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United States v. Bratcher

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 9, 2014

UNITED STATES of AMERICA,
v.
MELVIN BRATCHER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

On July 21, 2014, Melvin Bratcher ("Bratcher" or "defendant") filed a motion to suppress physical evidence recovered from 7309 Schley Street, Penn Hills, PA 15235 ("Bratcher's residence" or "defendant's residence"). Bratcher contends that the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant for his residence failed to set forth probable cause as required by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (ECF No. 33 ¶ 5.) Bratcher argues that probable cause is lacking because law enforcement agents used uncorroborated information provided to them by a confidential informant ("CS-1") to obtain the search warrant for his residence. (ECF No. 33 ¶ 13.) Without sufficiently corroborating the information provided by CS-1, Bratcher contends that no detached independent magistrate could have found CS-1 reliable. (Id.) Bratcher argues that an exception to the good faith reliance doctrine is applicable in this instance and the evidence recovered from his residence should be subject to the exclusionary rule as fruit of the poisonous tree. (ECF No. 33 ¶ 19.)

At the hearing held on August 28, 2014, the court decided that the evidence presented to the magistrate judge, discussed in more detail below, indicated probable cause because the totality of the circumstances provided a substantial basis from which to infer that a search of defendant's residence would yield evidence of his drug-related activities. The court noted, and discussed, the deferential standard used for reviewing a judicial officer's decision to authorize the search warrant. Illinois v. Gates , 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983); See United States v. Rivera , 347 F.Appx. 833, 837 (3d Cir. 2009); United States v. Hodge , 246 F.3d 301, 305-10 (3d Cir. 2001); United States v. Conley , 4 F.3d 1200, 1205 (3d Cir. 1993). In light of this standard, the court denied the defendant's motion to suppress and did not find the exception to the good faith standard applicable.

A. Procedural History

On January 21, 2014, a warrant against Bratcher was executed and he was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute twenty-eight grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base more commonly known as crack cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 (a)(1) and 841 (b)(1)(B). (ECF No. 1.) On January 24, 2014, a detention hearing was held, after which a magistrate judge ordered Bratcher detained pending trial. (ECF No. 9.)

On February 11, 2014, a three-count indictment was handed down by a grand jury charging Bratcher with the previously charged violations, which became Count I, and two additional counts including, Count II, possession with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, a Scheduled I controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and, Count III, possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). (ECF No. 13 at 1-3.) On February 19, 2014, Bratcher was arraigned before a magistrate judge and pleaded not guilty, (ECF No. 18, 19 respectively), and moved for an extension of time to file pretrial motions, which was granted. (ECF No. 21, 22 respectively.)

On February 27, 2014, Bratcher appealed the magistrate judge's decision for pretrial detention and moved for release on bail with conditions. (ECF No. 23.) On March 27, 2014, Bratcher filed a motion for extension of time to file pretrial motions. (ECF No. 26.) On April 1, 2014, the court granted Bratcher's motion for an extension of time to file pretrial motions. (ECF No. 27.) On April 8, 2014, the court issued an order denying the motion for release on bail with conditions and an opinion setting forth the reasons for the denial. (ECF No. 29, 28 respectively.) On May 29, 2014, Bratcher again motioned for an extension of time to file pretrial motions, which the court granted on June 2, 2014. (ECF No. 30, 31 respectively.)

On July 21, 2014, defendant filed a motion to suppress physical evidence recovered from his residence, (ECF No. 33.), and on July 23, 2014, defendant moved for a detention hearing. (ECF No. 34.) On July 29, 2014, the government filed a motion to continue the suppression hearing scheduled for August 14, 2014. (ECF No. 35.) The motion to continue the suppression hearing was granted and the suppression hearing was rescheduled to August 28, 2014. (ECF No. 36.) On August 4, 2014, the government filed a response in opposition to Bratcher's motion to suppress, (ECF No. 37), and on August 6, 2014, the government filed a response in opposition to Bratcher's motion for a detention hearing. (ECF No. 38.) On August, 28, 2014, the court heard oral argument from the parties with respect to Bratcher's motion to suppress, (ECF No. 33), and motion for a detention hearing. (ECF No. 34). The rational for the denial of Bratcher's motion to suppress was set forth on the record and is discussed in detail below. The court took Bratcher's motion for a detention hearing under advisement.

II. Background

A. General

The Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), working with local law enforcement officials, conducted a long-term investigation, which involved the use of wiretaps and resulted in a series of arrests. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 5.) In January 2014, CS-1 was arrested in connection with the long-term investigation. (Id. at 12.) CS-1 told the FBI he or she could contact Bratcher and obtain a firearm or drugs from him. (Id.) By reason of Bratcher's connection to the long-term investigation, which included information provided by CS-1, the FBI obtained a search warrant for Bratcher's residence. (Id.) The search warrant for Bratcher's residence was signed by a magistrate judge on January 15, 2014, and executed on January 21, 2014. (Id.)

B. Search Warrant

1. Affidavit Submitted to the Magistrate Judge

FBI Special Agent David Hedges ("Agent Hedges") submitted an affidavit to the magistrate judge on January 15, 2014, to obtain the search warrant used in the search of Bratcher's residence. (ECF No. 37-2.) Agent Hedges has over twenty-seven years of service with the FBI. (Id. ¶ 3.) Agent Hedges' FBI experience includes narcotics-related arrests, the execution of search warrants resulting in the seizure of narcotics, supervision of informants, and specialized training associated with methods and techniques related to the illegal distribution of narcotics. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4, 18.) Agent Hedges' affidavit included an itemized list of evidence commonly generated by drug trafficking and firearm offenses. (Id. ¶¶ 9-17.) Agent Hedges concluded in his affidavit that he sufficiently set forth probable cause that Batcher was engaged in drug trafficking, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. § 846, and that a search of his residence would result in the recovery of drug trafficking evidence. (Id. ¶ 32.) The affidavit submitted by Agent Hedges contained the following information relating to CS-1.

a. Statements by CS-1

CS-1 was a newly developed confidential informant. (ECF No. 37-2 ¶ 19.) CS-1 was arrested on narcotics related charges and agreed to work with law enforcement agents to obtain leniency in his or her potential sentencing. (Id.) The affidavit submitted by Agent Hedges provided that CS-1 advised agents that he or she purchased powder cocaine and other illegal narcotics from Bratcher several times a week for approximately two years. (Id. ¶ 24.) CS-1 identified Bratcher as the person he or she bought narcotics from and identified Bratcher's residence as the location where he or she purchased illegal narcotics. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24.) CS-1 stated that Bratcher was known to him or her as "Snuggy" and provided agents of the Greater Pittsburgh Safe Street Task Force with telephone numbers for him. (Id. ¶¶ 3, ...


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