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United States v. Bigham

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 9, 2015



MARK A. GOLDSMITH, District Judge.


Defendant Jerry Bigham filed a motion to suppress (Dkt. 20), seeking to exclude all evidence obtained as the result of a search warrant executed at the residential address 1073 Levona Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Defendant argues that the affidavit in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause, and that law enforcement could not have reasonably relied on the affidavit in good faith. The government filed a response to Defendant's motion (Dkt. 23); Defendant did not file a reply. A hearing on Defendant's motion was held on June 23, 2015. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence.


On August 9, 2014, law enforcement searched the premises at 1073 Levona Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and recovered, among other items, currency, firearms, and marijuana. See Search Warrant & Aff., Ex. A to Gov't Resp., at 7 (Dkt. 23-1). The seizure led to charges of (i) possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); (ii) felon in possession of a firearm, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(e); and (iii) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). See Indictment at 2-3 (Dkt. 7).[1] The search was authorized by a state court warrant, issued upon an affidavit sworn by Ypsilanti Police Officer Michael Thomson. The affidavit details Officer Thomson's background and his prior experience in controlled substance investigations. Search Warrant & Aff. at 1-2, ¶¶ A-C.

The search was the result of an investigation into Defendant that had begun approximately one week earlier. On August 2, 2014, Ypsilanti Police Officer Peterson conducted a traffic stop of a black male driving a black Lexus. Id. at 2, ¶ E.[2] At some point, the driver of the black Lexus was identified as Defendant, although it is unclear how or when this identification was made. Id . After Defendant informed Officer Peterson that he did not have his license on him, Officer Peterson asked Defendant to step out of the vehicle; in response, Defendant drove off at a high rate of speed. Id . Officer Peterson pursued Defendant, but ultimately lost sight of the vehicle and terminated the pursuit because of the residential nature of the area and the presence of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Id.

Later, dispatch advised Officer Peterson of a 911 call regarding a bag having been thrown out of a window of the black Lexus Officer Peterson had been pursuing. Id. at 2, ¶ F. Officer Peterson went to the location described by the caller and retrieved "an orange lunch bag which contained marijuana, sandwich baggies and a digital scale." Id . According to Officer Peterson, the materials were packaged in a manner consistent with drug trafficking. Id . Officer Peterson contacted the 911 caller, who requested anonymity. Id. at 2, ¶ G. The caller reported that a black male driver of a black Lexus "had thrown the orange bag and digital scale out of the vehicle he was in before the patrol car turned onto" the street. Id.

Officer Peterson contacted Officer Thomson with this information, who then conducted a background check of Defendant. Id. at 2-3, ¶¶ G-J. That effort revealed that Defendant had a criminal history of possessing and manufacturing controlled substances. Id. at 3, ¶ J.[3] Similarly, during a prior arrest for an unrelated crime, Defendant was found in possession of "two large ziplock baggies of suspected marijuana, [a] digital scale and several empty clear plastic sandwich baggies." Id. at 3, ¶ H. From a TLO check, Officer Thomson learned that utility bills for the residence at 1073 Levona Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan were in Defendant's name, and that Defendant associated with Chaya Letrice Bonner, a woman who resided at the same address. Id. at 3, ¶ I.[4] The same day (August 2), Officer Thomson visited the identified residence and spoke with Ms. Bonner. Id. at 3, ¶¶ K, L. Ms. Bonner refused to say whether Defendant lived at the address, but she did inform Officer Thomson that Defendant was the father of her child and that Defendant had utility bills in his name at the location. Id. at 3, ¶ K.[5]

On August 8, 2014, officers conducted a "trash pull" at 1073 Levona, the contents of which included a plastic grocery bag and a clear zip lock baggie, both containing marijuana residue. Id. at 4, ¶¶ M-O. The trash also contained mail addressed to Ms. Bonner at 1073 Levona. Id. at 4, ¶ N. At the time of the trash pull, the officers also observed a black Lexus in the driveway of 1073 Levona, which appeared to be the same Lexus Defendant was driving at the time of the traffic stop. Id. at 4, ¶ M. Based on this information, a search warrant was obtained and a search was executed the following day.


A. Legal Standard

For a search warrant to be valid, it must be supported by probable cause. U.S. Const. amend. IV ("[N]o 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."). To determine whether an affidavit establishes probable cause, an issuing magistrate must "make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the veracity' and basis of knowledge' of persons supplying hearsay information, 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). Accordingly, the affidavit must demonstrate "a nexus between the place to be searched and the evidence sought." United States v. Laughton, 409 F.3d 744, 747-748 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Carpenter, 360 F.3d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In reviewing the magistrate's probable-cause determination, this Court's task is to ensure that the magistrate had a "substantial basis" for his conclusion. Gates, 462 U.S. at 238-239. To encourage the use of and reliance on judicially-approved warrants in the course of law enforcement investigations, "reviewing courts are to accord the magistrate's determination great deference, '" and a probable-cause determination "should only be reversed if it was arbitrarily exercised." United States v. Allen, 211 F.3d 970, 973 (6th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 236). The Court's review for ...

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