (Def. Rodriguez’s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Suppress Physical Evidence [Rodriguez Mem.] at 5.) Agents recovered approximately $260, 000 from Rodriguez’s apartment. (Gov’t’s Mem. of Law in Resp. to Def. Rodriguez’s Mot. to Suppress Physical Evidence [Gov’t’s Resp.] at 6.) The search was conducted pursuant to a warrant issued by a Bucks County District Justice, based on an affidavit submitted by BNI Agents Michael Kelly and Nehemiah Haigler. (Rodriguez Mem. at 2.)

According to the affidavit, intercepted telephone conversations reflected a drug conspiracy among Jorge Martinez, Alfredo Alberto Almeida-Urias, Wallace Oliveira, and Luis Gonzalez. (Rodriguez Mot. to Suppress Physical Evidence, App. A, Aff. in Supp. of Probable Cause in Supp. of Search Warrants [Aff.] ¶¶ 39-40.) The affidavit does not implicate Rodriguez in these conversations. The affidavit further states that agents witnessed a brief meeting between Rodriguez, Almeida-Urias, and Martinez in the parking lot of a Philadelphia restaurant on September 6, 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 43-45.) Martinez and Almeida-Urias arrived in the parking lot in Martinez’s car, and Rodriguez walked toward the car. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) After a brief conversation with Almeida-Urias, Rodriguez drove away in a gray Ford Fusion, which was registered under his name and address at 3300 Street Road, Apartment L1, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 45.) Agents followed Rodriguez to 3300 Street Road and observed him park outside of building L and enter building L using a key. (Id. ¶ 46.) The affiants did not claim to overhear the content of Rodriguez’s conversation with Almeida-Urias or witness any transfer of property.

The affidavit states that on October 8, 2013, agents executed search warrants on properties and vehicles associated with Martinez, Oliveira, and Gonzalez. (Id. ¶ 47.) Agents recovered large quantities of drugs and cash, several guns, and drug paraphernalia. (Id. ¶¶ 48-54.) Later that day, agents arrested Almeida-Urias and Martinez. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57.) According to the affidavit, Martinez told agents that he and Almeida-Urias were distributing cocaine in Philadelphia. (Id. ¶ 58.)

The affidavit also states that BNI Agent Ivan Miranda used Martinez’s cell phone to arrange a meeting on October 10, 2013, with the driver of a tractor trailer charged with transporting drug money to Almeida-Urias. (Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) Juan Monroy and Juan Enrique Castro, riding in a Nissan Altima, appeared at the designated meeting spot. (Id. ¶¶ 61-62.) Monroy told Agent Miranda that he intended to pick up money owed to Almeida-Urias and give it to Castro. (Id. ¶ 63.) Castro claimed that he did not know Monroy, and did not admit to any involvement in the drug conspiracy. (Id. ¶ 64.) Castro said that he was staying at a hotel, but he did not know its name or address. (Id.) Castro also said that he did not have family in Philadelphia, but that his son’s name was Sergio Rodriguez. (Id.) Castro had in his possession a key to the Ford Fusion registered to Rodriguez. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 65.) The Ford Fusion was parked near a diner where Monroy said he picked up Castro before going to the meeting spot arranged by Agent Miranda. (Id. ¶ 65.)

The affidavit further states that at approximately 5:00 p.m. on October 10, 2013, agents went to 3300 Street Road, [1] Apartment L1 in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and knocked on the front door. (Id. ¶ 66.) Rodriguez answered the door and allowed the agents to enter the apartment. (Id.) When an agent asked Rodriguez for consent to search the apartment, Rodriguez requested that the agents get a search warrant. (Id.) According to the affidavit, Rodriguez appeared “extremely nervous.” (Id.)

The affiants stated that they believed, “based on their training and experience that, due to the large quantities and currency that the Almeida-Urias Drug Trafficking Organization is dealing with, it is likely that the evidence sought will be found within the described location.” (Id. ¶ 71.) The affiants further stated that they believed “because of the large quantities of currency involved . . . the participants in the organization likely store the proceeds from the illegal sales for longer periods of time than a typical street level organization.” (Id. ¶¶ 71.) Finally, the affiants stated that “it is common for drug organizations to utilize different locations to store monies gained from the sale of narcotics.” (Id. ¶ 72.)

The affidavit further stated, “Your Affiant believes that the evidence located in 3300 Street Road, Bensalem, Pennsylvania could be relocated and/or destroyed at any time. Your Affiant believes that large amounts of money are being stored at the location, and through this investigation Your Affiant has learned the money is shipped to suppliers on a regular bases [sic] and does not accumulate due to the fear of being seized by law enforcement.” (Aff. ¶ 78.) While the affiants stated that they believed that Castro, Monroy, Gonzalez, Oliveira, and Martinez were involved in distributing cocaine or money laundering, the affiants did not state that they believed that Rodriguez was involved in drug activity. (Aff. ¶ 76.)


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. “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). Probable cause exists when, 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 defendant bears the burden of establishing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). In making this determination, the Court must consider whether the judge who issued the warrant had a “substantial basis” to find probable cause. United States v. Stearn, 597 F.3d 540, 554 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). The 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, 638 F.3d 178, 182 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Jones, 994 F.2d 1051, 1055 (3d Cir. 1993)). While the magistrate‚Äôs probable cause ...

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