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United States v. Bell

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 23, 2017

United States Of America, Plaintiff
v.
MICHAEL ANTHONY BELL, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM DECISION

          TENA CAMPBELL U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         On April 14, 2016, officers of the Ogden Police Department, using a hastily obtained search warrant, searched the home of Defendant Michael Anthony Bell's mother. During the search they found evidence that was used to indict Mr. Bell on federal drug and firearm charges.

         He has filed a motion to suppress that evidence on the basis that the warrant and supporting affidavit were so lacking in probable cause that not even the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule[1] justifies the search. In the alternative, he asserts that the officer applying for the warrant intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth omitted material information from, or included false information in, her affidavit, which entitles him to a Franks hearing[2] to test the validity of the warrant.

         The court finds that Mr. Bell has failed to meet his burden under Franks to establish his right to challenge the warrant through an evidentiary hearing. The court also finds that even if the warrant was not supported by probable cause, a well-trained officer could reasonably believe in good faith that the supporting affidavit established a nexus between the evidence sought and Mr. Bell's mother's house. Accordingly, the court denies Mr. Bell's motion to suppress.

         FACTS

         The warrant at issue was obtained to search Mr. Bell's mother's house on Hiland Road in Ogden, Utah. The supporting affidavit was drafted based on information gathered during an unchallenged search of Mr. Bell's trailer located on Wall Avenue in Ogden.

         The Wall Avenue Search

         On the morning of April 14, 2016, four Ogden Police Department officers searched Mr. Bell's trailer on Wall Avenue. Although Mr. Bell was the main tenant, he was not there during the search. His roommate Josh Misrasi was there, as was his acquaintance Thomas Kristofferson.

         The officers searched the trailer based on a warrant obtained by Officer Kasey Burrell. Each of the four officers had a particular role during the search. Officers Gonnuscio and Williams searched for and documented the evidence. They gave the evidence to Officer Camryn Faiola, the evidence custodian. Officer Burrell interviewed Mr. Misrasi and Mr. Kristofferson.

         They gathered physical evidence of illegal drug use and drug distribution. In Mr. Misrasi's room the officers found a syringe and a glass pipe. In the kitchen and other common areas of the trailer the officers found two digital scales, small zip lock baggies, two syringes, and a large bag containing marijuana residue. In Mr. Bell's bedroom, [3] which was locked when the officers arrived, they found a small amount of marijuana, three glass pipes soaking in a bleach solution, two pipes with liquid and burnt residue inside, Glad sandwich bags, and a “fanny pack” containing unused syringes, a glass pipe, and small zip lock baggies. They found traces of methamphetamine in the trailer but no packaged meth.

         During the search, Mr. Misrasi told Officer Burrell that Mr. Bell spent a significant amount of time at his mother's house on Hiland Road in Ogden. He also said that Mr. Bell's mother was not living at the house because she was in a nursing home.

         Mr. Kristofferson told Officer Burrell that he had smoked “a little tiny bit” of methamphetamine with Mr. Bell, “not even a 20, ” in the garage of Mr. Bell's mother's house just the day before. (Mot. to Suppress at 9, Docket No. 18.)[4] He also said that he did maintenance work for the trailer park and had done some work on Mr. Bell's trailer in exchange for cash.

         The Hiland Road Search Warrant

         Immediately after the Wall Avenue search, Officer Faiola used information gathered during that search to draft an affidavit and apply for a warrant to search the Hiland Road house. In the Affidavit, Officer Faiola included three written paragraphs and what appears to be a “cut and paste” list of Mr. Bell's criminal history, with the last reported incident occurring ten years earlier in 2006. The criminal history took up eighteen of the Affidavit's twenty-one pages.

         In the first paragraph, Officer Faiola described her training and experience. The second paragraph (Paragraph Two) contained the factual basis upon which Officer Faiola asserted that probable cause existed for a warrant. (Aff. for Search Warrant, Ex. B to Def.'s Mot. Suppress, Docket No. 18-2.) Paragraph Two reads, in its entirety, as follows (the challenged portions are underlined):

On 4/14/16, your Affiant executed a search warrant approved by Judge Bean on 4/12/16 on a residence at 1065 Wall Avenue #42. This warrant was obtained by OPD Master Officer Kasey Burrell for suspicion of distribution of narcotics, specifically methamphetamine. During the execution of this warrant, it was determined that the main tenant, Michael Bell, is also residing at 464 Hiland Rd., which is his mother's home. Michael's mother's address was located through Adult Probation and Parole. When officers searched the residence at 1065 Wall Avenue, officers located methamphetamine bongs, syringes, scales, marijuana, and baggies in a locked room that belongs to Michael Bell. Michael's roommate, Joshua Misrasi, confirmed the bedroom belongs to Michael and prescription bottles with Michael's name were found in the bedroom. Another individual located on scene of the warrant at 1065 Wall Avenue #42, Thomas Kristofferson, stated he had smoked methamphetamine with Michael in the basement of Michael's mother's home on Hiland Rd yesterday (4/13/[16]) and that Michael gave Thomas a small amount of methamphetamine in exchange for work that Thomas was going to perform on Michael's trailer at 1065 Wall Avenue #42.

(Id. at 2-3 (emphasis added).) In the third paragraph, Officer Faiola concluded, based on the information in Paragraph Two, that “drugs are being sold and used from 464 Hiland Rd, therefore, endangering the community.” (Id. at 3.)

         The Hiland Road search warrant, which was issued about three hours after the Wall Avenue search was completed, allowed the officers to search for evidence of “crimes of Distribution and possession of methamphetamine.” (Id. at 2.) Using that warrant, the officers searched Mr. ...


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