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United States v. Saunders

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 3, 2017


          BAILEY JUDGE.



         I. SUMMARY

         On June 7, 2016, the Defendant, Shawndale Saunders, was named in a two-count Indictment. ECF No. 1. Count One alleges that he conspired to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base. Count Two alleges the use of a telephone to facilitate distribution of cocaine base.

         On February 28, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing and argument regarding several of the Defendant's motions. The Defendant appeared in person and by counsel, Frankie C. Walker, II, Esq. The Government appeared by its counsel Stephen L. Vogrin, Esq.

         This Report and Recommendation addresses only the Defendant's motions that argue for the suppression of evidence. In these motions, the Defendant raises several distinct arguments, however, the crux of his several motions is that the affidavits supporting two search warrants were so lacking as to render the search warrants without probable cause. The Court finds that the affidavits were sufficient to support a finding of probable cause. Therefore, the search warrants were valid. Thus, the Court is unpersuaded by each of the Defendant's arguments.


         Tim Starkey is an officer with the Belmont County Ohio Major Crimes Unit. On May 23, 2016, Officer Starkey was contacted by Detective Dave Drahos of the Wheeling, West Virginia Police Department regarding the Defendant. Detective Drahos informed Officer Starkey that a large amount of crack cocaine was seized in the Northern District of West Virginia. Detective Drahos believed that the seized drugs were supplied by the Defendant. Detective Drahos further believed that the drugs were “fronted” thus, the drugs were provided on consignment and the individual in possession of the drugs still owed approximately $7, 300 to the Defendant as payment for the drugs. The individual to whom the drugs were fronted was willing to cooperate as a confidential informant (“CI”).

         Officers arranged for the CI to pay the Defendant for the previously fronted drugs. The officers provided the CI with $7, 300 in marked dollar bills and wired the CI with an audio and video recording device. The officers observed the CI enter and exit the Defendant's residence. However, the officers did not search the CI before he entered the Defendant's residence. After the $7, 300 was paid for the previously fronted drugs and additional crack cocaine was fronted, the officers picked up the CI and recovered a large amount of crack cocaine, which the CI stated he acquired from the Defendant.

         Following the delivery of the $7, 300 and the new fronted crack cocaine, Officer Starkey drafted an affidavit and application for a search warrant for the Defendant's residence. Officer Starkey emailed the affidavit to the local prosecutor for review. The prosecutor advised that it “looked good.” At 8:30 p.m., Officer Starkey presented the affidavit to Belmont County Judge Chris Berhalter. Judge Berhalter reviewed the affidavit and issued the search warrant. The search warrant authorized the search for “drugs, drug paraphernalia, guns, safe, cash, ledger, scales, electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, tablets, cameras or recording systems and the contents thereof that were either purchased, used or facilitated the use of drug transactions” located at “417 N. 7th St. upstairs rear apartment on the south side of the structure Martins Ferry, Oh 43935.” The officers executed the warrant and seized a variety of evidence related to drug trafficking.

         Following the payment of the $7, 300 and additional crack cocaine was fronted, officers initiated a traffic stop of the Defendant. The officers arrested him for trafficking cocaine. The officers found $7, 300 in cash and four cellphones. Officer Starkey applied for a second search warrant to search the contents of the cellphones. The affidavit cited evidence of drug trafficking discovered in the search of the residence as well as Officer Starkey's experience that the cellphones may lead to information regarding drug trafficking. Judge Berhalter issued the warrant. The search of the cellphones contents was performed in London, Ohio.


         The Defendant's motions argue several different legal theories. Therefore, the legal standards and analysis will be addressed for each motion separately.

         A. ECF No. 17 Motion to ...

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