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United States v. Sloane

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 13, 2019




         Before the Court is the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 19) filed by Defendant Jesse Sloane. The Government filed an opposition. (Doc. 23). The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing. Both parties subsequently filed post-hearing briefs. (Doc. 29, 30). For the reasons stated herein, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January of 2018, William Sellers, an investigator with the Louisiana State Police Special Victims' Unit, was searching for individuals who were downloading and sharing child pornography on the BitTorrent network.[1] (Doc. 27 at p. 24). Sellers utilized a program called "Torrential Downpour," which allows investigating officers to conduct single source downloads.[2] (Id. at p. 25).

         On January 21, 2018, Sellers downloaded approximately seventy images depicting child pornography from a single IP address. (Doc. 27 at p. 26, 44, 64). Sellers then consulted a public website, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which matches IP addresses with service providers. (Id.). Sellers determined that the IP address in question was registered to Cox Communications. (Id. at p. 27). Sellers then sent a subpoena to Cox requesting the subscriber information for the time and date the IP address accessed the images. Cox informed Sellers that the IP address belonged to Defendant and provided him with Defendant's home address. (Id. at p. 28).

         Sellers testified that he conducted surveillance on the residence five or six times, although he could not remember on what days and at what times. Sellers did not conduct surveillance on January 21, the day the images were downloaded. (Id. at p. 47). During the surveillance, Sellers observed a pickup truck at the residence that he determined was registered to Defendant. (Id. at p. 28). Sellers attempted to discern whether any other individuals lived with Defendant, but he never observed anyone other than Defendant going to or coming from the residence. (Id.)

         On March 13, 2018, Sellers requested a search warrant for the residence. On March 14, 2018, at approximately 5:00 A.M., a contingent often to fifteen state and local law enforcement officers congregated at a staging area near the residence to prepare to execute the search warrant. (Id. at p. 33). Trooper Malcolm Brown, who also worked for the Louisiana State Police, was shown Defendant's driver's license photograph. Afterwards, Brown parked his own unmarked vehicle down the street from the residence for surveillance purposes. (Id. at pp. 30-31).

         While the officers reviewed the operations plan in the staging area, Brown alerted Sellers via radio that Defendant had exited his residence, entered his vehicle, and was preparing to leave the area. (Doc. 27 at p. 33). Sellers directed Brown to follow Defendant and informed him that other officers would arrive shortly. (Id. at p. 34). Sometime before 6:30 A.M., Brown stopped Defendant's vehicle less than half a mile from the residence and directed Defendant to park in an adjacent lot. (Id. at p. 37).

         Sellers eventually arrived at the scene of the traffic stop. (Doc. 27 at p. 36). He informed Defendant that law enforcement officers were executing a search warrant of his home. (Id. at p. 37, 55). He also informed Defendant that he was not under arrest but that "he'd like [Defendant] to return with him." Sellers did not tell Defendant that he was required to return with him. (Id. at p. 37). Sellers did not recall telling Defendant that he had to leave his phone in the vehicle. (Id. at p. 56). Defendant was not handcuffed when Sellers spoke with him. (Id. at p. 37).

         Sellers testified that Defendant agreed to accompany the officers back to the residence. (Doc. 27 at p. 37). Sellers alleges that he informed Defendant that the police officers would secure Defendant's vehicle and that the police would give Defendant a ride back to the residence. (Id.). Sellers did not direct the police officers to handcuff Defendant on the way back to the residence.

         Upon reaching the residence, Defendant informed Sellers that his brother, James Nice, was living with him. (Id. at p. 38). Sellers testified that the officers had not known this before executing the warrant. (Id.) The officers then secured the residence and accompanied Defendant inside for an interview. (Id.) Defendant, Sellers, and one other officer entered a storage room in the residence for the interview. Defendant was not restrained, not in handcuffs, and was informed that he was still not under arrest. (Id. at p. 39). The door to the storage room was also not closed or barricaded to prevent exit. (Id.) Defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a waiver of rights at 6:51 A.M. (Exhibit 1). During the interview, Defendant admitted that he possessed child pornography. Defendant now seeks to suppress this admission.


         Defendant argues that the officers illegally stopped him; thus, under the Fourth Amendment, the confession obtained at Defendant's residence constitutes "fruit of the poisonous tree." U.S v. Tovar, 719 F.3d 376, 387 (5th Cir. 2013) (holding that verbal statements derived from an unauthorized seizure constitute "fruit of the poisonous tree"). In the case of a warrantless seizure, the Government bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, that the seizure was constitutional.

         A. Did the Stop Satisfy the Terry v. ...

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