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United States v. Mayfield

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division

May 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
HORACE MAYFIELD, LEONARDO STEEPLES[1], and NATHAN ANTONIO HOWARD, Defendants. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
HORACE MAYFIELD Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          J. Clay Fuller, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the undersigned on the following motions filed in Criminal Action No. 2:16-CR-9: Defendant Horace Mayfield's Motion To Suppress Physical Evidence Seized In Unlawful Search (Doc. 121); Defendant Leonardo Steeple's Motion To Suppress Physical Evidence Seized in Unlawful Search (Doc. 141); Defendant Nathan Antonio Howard's Motion To Suppress Physical Evidence Seized In Unlawful Search (Doc. 152); Defendant Howard's Request For Leave To File Out Of Time, His “Amended Motion To Suppress Physical Evidence Seized In Unlawful Search” (Doc. 349); and Defendant Steeple's Request For Leave To File Out Of Time, His “Supplemental Motion To His First Motion To Suppress” (Doc. 350). Defendant Mayfield also filed the same Motion To Suppress Physical Evidence Seized In Unlawful Search in Criminal Action No. 2:16-CR-10 (Doc. 100).[2]

         Background

         In Criminal No. 2:16-CR-9, Defendants Horace Mayfield, Nathan Antonio Howard, Leonardo Steeple and others are charged in a 16-count Indictment with drug-related offenses, including conspiracy. (Doc. 1, 2:16-CR-9). The 12-count Indictment filed in 2:16-CR-10 similarly charges Defendants Mayfield and others with drug-related offenses, including conspiracy. (Doc. 1, 2:16-CR-10). Defendant Mayfield filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his residence at 714 Baskins Circle, Winder, Georgia pursuant to a search warrant issued on February 15, 2016 (Doc. 121; see also Doc. 100, 2:16-CR-9); Defendant Steeple filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his residence at 196 Tabitha Paige Lane, Toccoa, Georgia and at a business, Chosewood Auto Sales (“Chosewood Auto”) at 7124 Dicks Hill Parkway, Mt. Airy, Georgia pursuant to search warrants issued on February 12, 2016 (Doc. 141); and Defendant Howard filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his purported residence at 1995 Carithers Way, Marietta, Georgia and at Chosewood Auto Sales pursuant to search warrants issued on Febuary 12, 2016 (Doc. 152). The Government filed a consolidated response to Defendants' motions. (Doc. 330; see also Doc. 269, 2:16-CR-10). Mayfield submitted a reply (Doc. 345; see also Doc. 283, 2:16-CR-10), but Defendants Howard and Steeple did not. Instead, they moved to supplement their motions to assert additional grounds for suppression (Docs. 349, 350). The Government objected to their motions as untimely (Doc. 352), and Howard and Steeple filed replies in support of their request to amend (Docs. 355, 356). The Court directed the Government to file a response to Defendants' arguments made in their proposed amended motions to suppress and indicated it would consider the issue of the timeliness of Defendants' motions to amend when it considered the merits of their motions to suppress. (See Doc. 353). The Government has done so (Doc. 359); Defendants did not reply to that response. Briefing is complete, and the undersigned now considers the merits of Defendants' motions.

         Discussion

         I. Defendant Mayfield's Motions To Suppress (Doc. 121 in 2:16-CR-9 and Doc. 100 in 2:16-CR-10

         Defendant Mayfield moves to suppress evidence seized from his residence at 714 Baskins Circle, Winder, Georgia on February 17, 2016 pursuant to a search warrant issued by a Barrow County Superior Court Judge on February 15, 2016 (see Doc. 330-1) based on an affidavit submitted by GBI Special Agent Clay Bridges (see Doc. 330-1 at 1-75). (Doc. 121; see also Doc. 100, 2:16-CR-10). “Where a search is conducted under the authority of a warrant, the defendant challenging the search carries the burden of showing the warrant to be invalid.” United States v. Kilgore, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154148, at *14 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 13, 2012) (internal quotation omitted), adopted by 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153867 (N.D.Ga. Oct. 26, 2012). “It is not easy for a Defendant to meet this burden, and a judicial preference is accorded searches under a warrant.” United States v. Teague, No. 2:10-CR-006-RWS-SSC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142717, at *86 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 22, 2010) (internal quotation omitted), adopted by 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42260 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 22, 2010).

         “The Fourth Amendment allows warrants to issue on probable cause, a standard well short of absolute certainty.” L.A. County v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609, 615 (2007). The task of a magistrate judge, when issuing a warrant, “ ‘is simply to make a practical, commonsense 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. Miller, 24 F.3d 1357, 1361 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983)). The Miller court explained the role of a court reviewing a search warrant:

Courts reviewing the legitimacy of search warrants should not interpret supporting affidavits in a hypertechnical manner; rather, a realistic and commonsense approach should be employed so as to encourage recourse to the warrant process and to promote the high level of deference traditionally given to magistrate[ judges] in their probable cause determinations.

Miller, 24 F.3d at 1361 (citing Gates, 462 U.S. at 236-37).

