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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 29, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS, Defendant.

DECISION & ORDER

FRANK P. GERACI, Jr., Chief District Judge.

BACKGROUND

By Text Order of Referral of United States District Judge Hon. David G. Larimer, entered on November 1, 2012, this case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)-(B). ECF No. 38. On January 15, 2013, this case was transferred to United States District Judge Hon. Frank P. Geraci, Jr. ECF No. 45.

A single-count Indictment against Defendant Michael Williams ("Defendant" herein) alleging sex trafficking of a minor in violation of 18 USC §§ 1591(a)(1), 1591(b)(2) and (2) was returned by the grand jury on November 1, 2012. ECF No. 37. Defendant filed pretrial motions to suppress evidence seized as a result of a warrantless entry into and search of 204 Caroline Street in Rochester, New York on February 8, 2012 and evidence of a photographic identification procedure conducted several hours later, as well as to dismiss the Indictment. ECF No. 53. The government filed papers in opposition to these motions. ECF Nos. 57, 60. The Magistrate Judge conducted evidentiary hearings on the suppression motions on June 14, 2013, October 11, 2013 and November 6, 2013 (ECF Nos. 71, 80, 81). Both parties filed supplemental briefs following the suppression hearings (ECF Nos. 86, 89) and, thereafter, following additional oral arguments held on May 30, 2014, the hearings were reopened and continued on June 20, 2014 and August 28, 2014. ECF Nos. 101, 102. Supplemental post-hearing memoranda were submitted, respectively, by the government on October 6, 2014 (ECF No. 106) and by the Defendant on January 3, 2015 (ECF No. 110).

The Magistrate Judge filed a Report and Recommendation on February 2, 2015, recommending that this Court deny Defendant's motions. ECF No. 112. On April 17, 2015, Defendant filed Defendant's Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("Def.'s Objections"), on the grounds that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that (1) "the police's warrantless entry into an apartment at 204 Caroline Street in the City of Rochester on February 8 and February 9, 2012 was reasonable under the emergency aid doctrine"; and (2) "the information obtained by the police's reading of the e-mails on the computer in the apartment was permissible." ECF No. 117. Thereafter, on May 8, 2015, the government timely filed its Response to the Defendant's Objections to the Report and Recommendation ("Gov't Resp."), contending that the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to deny suppression of evidence and statements was correct and, further, that the Defendant never established standing to contest the search of the contents of the laptop computer. ECF No. 120. Based on Defendant's assertion that he needed an opportunity to address the standing issue set forth in the government's Response but not addressed by the Magistrate Judge in her Report and Recommendation, and with no opposition from the government, this Court granted Defendant time to file a reply memorandum. ECF No. 121. Defendant has timely filed Defendant's Reply Memorandum of Law ("Def.'s Reply"). ECF No. 122.

DISCUSSION

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which objections have been made. Under this provision, "[a] judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." Id. Upon a de novo review of the Report and Recommendation, and due consideration of Defendant's Objections, the government's Response, the Defendant's Reply, the certified transcripts of the motion hearings held on June 14, 2013, October 11, 2013, November 6, 2013, June 20, 2014, and August 28, 2014, the prior written submissions of the parties, as well as their motion papers, I find no basis to alter, modify, or reject the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.

Defendant states that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation extensively and accurately summarized the testimony of the various witnesses at the suppression hearings. Upon review of the certified transcripts of the suppression hearings, I concur with the Defendant's assessment regarding the accuracy of the Magistrate Judge's reporting in the Report and Recommendation of the relevant facts adduced at the hearing, and I will refer to those facts as necessary to determine Defendant's Objections. A brief summary is helpful.

This case began with a call to 911 shortly before 4:00 P.M. on February 8, 2012 from the aunt of a missing female minor named TJ, believed to be held against her will. The police investigation into an extenuating missing person case began immediately. At approximately 3:50 or 3:55 P.M., police responded to the home of the aunt and spoke with her son Nicholas Justiniano who showed the officers various cell phone text communications he received from the missing minor beginning shortly after 2:00 P.M., indicating that she was being held against her will in a location off South Avenue and feared that she would be beaten if she tried to leave. He also showed them on his cell phone an advertisement on Backpage.com for escort services depicting a photograph of two scantily and provocatively clad females, a young girl whom he identified as TJ, and a white female identified in the advertisement as "Chrissy." The Backpage.com advertisement identified the location as "Rochester, My place? Southwedge... Or yours?" and provided a cell phone number. Police investigators understood this and other information in the advertisement, "2 is so much more fun than just one" and "We offer DOUBLES, " to be for prostitution services.

Justiniano went to the police station and was there for about two hours, as the investigation continued. Meanwhile, police officers worked to pinpoint the location of the cellphone text communications from TJ and to track down the owner of the cellphone listed in the advertisement, as well as to obtain information on the whereabouts of "Chrissy" and TJ. They determined that the cell phone used by TJ and the cell phone number listed in the Backpage.com advertisement for contacting "Chrissy" had the same carrier, subscriber name, and address.[1] Additionally, police officers determined using GPS that the location of the cell phone used by TJ was in the Southwedge[2] neighborhood.

Justiniano later returned to the police station and informed police investigators that "Chrissy, " the woman in the advertisement picture with the minor TJ, was Chelsea Willenborg. Police investigators confirmed information provided by Justiniano that Chelsea Willenborg was the actual name of "Chrissy, " the other female in the Backpage.com advertisement with TJ, and determined that Willenborg was on probation supervision with the Monroe County Probation Department and, just that morning, had verified with her probation officer that she lived at 204 Caroline Street, Rochester, New York, which was in the Southwedge neighborhood. Furthermore, police determined that Caroline Street was directly off South Avenue. Using this information, police investigators went to 204 Caroline Street and entered the residence without a warrant to search for TJ, and thereupon, encountered another individual and the Defendant.

Before considering Defendant's Objections, it is important to point out, as did the Magistrate Judge, that the government has conceded that Defendant, an overnight guest at 204 Caroline Street, had standing to challenge the intrusion into the apartment. ECF Nos. 57, 112. By this concession, the government appears to have recognized and appreciated the import of the relevant constitutional principles. "To claim Fourth Amendment protection, a defendant must demonstrate that he personally has an expectation of privacy in the place searched, and that his expectation is reasonable." Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83 (1998) (citing Rakas v. Ilinois, 439 U.S. 128, 140-44 (1978)) ("capacity to claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment depends... upon whether the person who claims the protection of the Amendment has a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place"). Furthermore, an overnight guest may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in another person's home and thus have standing to challenge a warrantless entry and search, see Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 96-97 (1990) (status as an overnight guest alone is enough to show a reasonable expectation of privacy in the home that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable), but one who is "merely present with the consent of the householder may not, " see Carter, 525 U.S. at 90.

I turn now to Defendant's Objections regarding the inapplicability of the emergency aid doctrine to the facts of this case. For the reasons set forth herein below, I find unpersuasive his arguments that: (1) no objectively reasonable basis existed for the police to believe that anyone at the 204 Caroline Street apartment was in need of emergency aid; (2) the police lacked sufficient information to demonstrate that TJ was in need of emergency aid; and (3) the police conduct was inconsistent with existence of an emergency.

To be sure, the Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Supreme Court has recognized "as a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable." Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (citing Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559 (2004)) (quoting Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980)). "The ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, '" therefore, the warrant requirement is subject to certain exceptions, including the emergency aid exception which is grounded in the need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury. Id. ...


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