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United States v. Laury

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 18, 2019




         Presently before me is a Motion to Suppress (Doc. 107) and a Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, or, in the alternative, to Obtain a Bill of Particulars with Respect to Count One of the Indictment (Doc. 109). Regarding the Motion to Suppress, the Defendant, Michael Laury, alleges that the search warrant for the structure located at 75 Park Avenue, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (the “Park Avenue Residence”) lacks sufficient probable cause, fails the particularity requirement, and was not reasonably executed by law enforcement officials. (See Doc. 108). With respect to Laury's Motion to Dismiss, he argues that the Indictment does not adequately inform him of what he must be prepared to defend at trial. (See Doc. 109). In the alternative, Laury requests a Bill of Particulars that identifies factual information pertaining to his offense. (Id.). I will deny Laury's Motion to Suppress because the search warrant is valid and was reasonably executed and his Motion to Dismiss, and in the alternative to Obtain a Bill of Particulars because it adequately apprises Laury of what he must be prepared to defend at trial.

         I. Background

         During a corresponding federal investigation pertaining to a local bank robbery, a Cooperating Witness (“CW”) informed the FBI about the location of a methamphetamine laboratory where he went with his co-conspirators after the robbery to purchase heroin and methamphetamine. (See Doc. 108, at 3-5). The CW went on to identify photographs of the Park Avenue Residence as the location of the methamphetamine laboratory, describe the interior of the residence, and explain the apparatuses inside the residence, which were indicative of a methamphetamine production. (Doc. 113-3, at 7-8).

         Upon an application from law enforcement, Magistrate Judge Joseph Saporito issued a search warrant for the Park Avenue Residence. (See Doc. 108-1, at 1). During the execution of this search warrant, the FBI agents and the Pennsylvania State Police Clandestine Laboratory Emergency Response Team found an operational methamphetamine laboratory in the basement cellar of the Park Avenue Residence. (See Doc. 113-1, at 2-4). At this time, the search team arrested various individuals present at the Park Avenue Residence, including Laury. (See Doc. 108, at 8). Following this search, Laury was detained. He signed a Miranda waiver (Doc. 113-2) and submitted to a recorded interview where he stated that he lived at the Park Avenue Residence and permitted others to stay there, but denied knowledge of the methamphetamine laboratory. (Doc. 113, at 4). The grand jury subsequently issued a one count indictment charging Laury, among others, with maintaining and renting a drug-involved premise in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856 (a)(1). (Doc. 1).

         II. Discussion

         Laury, as stated, has filed pretrial motions to suppress evidence and to dismiss Count One of the Indictment. I will address the issues in that order.

         A. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         Laury's Motion to Suppress all of the evidence seized at the Park Avenue Residence during the execution of the search warrant will be denied. Laury's motion is based on three arguments: (1) the search warrant was not supported by probable cause, (2) the search warrant was not sufficiently particular and the execution of the search was unreasonable, and (3) his subsequent statements to the police qualify as “fruit of the poisonous tree” given that they were made subsequent to his arrest, which occurred immediately after the allegedly unlawful search of the Park Avenue Residence. (See Doc. 108, at 10-20). Finally, Laury argues that he is entitled to a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, U.S. 154 (1979) due to omissions made in the affidavit of probable cause attached to the search warrant application for the Park Avenue Residence. (Doc. 108, at 19-20).

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend IV. “What is reasonable depends upon all of the circumstances surrounding the search or seizure and the nature of the search or seizure itself.” United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985). Here, (1) there was a substantial basis in the probable cause affidavit to issue a search warrant, (2) the search warrant was sufficiently particular and executed reasonably as there was no indication that the Park Avenue Residence contained multiple separate units, and (3) the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine is not applicable because law enforcement officials lawfully executed the search warrant and arrested Laury. Moreover, a Franks Hearing is unnecessary, because the probable cause affidavit did not contain any material omissions or false statements.

         1. The Search Warrant is Based on Sufficient Probable Cause.

         Laury alleges that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause, because it was based on information provided by an unreliable witness, i.e. the CW. (Doc. 108, at 12). In reviewing the initial probable cause determination made by a magistrate judge, a district court will conduct a deferential review to determine whether “the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238-39 (1983). “When presented with an application for a search warrant, the magistrate must ‘make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit ... there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.'” United States v. Stearn, 597 F.3d 540, 554 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). Probable cause need not be supported by direct evidence, but “can be, and often is, inferred from 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 evidence.” Id. (quotations omitted). “A magistrate may issue a warrant relying primarily or in part upon the statements of a confidential informant, so long as the totality of the circumstances gives rise to probable cause.” Id. at 555. An informant's “veracity” and “reliability” are relevant qualities to this determination, but “these elements should [not] be understood as entirely separate and independent requirements to be rigidly exacted in every case.” Id. (quotations omitted). “[A] deficiency in one [element] may be compensated for, in determining the overall reliability of a tip, by a strong showing as to the other, or by some other indicia of reliability.” Id. (quotations omitted). Police corroboration of an informant's information is “an important method for establishing a tip's reliability.” Id. at 555. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit further stated that it takes guidance from the Supreme Court's decision in Gates, “which instructs that ‘[if] an informant is right about some things, he is more probably right about other facts.'” Id. at 557 (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 244).

         Additionally, “Courts accord great weight to [an informant's] first-hand observations shortly before a search.” United States v. Woods, 254 Fed.Appx. 889, 892 (3d Cir. 2007) (noting that “the absence of additional corroboration does not undermine the finding of probable cause” where the informant provided “information [that] was not random, easily predicted or accessible to the general public, ” because it was based primarily on the informant's first-hand observation of the manufacture of methamphetamine in her home); see also United States v. Ramsey, No. 1:12-cr-00310-3, 2013 WL 6388518, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 5, 2013) (finding that there was a sufficient showing of probable cause in an affidavit, because it contained an informant's firsthand account of how he purchased drugs from the Defendant's alleged residence, the location of the residence, and additional drug quantities inside the residence).

         Considering the totality of circumstances, the search warrant for the Park Avenue Residence was supported by sufficient probable cause. The Government submitted an affidavit of probable cause based largely on the information provided by the CW. (See Doc. 113-3). In this affidavit, FBI Agent Joseph F. Noone explains that he co-supervised the investigation that gave rise to the instant search warrant application. (Id. at 2). The affidavit introduces Agent Noone, his career history, and involvement with the investigation of the Park Avenue Residence. (Id. at 1-3). Then, it describes the ingredient list and directions for methamphetamine creation and ingestion, including the tools necessary for each process. (Id. at 3-5). Next, the affidavit explains the nature of the investigation of the Park Avenue Residence, including the use of a CW. (Id. at 6). The relevant details include the CW's first hand account of his arrangement to purchase methamphetamine from unidentified individuals at the Park Avenue Residence and his observation of their methamphetamine laboratory. (Id. at 7). The CW further explained that he believed the laboratory had been in operation “for a long period of time” given the amount of materials strewn about the residence, e.g. plastic bottles with protruding hoses, coffee filters, bottles with a milky substance bubbling inside, and lithium batteries. (Id. at 7-8). He also described the interior of the residence, which appeared to be under construction due to the dismantled walls and “wide-open floor plan.” (Id. at 7). The materials noticed by the CW are consistent with the aforementioned methamphetamine ...

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