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United States v. Pratt

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

June 2, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
D-6, MICHAEL ALLEN PRATT, JR., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE FROM WARRANTLESS

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         On October 12, 2016, an indictment was issued which charged Michael Allen Pratt, Jr., and twelve other Defendants with participating in a large-scale conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances. ECF No. 16. Pratt, Jr., is charged in Count One, conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and heroin; Count Twenty-Six, distribution of heroin on October 26, 2015; Count Twenty-Seven, distribution of heroin on October 29, 2015; Count Twenty-Eight, distribution of heroin on November 4, 2015; Count Twenty-Nine, distribution of heroin on November 23, 2015; and Count Thirty, distribution of heroin and fentanyl, aiding and abetting.

         On April 12, 2017, Pratt, Jr., filed a motion to suppress video evidence the Government obtained via a “pole camera” that was installed and operated without a warrant. ECF No. 181. On May 23, 2017, a hearing was held. For the reasons provided below and on the record, the motion to suppress will be denied.

         I.

         Most material facts are undisputed. On July 11, 2014, a fire occurred in the residence on 3253 Grant Street, Saginaw, Michigan. Prior to the fire, Pratt, Jr., his girlfriend, and their children lived in the Grant Street house. The property was owned by Pratt, Sr. Since the fire occurred, the building has been uninhabited. On or about January 28, 2016, Pratt, Jr., rented a dumpster and began clearing portions of the damaged building.

         On August 12, 2015, a “pole camera” was placed on a utility pole near the intersection of Grant Street and Youmans Street in Saginaw. The camera was positioned to record views of the front yard of the Grant Street house. It was incapable of recording any part of the interior of the house. FBI investigators were capable of accessing the camera remotely and had the ability to pan the camera right or left and zoom in. The video feed was recorded and stored on an FBI server. When first installed, the camera operated 24 hours per day. It did not have infrared capability.

         Starting on approximately September 17, 2016, the camera ran from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Around April 12, 2016, the camera's operational schedule increased by one hour: running until 9:00 p.m. On April 20, 2016, the schedule changed to record until 10:00 p.m. Finally, on June 17, 2016, the schedule was modified so that the camera recorded from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The camera ceased operation on October 24, 2016.

         The camera was originally installed and operated without a warrant. On February 8, 2016, investigators applied for and received a warrant to operate the camera. On May 9, 2016, and August 2, 2016, additional warrants were issued. Thus, the investigators were engaged in warrantless surveillance, via the pole camera, from approximately August 12, 2015, to February 8, 2016.

         II.

         In general, warrantless searches and seizures presumptively violate the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment provides:

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.

         Generally speaking, the requirement that searches be reasonable means law enforcement officials must obtain a judicially approved warrant before engaging in the search. Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2482 (2014).

         However, the Fourth Amendment does not protect defendants against all warrantless searches and seizures, simply “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. const. amend IV. To establish a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must show (1) a “subjective expectation of privacy” in the area searched and (2) that the expectation of privacy, viewed ...


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