         The undersigned has considered Agent Bridges' affidavit (Doc. 330-1 at 1-75) with these principles, and Defendant Mayfield's arguments about its deficiencies (see Docs. 121, 345), in mind. It is not necessary to determine whether the affidavit established the existence of probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at Defendant's residence, however, because the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule set out in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984) applies in this case. See, e.g., United States v. Jones, 149 F.Appx. 954, 963 (11th Cir. 2005) (unpublished decision) (“We need not determine whether probable cause existed, because the good faith exception applies here.”); United States v. Dos Santos, No. 1:05-CR-613-TWT, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55943, at *15 (N.D.Ga. June 21, 2006) (“The good faith exception is applicable to this case; therefore, this court need not reach the underlying issue of probable cause.”), adopted by 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55944 (N.D.Ga. July 25, 2006).

         The exclusionary rule, which provides that evidence seized as the result of a search violative of the Fourth Amendment may not be used by the Government in a subsequent criminal prosecution, is “ ‘a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect.' ” Martin, 297 F.3d at 1312 (quoting United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348 (1974)). In Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), the Supreme Court addressed the limited role of the exclusionary rule:

The fact that a Fourth Amendment violation occurred—i.e., that a search or arrest was unreasonable—does not necessarily mean that the exclusionary rule applies. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 223[] (1983). Indeed, exclusion “has always been our last resort, not our first impulse, ” Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 591[] (2006), and our precedents establish important principles that constrain application of the exclusionary rule.

Id. at 140. The Court explained that “[t]o trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system.” Id. at 144. The purpose of the exclusionary rule is “to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence.” Id.

         In Leon, the Supreme Court modified the exclusionary rule to allow prosecutors to use evidence “obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate but ultimately found to be unsupported by probable cause.” 468 U.S. at 900. In Martin, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained what has become known as the Leon good faith exception to the exclusionary rule:

[Leon] stands for the principle that courts generally should not render inadmissible evidence obtained by police officers acting in reasonable reliance upon a search warrant that is ultimately found to be unsupported by probable cause. The Leon good faith exception applies in all but four limited sets of circumstances. Id. at 923. The four sets of circumstances are as follows: (1) where “the magistrate or judge in issuing a warrant was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth”; (2) “where the issuing magistrate wholly abandoned his judicial role in the manner condemned in” Lo-Ji Sales, Inc. v. New York, 442 U.S. 319[] (1979); (3) where the affidavit supporting the warrant is “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable”; and (4) where, depending upon the circumstances of the particular case, a warrant is “so facially deficient B i.e., in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized B that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

Martin, 297 F.3d at 1313 (original formatting altered).

         The first, second and fourth circumstances are not present here-Mayfield has not shown that Agent Bridges misled the issuing judge; there is no evidence that the issuing judge abandoned his judicial role in issuing the warrant; and the warrant sufficiently describes the person, premises, and property to be searched, and the things to be seized (see Doc. 330-1 at 76-80). Rather, Defendant's arguments in support of suppression implicate the third circumstance described in Leon-that the affidavit was so lacking in indicia of probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at Mayfield's residence that official belief in its existence was unreasonable.

         Here, Agent Bridges' affidavit states the following: In July 2015 two confidential informants (CI) told agents that they had been purchasing methamphetamine from Mayfield for three to four months at multiple locations. (Doc. 330-1 at 10-17). On July 13, 2015, agents recorded conversations between one of the CIs and Mayfield discussing drug trafficking and how Mayfield “orchestrates” his trips to Atlanta to resupply, i.e., he uses two vehicles, on in which he is traveling and the other in which the methamphetamine is placed so that if he is pulled over, “he's clean and the first car[] keeps going.” (Id. at 10). During the agents' surveillance of Mayfield, they observed him using counter surveillance measures, such as taking erratic turns when driving to multiple locations, consistent with counter surveillance measures taken by drug traffickers before and after drug transactions, and they also observed him traveling with two cars, consistent with the manner he described when transporting narcotics. (Id. at 10, 13-15, 17-18, 25). On January 7, 2016 “CRS #1”[3] provided information that Mayfield had one kilogram of cocaine at his Baskins Circle residence that “he was preparing for distribution by breaking it down into smaller quantities.” (Id. at 19). CRS #1 indicated that Mayfield lived at 714 Baskins Circle in Barrow County and “used this location as a base of operations for his multi county and multi state drug trafficking business.” (Id. at 62). Agents, who had conducted surveillance of Mayfield for 60 days, “confirmed that he begins most days and ends most days at this location, ” and his vehicles were parked at that location when not in use. (Id.).

