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United States v. Butler

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

June 24, 2019




         Defendant Andre Butler is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). See First Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 79). He has filed a motion to suppress (Dkt. 130) seeking to suppress all evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant at his Cavell Street home in Livonia, Michigan. He argues that the search warrant is invalid because the supporting affidavit does not establish probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found in his home. The Government filed a response to the motion (Dkt. 131) and Butler filed a reply brief in support of his motion (Dkt. 133).[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Butler's motion to suppress.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 27, 2018, Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) agents obtained a search warrant to conduct a search of Butler's home on Cavell Street in Livonia. The application for the search warrant was supported by the fourteen-page affidavit of Brandon Carrier, a federal law enforcement officer. In the first three pages, Agent Carrier, based on his training and experience, provides boilerplate language describing the traditional behavior of drug dealers. Brandon Carrier Aff. (“Carrier Aff.”) in Supp. of Search Warrant, Ex. 1 to Gov't Resp., ¶¶ 1-4 (Dkt. 131-1). For example, drug traffickers often use their own homes to store narcotics, often possess large amounts of money, and will use electronic devices ranging from cell phones to police radio scanners and so forth. Id. ¶ 1(a-m).

         The next six pages describes the investigation into a suspected drug trafficking organization allegedly run by Defendant Nicholas Medina-Liborio. In November 2017, the DEA began investigating Medina-Liborio based on a confidential source, who provided information that Medina-Liborio was distributing narcotics from his residence in Detroit. Id. ¶ 5. The confidential source also told DEA agents that Medina-Liborio had multiple heroin customers, including an older black man who drives a white Denali truck. Id. ¶ 6. Agents performed a toll analysis of Medina-Liborio's telephone and learned that he was communicating with someone who had a cell phone subscribed to Butler. Id. Agents also discovered that Butler owned a white Denali truck. Id. The agents obtained a photograph of Butler and showed it to their confidential source, who confirmed that he had been present when Butler had purchased narcotics from Medina-Liborio. Id.

         On April 4, 2018, the DEA obtained a Title III order to intercept communications to and from Medina-Liborio's phone. Id. ¶ 7. The agents also had court orders allowing the acquisition of live GPS locations of Medina-Liborio's cell phone and they had installed a camera outside of Medina-Liborio's Detroit residence. Id. ¶ 9. On April 8, 2018, the agents intercepted phone calls between Medina-Liborio and a person whom they believed to be Butler. Id. ¶ 10. Medina-Liborio communicated to the person through coded language, which the argents interpreted as relating to a narcotics delivery. Id. Medina-Liborio told the person “to be ready tonight.” Id.

         That same day, Medina-Liborio and two other individuals were observed entering a black Saturn parked at the Detroit residence. Id. ¶ 11. Agents monitored the live tracking information and tracked Medina-Liborio's phone travelling from Detroit to a location somewhere near Dayton, Ohio. Id. ¶ 12. At 7:55 p.m., Medina-Liborio returned to Detroit in the Saturn and carried two luggage bags into his Detroit home. Id. ¶ 13. Around the same time, Butler was observed departing his Livonia residence in the white Denali truck. Id. ¶ 24. Agents immediately sought a search warrant for Medina-Liborio's Detroit home. Id. ¶ 15. At 8:13 p.m., Medina-Liborio and two other individuals left the Detroit residence in the Saturn. Id. ¶ 16. The DEA detained Medina-Liborio and the other individuals away from the residence prior to executing the search warrant. Id. Butler never arrived at Medina-Liborio's home.

         At 9:00 p.m., the DEA executed the search warrant. Id. ¶ 17. The search uncovered more than twenty kilograms of suspected heroin. Id. ¶ 19. During this time, agents believed that Butler was attempting to contact Medina-Liborio with the intention of obtaining kilogram quantities of narcotics. Id.

         Medina-Liborio agreed to be interviewed by DEA agents and signed a Miranda waiver. Id. ¶ 21. He admitted to travelling to Ohio to purchase large amounts of narcotics. Id. ¶ 22. During the interview, he identified Butler as an individual who had purchased multiple kilograms of heroin from him in the past. Id. ¶ 23. He said that he had been planning to provide Butler with kilogram quantities of heroin that night. Id. Medina-Liborio also identified a phone number belonging to Butler. Id. ¶ 23.

         On April 11, 2018, agents obtained a court order to track the GPS location of the cell phone suspected to belong to Butler. Id. ¶ 25. The GPS information showed that Butler spent a large amount of time, including nights, at the Cavell Street address in Livonia. Id. ¶ 26. Public records show that Butler is listed as residing at the Cavell Street address. Id. ¶ 29. On April 26, 2018, agents observed Butler at the Cavell Street address taking the trash can from the front curb and placing it behind the house. Id. Agents also saw Butler leave the residence in the white Denali truck. Id. A criminal records search revealed that Butler had a 1988 conviction related to controlled substances and a 1990 conviction related to a concealed weapon. Id. ¶ 28.

         The final four pages of the affidavit reiterate the common practices of drug traffickers and Carrier's conclusion that probable cause existed to search Butler's Livonia home. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. According to Agent Carrier, individuals involved with drug trafficking typically store drugs, proceeds, and records at their residences, storage facilities, and safe deposit boxes. Id. ¶ 30(a). He stated that drug traffickers commonly use electronic equipment to aid in their endeavors, such as cell phones, pagers, computers, and so forth. Id. ¶ 30(i). Based on Carrier's experience, and the facts of this case, he believed that the cell phone used to communicate with Medina-Liborio would be in the Cavell Street residence. Id. The search warrant application sought electronic devices, firearms, and all manners of drugs and related items. See id. Attach. B. to Search Warrant ¶¶ a-k.


         In reviewing the magistrate judge's probable-cause determination, the Court's task is to ensure that the magistrate had a “substantial basis” for her conclusion. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238-239 (1983). To encourage the use of and reliance on judicially approved warrants during 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 sufficiency of evidence is limited to the information contained within the four corners of the affidavit. United States v. Coffee, 434 F.3d 887, 892 (6th Cir. 2006).

         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.”). “Probable cause is defined as reasonable grounds for belief, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere ...

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