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United States v. Clark

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 31, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WEST CLARK

          ORDER

          BRAIN A. JACKSON JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 13). The United States opposes Defendant's Motion. (Doc. 14). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on this matter. (Doc. 19). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This matter arises out of allegations that Agent Scott Courrege of the Baton Rouge field office of the Drug Enforcement Agency made affirmative misrepresentations to a judge to obtain a search warrant. (Doc. 13-1 at p. 3). The search of the subject premises eventually led to the discovery of drugs and a firearm, and ultimately to Defendant's arrest for being a felon in possession of a firearm. (Doc. 13-1 at p. 3).

         Agent Courrege was contacted by Lieutenant Eric Jones of the East Baton Rouge Sheriffs Office who indicated that a confidential informant ("CI") was willing to purchase six grams of heroin from the Defendant. (Doc. 14 at p. 1). Prior to the purchase of the drugs, the CI was searched for money or contraband, and outfitted with an audio and video recording device. (Id. at p. 2). The CI was given $600.00 in cash and directed to purchase heroin from Defendant. (Id.). Thereafter, the CI entered an apartment located at 11555 Southfork Drive, Building 3, Apartment 1020, and after approximately four minutes, exited the apartment and drove to a prearranged meeting location, whereupon he gave officers Nicholas Dittlinger and Paul Marionneux the recording devices and a clear plastic bag containing a substance that was later determined to be heroin. (Id.). The CI was under surveillance for the entirety of the operation, other than the four minutes he was inside the apartment. (Id.).

         A search warrant was applied for and granted. (Doc. 13-1 at p. 2). In the affidavit attached to the search warrant Agent Courrage attested that he "later-reviewed the video and audio surveillance device that [the CI] was equipped with at the time of the buy" and that ¶i]t is clear that Clark weighed, packaged, and sold the heroin to [the CI] in the apartment." (Id.).

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing in this matter. (Doc. 19). At the hearing, Agent Courrage testified that he could not see Defendant's face from the video, and that he could not identify the Defendant by the video alone. Agent Courrage testified that while conducting surveillance, he noticed heavy foot traffic in and out of the apartment, which based on his experience as a law enforcement officer, was consistent with illegal drug activity.[1]

         Agent Courrage further testified that the CI was shown a photo of Defendant, recognized Defendant, and told the investigators that Defendant was the one who sold him the heroin. Agent Courrage also testified that although the identity of the person packaging and selling the heroin was not clear, he was able to reasonably identify Defendant by his vehicle, Defendant's voice, and the CI's statements.

         Defendant argues that based on the quality of the video and audio recordings, it is impossible to identify who was in the video, and that is was an intentional misstatement to claim that it was "clear" that Defendant was the one who sold the heroin. Defendant further argues that if the alleged misstatement is excised from the affidavit, the remaining claims are insufficient to support the issuance of a warrant.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To successfully challenge a warrant on the grounds of its underlying affidavit, a defendant must make a "substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit." Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 155-56 (1978). Defendant bears the burden to make this showing. United States v. Cavazos, 288 F.3d 706, 710 (5th Cir. 2002). Defendant must show "by a preponderance of the evidence that the misrepresentation was made intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth." United States v. Gallegos, 239 Fed.Appx. 890, 895 (5th Cir. 2007). The search warrant must be voided if a defendant establishes the false statement by the preponderance of the evidence, and that without the false statement the affidavit is insufficient to establish probable cause. Id. at 156.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The only statement Defendant claims was false was Agent Courrage's statement asserting that it was "clear" that Defendant was the person who sold and packaged the heroin. However, Defendant ignores the context in which the statements in the affidavit were made. The ...


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