         On January 16, 2016 CRS #1 informed agents that Mayfield planned to pick up money from a subject, later identified to be Mario Stowers, in South Carolina, and agents observed Mayfield and Audreona Scott at Stowers' residence in South Carolina. (Id. at 29). An Oconee County, South Carolina Sheriff's Investigator informed agents that Stowers was a target of a methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking investigation. (Id.). Following Mayfield's visit to Stowers, CRS #1 informed agents that Mayfield had placed an order for “cream, ” which “is street lingo for methamphetamine.” (Id. at 30). CRS #1 also provided information that Mayfield intended to travel to a Target shopping center in Atlanta. (Id.). At approximately 2:30 p.m., Agent Howard observed Mayfield and Scott arrive at that location in a black BMW, and he saw another gray BMW arrive, driven by a person later identified as Gus Melendez. (Id.). Melendez exited his vehicle with a backpack, got into the back of Mayfield's and Scott's vehicle, and then exited the vehicle without the backpack. (Id.).

         Later that day, at 7:23 p.m. CRS #1 provided information that Mayfield was arranging to meet someone to deliver “three, ” possibly meaning three ounces of methamphetamine. (Id. at 31). At 7:38, Mayfield and Scott left Baskins Circle and met a Mercedes in a parking lot in South Carolina before traveling to the area of Stowers' residence in South Carolina. (Id. at 31-32). CRS #1 provided information that Mayfield was on his way to visit Stephens Ivester to deliver “something, ” and Agent Howard observed Mayfield arrive at an address in Stephens County, Georgia, and CRS #1 provided information that Mayfield was leaving “two and a half” at Ivester's residence. (Id. at 32). On January 20, 2016, Mayfield and Scott left Baskins Circle and parked in a parking lot at a truck stop in South Carolina next to the same Mercedes seen on January 16, 2016 at the same location. (Id. at 36). Mayfield exited the Mercedes carrying a black backpack. (Id.). The affidavit describes additional surveillance observations as well as information obtained from CRS #1 that indicates that Mayfield continued to engage in drug trafficking activity through the rest of January and into February 2016. (See generally Id. at 34-60).

         The undersigned finds that the information set forth in Agent Bridges' affidavit shows that it was not so “lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable.” Martin, 297 F.3d at 1313. The warrant sufficiently alleges facts that support a finding of probable cause to believe that Mayfield was engaged in drug trafficking from before July 2015 until February 2016 and that evidence of that crime would be found in his residence at the Baskins Circle address. See, e.g., United States v. Cunningham, 633 Fed.Appx. 920, 922 (11th Cir. 2015) (finding that warrant was supported by probable cause where affidavit described evidence that the defendant was engaged in drug trafficking and “law enforcement officials attested that, based on their significant experience with drug investigations, drug traffickers often store evidence of their crimes in their homes”).

         Mayfield contends, however, that the search warrant does not establish probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the Baskins Circle address. (Docs. 121, 345). First, he challenges the veracity of CRS #1 as to the information provided by CRS #1 that Mayfield possessed a kilogram of cocaine at the Baskins Circle residence: “The informant may have simply heard a rumor about his ‘kilogram of cocaine' from a totally reliable source. The informant may have assumed that Mayfield kept cocaine at home, or he may have been trying to impress the agents with a factually unsupported fabrication.” (Doc. 121 at 5-6). “In general, ‘[i]f an informant is mentioned in an affidavit [underlying a search warrant], the affidavit must also demonstrate the informant's ‘veracity' and ‘basis of knowledge.' ” Martin, 297 F.3d at 1314. “However, when there is sufficient independent corroboration of an informant's information, there is no need to establish the veracity of the informant.” Id. Here, the affidavit stated the following about CRS #1:

CRS #1 has been proven to be reliable and truthful in ITS dealings with Agent BRIDGES. In the last 14 days, CRS #1 has provided information, to AGENTS, which lead to the arrest of two people for trafficking cocaine and the seizure of more than 900 grams of suspected cocaine. Over the course of the last 5 weeks, CRS #1 has provided detailed information, to law enforcement, including identifications of participants in[, and locations, and times for] methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine transactions, and amount of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine involved in the transactions. All of this was corroborated by extensive law enforcement surveillance outlined above. CRS #1 has provided no information that was later found to be untrue. CRS #1 has been recognized[] by Stephens County Chief of Superior Court Judge RUSSELL W. SMITH, as a confidential, reliable source.

(Id. at 74). Thus, the affidavit sets forth facts demonstrating CRS #1's reliability and veracity. Even if the affidavit insufficiently demonstrates CRS #1's “basis of knowledge” as to the presence of cocaine in Mayfield's residence, sufficient indicia of probable cause existed to believe that evidence of drug trafficking would be found there in light of the extensive surveillance and information provided by CRS #1 which shows that while engaged in drug trafficking activity described in the affidavit, Mayfield was living at that residence, and he parked his vehicles used in drug trafficking at that address. See, e.g., United States v. Meryl, 322 Fed.Appx. 871, 874 (11th Cir. 2009) (unpublished decision) (noting the district court's “common-sense finding that ‘drug dealers are likely to keep evidence of their drug business at home' ” in finding that probable cause supported the issuance of the warrant); United States v. Villa[n]ueva Pineda, No, 1:11-CR-00006-CAP-JFK, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98692, at ...


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