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United States v. Gillispie

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CORRIE GILLISPIE

          Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained pursuant to a tracking warrant for Defendant's vehicle. (Doc. 39.) Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger held a hearing and filed a report and recommendation, recommending that the Court deny the motion to suppress. (Doc. 91.) Defendant timely objected (Docs. 93-95), and the Government responded (Doc. 108). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT the report and recommendation (Doc. 91) and will DENY Defendant's motion to suppress (Doc. 39).

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). De novo review does not, however, require the district court to rehear witnesses whose testimony has been evaluated by the magistrate judge. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980). The magistrate judge, as the factfinder, has the opportunity to observe and to hear the witnesses and to assess their demeanor, putting him in the best position to determine credibility. Moss v. Hofbauer, 286 F.3d 851, 868 (6th Cir. 2002); United States v. Hill, 195 F.3d 258, 264-65 (6th Cir. 1999). A magistrate judge's assessment of witnesses' testimony is therefore entitled to deference. United States v. Irorere, 69 F. App'x 231, 236 (6th Cir. 2003); see also United States v. Navarro-Camacho, 186 F.3d 701, 705 (6th Cir. 1999).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On May 17, 2016, a grand jury returned a four-count indictment that charged two individuals. (Doc. 3.) On June 28, 2016, a grand jury returned a ten-count superseding indictment charging the same two individuals (the “Indictment”). (Doc. 26.) The Indictment specifically charged Defendant with various interstate human sex-trafficking crimes, including violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201, 1591, 1957, and 2421. (Doc. 26.) On August 1, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained from the placement of a tracking device on a vehicle he drove, a “gray Chevrolet Equinox bearing license plate number M44-29F and vehicle identification number 2CNFLCEW6A6225835” (“Subject Vehicle”). (See Docs. 39, 40-1.) Defendant argues there was no probable cause to issue a warrant for possible violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2423, the offense listed on the face of the warrant application. (See Docs. 40, 40-1.)

         On June 26, 2017, Magistrate Judge Steger held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress, limited only to the question of whether good faith applied. (See Doc. 85.) At the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Steger heard testimony from (1) Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent David Mullins, (2) Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) Jay Woods, and (3) Deputy United States Marshal James Miller. (See Doc. 89.) At the evidentiary hearing, AUSA Woods stated he intended that the affidavit refer to interstate sex trafficking of adults, not minors; that the affidavit should have cited 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 and 2422(a); and that the citation of § 2423 was due to his misunderstanding of the definition of “illicit sexual activity” found in § 2423(f). (Doc. 91, at 12-13.)

         On August 10, 2017, Magistrate Judge Steger entered his report and recommendation, recommending that the Court deny Defendant's motion to suppress. (Doc. 91.) On August 22, 2017, Defendant's standby counsel filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 93.) On August 24, 2017, Defendant, acting pro se, filed his own objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 94.) Defendant filed a supplement to his objections on August 29, 2017. (Doc. 96.) