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United States v. Blanding

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 10, 2019



          Baylson, J.

         I. Introduction and Background

         The Second Superseding Indictment in this case charges nine defendants with multiple counts from their alleged involvement in a drug trafficking organization (the “DTO”). Presently before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant Jamaal Blanding (“Blanding”) to suppress evidence that the Government intends to use at the trial in this case beginning November 4, 2019 with jury selection on October 31, 2019. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Blanding's motions on October 7, 2019.

         Both motions concern evidence seized from the interior of an apartment that Blanding periodically occupied. The apartment-which was owned or leased by Yanina Miller, an associate of Blanding's-is located at 1815 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Apt. 2411, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (the “Miller Apartment”).[1] The First Motion concerns a search warrant that was secured by the Government on June 1, 2018 to search the Miller Apartment and was executed on June 4, 2018. (ECF 401, Blanding Mot. to Suppress Evid. from June 1, 2018 Search Warrant) (“Blanding First Mot.”). The Second Motion concerns cell phones that were seized following effectuation of an arrest warrant for Blanding at the Miller Apartment on October 18, 2018. (ECF 405, Blanding Mot. to Suppress Evid. Pursuant to Warrantless Search and Seizure) (“Blanding Second Mot.”). For the reasons that follow, Blanding's Motions to Suppress will be DENIED.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement generally must establish probable cause before invading a “constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). A magistrate judge may determine probable cause exists if the totality of the circumstances indicate “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). A magistrate's determination should be upheld if “the affidavit on which it was based provided a substantial basis for finding probable cause.” United States v. Hodge, 246 F.3d 301, 305 (3d Cir. 2001).

         The principal constitutional guidance on suppression of evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant is United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Leon made clear that the exclusionary rule, which precludes use of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, is “a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect.” Id. at 906 (quoting United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348 (1974)). Application of the exclusionary remedy is appropriate only in “those unusual cases” where it will further the purposes of the rule-deterring police misconduct and incentivizing law enforcement compliance with the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 918.

         III. First Motion to Suppress

         Blanding's First Motion seeks suppression of evidence seized from the Miller Apartment on June 4, 2018 pursuant to the June 1, 2018 search warrant. The Court finds that probable cause supported the search warrant, and that the subsequent execution of the warrant was lawful.

         A. Parties' Contentions

         Blanding's First Motion-seeking suppression of evidence obtained during the June 4, 2018 search of the Miller Apartment-asserts that the warrant application did not satisfy the probable cause requirement and did not describe particularly the items to be seized. (Blanding First Mot. ¶¶ 9-13.) The Government responds that the application was supported by probable cause and identified with particularity the evidence sought, and that the agents relied in good faith on the warrant. (Gov't Opp'n to Blanding First Mot. at 5-7.) At the evidentiary hearing, Blanding did not present any evidence on the First Motion and his counsel agreed that the sufficiency of the June 1, 2018 warrant could be determined as a matter of law.

         B. Discussion

         The Court has previously adjudicated various suppression motions directed at search warrants executed in the course of investigating the DTO. Specifically, the Court addressed the constitutionality of a search warrant obtained for 3234 North Sydenham Street in United States v. Boyer, No. 18-249-6, -8, -9, 2019 WL 3717669 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 6, 2019). In that case, as here, the moving defendants challenged the sufficiency of the magistrate judge's probable cause finding. Id. at *3. However, because the Court found that a substantial basis supported the probable cause determination, the motions to suppress were denied. Id. at *6.

         The contents of the search warrant upheld in Boyer are similar to the contents of the warrant Blanding attacks here. In Boyer, the affidavit that was presented to the magistrate described a car registered to the address sought to be searched that had been observed leaving the scene of a murder. Id. at *5. Similarly here, the magistrate's probable cause finding was based on a comprehensive affidavit that contained detailed allegations related to the drug conspiracy, the nature of Blanding's relationship with Miller, and his connections to the Miller Apartment. (Hr'g ...

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