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United States v. Lawrence

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GEORGE J. LAWRENCE, IV, a/k/a

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court are Defendant's motion to suppress evidence (ECF No. 87) and Defendant's supplemental motion to suppress evidence pursuant to Franks v. Delaware (ECF No. 110). Defendant seeks to suppress evidence collected during a search of his home by police on April 23, 2013. Defendant asserts that the police unlawfully searched his home and seized evidence pursuant to a defective search warrant, arguing that the affidavit in support of the search warrant lacked probable cause. Defendant also requests a Franks hearing, asserting that the affidavit of probable cause recklessly included a false statement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will DENY both of Defendant's motions.

II. BACKGROUND

This matter arises from certain alleged drug transactions involving the Defendant and a subsequent search of his home conducted by police on April 23, 2013, pursuant to a warrant. The Government filed a six-count Indictment against Defendant and his three co-defendants[1] on December 10, 2013. ( See ECF No. 1). Defendant is charged in five of the six Counts of the Indictment as follows: Count 1 charges Defendant with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base; Count 2 charges Defendant with distribution of less than 500 grams of cocaine; Counts 3 and 4 charge Defendant with distribution of less than 28 grams of cocaine base; and Count 6 charges Defendant with possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base.

On January 16, 2014, Defendant made his initial appearance, was arraigned, and pleaded not guilty. ( See ECF Nos. 35, 37). On April 14, 2014, Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search (ECF No. 87), to which the Government filed a response (ECF No. 102) on July 16, 2014. The Court held a suppression hearing regarding Defendant's motion on September 2, 2014. ( See ECF No. 108). At the suppression hearing, the Government presented the testimony of one witness, Detective Thomas E. Keirn, and introduced one exhibit into evidence, Detective Keirn's application and affidavit for search warrant (Gov't Ex. 1). Defendant cross-examined the Government's witness but did not offer any additional testimony or exhibits into evidence.

Also at this suppression hearing, Defendant asserted his right to a Franks hearing. The Government objected to Defendant's request, and this Court, after reviewing the motion to suppress and after hearing argument from both counsel, concluded that Defendant had failed to make a sufficient showing pursuant to Franks v. Delaware and ruled that no Franks hearing would be held at that time. Defendant then requested leave of the Court to file a supplemental Franks motion at a future time. ( See ECF No. 113 at 8). The Court noted Defendant's request for the record but explained that it would not "rule at this time on whether or not such a motion would be granted, or even that it would be timely at that particular filing date." ( Id. ). Defendant subsequently filed his Franks motion on September 7, 2014. (ECF No. 110).

Regarding the motion to suppress, Defendant claims that the warrant to search Defendant's home at 103 Catherine Street was not supported by probable cause. In response, the Government argues that the warrant is based on probable cause because "the facts set forth in the affidavit, coupled with the affiant's experience and knowledge of drug dealers, provided a substantial basis from which the issuing judge could conclude that evidence, fruits, and instrumentalities of drug dealing [were] likely to be found at 103 Catherine Street." (ECF No. 102 at 10). Alternatively, the Government argues that the Leon good faith exception should apply.

Regarding the motion for a Franks hearing, Defendant asserts that the warrant affidavit contains a false statement that was later controverted by an undercover officer testifying under oath. The Government argues that Defendant has waived his right to a Franks hearing by failing to file the motion within the appropriate time prescribed by the Court. Additionally, the Government contends that Defendant has failed to establish a substantial preliminary showing that the affidavit contained a false statement and that the statement was necessary to the finding of probable cause.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court makes the following findings of fact based on the evidence and testimony presented at the suppression hearing:

1. Detective Keirn is a detective with the Richland Police Department, a member of the Cambria County Drug Task Force, and a member of the Federal Safe Streets Task Force in Johnstown. (ECF No. 113 at 8-9).
2. In February 2013, the Cambria County Drug Task Force began investigating Defendant related to the illegal sale and distribution of crack cocaine in Johnstown and surrounding areas of Cambria County. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 3, ¶ 4).
3. On April 14, 2013, investigators completed a successful purchase of crack cocaine using a confidential informant from Paulette Alt, a co-defendant in this case, after Defendant arrived and supplied Alt with the crack cocaine for the deal. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 3, ¶ 5).
4. On April 23, 2013, using the same confidential informant, investigators completed a second successful purchase of crack cocaine from Paulette Alt at the direction of Defendant, though Defendant was not present for the transaction. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 4, ¶ 8).
5. On April 23, 2013, a second confidential informant received a delivery of crack cocaine from Defendant that Defendant had "just cooked up." Defendant instructed the confidential informant that Paulette Alt would come over to pick up the crack cocaine from the confidential informant. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 4, ¶ 9).
6. On April 23, 2013, Detective Keirn prepared a search warrant application and affidavit of probable cause, which was approved by Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Forest Fordham, for the purpose of searching Defendant's residence at 103 Catherine Street in Johnstown and seizing evidence related to illegal drug activities. ( See Gov't Ex. 1; see also ECF No. 113 at 10-12).
7. Thereafter, Judge Patrick T. Kiniry of the Cambria County Court of Common Pleas signed and issued a warrant to search 103 Catherine Street. ( See Gov't Ex. 1; see also ECF No. 113 at 14-15).
8. On that same day, April 23, 2013, police officers executed the search warrant issued by Judge Kiniry and conducted a search of 103 Catherine Street. (ECF No. 113 at 14-15).
9. During the course of the search, police officers seized several items of evidence, including large quantities of crack cocaine and paraphernalia and instrumentalities ...

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