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United States v. Praagh

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 1, 2014



PAUL A. CROTTY, District Judge.

Defendants Michael Van Praagh and James Lyle are charged with a conspiracy to distribute at least 500 grams of substances containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846, and with the distribution and possession with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of substances containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Both move to suppress physical evidence seized during their arrests and evidence found during subsequent searches of their cellular phones. Van Praagh also moves to sever his case from his co-defendant, and Lyle moves to suppress a post-arrest statement made to law enforcement officials. The motions are DENIED.


I. Defendant Van Praagh

On May 30, 2013, the staff of a midtown hotel (the "Hotel") informed New York City Police that an employee had found a large quantity of white powder in a bag and over $20, 000 in cash in the safe of Room 211.[1] The Hotel staff also informed police that Van Praagh had stayed in Room 211, but after checking out, he had returned to the Hotel and stated: "I left my property in the safe of Room 211."

NYPD officers arrested Van Praagh at the Hotel. During the arrest, the officers seized a cellular phone from Van Praagh's pocket. The officers also searched a Vespa scooter parked outside the Hotel that was identified as belonging to Van Praagh[2] and seized a scale and approximately $1, 000 in cash.

On June 24, 2013, NYPD Officer Giacomo Sciuto sought a search warrant in New York City Criminal Court for Van Praagh's cellular phone; but the Criminal Court judge declined to issue the warrant. Opp. Mtn., Ex. F. Officer Sciuto then revised the supporting affidavit to include additional factual allegations (the "Revised Affidavit"). In particular, the Revised Affidavit stated that Van Praagh was Facebook "friends" with an individual who had repeatedly sold crystal methamphetamine to undercover police officers, and that financial records indicated payments from that individual to Van Praagh. Opp. Mtn., Ex. B, ¶ 6(d)-(f). The Revised Affidavit further stated that "a previous application of a different form of this warrant was reviewed by [the Criminal Court judge] and he declined to sign it." Id. at p. 3. A New York Supreme Court judge signed the revised warrant application on June 24, 2013.

II. Defendant Lyle

On December 11, 2013, at approximately 9:20 p.m., New York City police officers observed Lyle park and exit a car he was driving in midtown Manhattan. According to the officers, Lyle had a knife "clipped to his... pants pocket in public view, " which, upon further investigation, they determined to be a gravity knife. Opp. Mtn., Ex. H, at 1. Lyle told the officers that he was legally permitted to carry the gravity knife because he was a member of the stagehands union and used the knife to perform his job. Lyle Aff., ¶ 6. The officers then asked Lyle whether he had been driving the car that was parked nearby. Lyle answered that he had not, but after the officers informed him that they had seen him driving it, Lyle admitted to driving the car. According to Lyle, he had "initially lied about driving the car" because his driver's license was suspended at the time. Id. at ¶ 7.

The officers arrested Lyle and took the car to the police precinct, where an inventory search was conducted. Lyle Mtn., Ex. A, ¶ 6; Lyle Aff., ¶ 8. Over one pound of methamphetamine and approximately $39, 000 in cash were found in the trunk of the car. Police also recovered two cellular phones and a computer tablet from the car.

Lyle claims that his girlfriend had rented the car and had given him permission to drive it. Lyle Aff., ¶ 3. There is no indication that Lyle was an authorized driver on the rental agreement; indeed, he concedes that his license was suspended at the time of the arrest. Id. at ¶ 8.

A. September 11, 2014 Hearing

On September 11, 2014, the Court held a hearing regarding Lyle's custodial statement to law enforcement officers on December 12, 2013, at the District Attorney's Office (the "Statement").[3]

At the hearing, the Government witnesses credibly testified that shortly before making the Statement, Lyle was read his Miranda rights and signed a pre-printed form indicating that he understood and wished to waive those rights.[4] See Tr. 17:25-18:3; 85:15-86:4; Gov. Ex. 3506-E. New York County Assistant District Attorney Scally also testified that, while at the time he believed the Statement was being videotaped, he was subsequently unable to locate any videotape of the Statement. Tr. 87:21-88:17.

All four of the Government's witnesses credibly testified that they had never heard Lyle request an attorney.

Lyle did not testify at the hearing, but submitted two affidavits in which he set forth his version of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. The affidavits concede that Lyle signed a form acknowledging the waiver of his Miranda rights, but state that the officers ignored his request for an attorney during the interrogation. The affidavits also contain various inconsistencies. For example, the first affidavit alleges that Lyle was not permitted to make a phone call at the police precinct; the second affidavit states that he was allowed to make a phone call, but an officer "cut off the call." Lyle Aff., ¶ 10; Reply Aff., ¶ 8-9. Similarly, the first affidavit indicates that Lyle signed a waiver of his Miranda rights prior to being questioned, while the second affidavit states that he received his Miranda warnings only after officers had questioned him extensively. Lyle Aff., ¶ 10; Reply Aff., ¶ 10. In addition, the second affidavit contains allegations regarding the December 12 Statement, but the first affidavit contains no mention of the Statement.


I. Probable Cause for Arrests

Probable cause exists for an arrest if "the totality of the circumstances, as viewed by a reasonable and prudent police officer in light of his training and experience, would lead that police officer to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed." United States v. Moreno, 897 F.2d 26, 31 (2d Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). If an officer has probable cause to arrest a defendant, the officer may also perform a search incident to ...

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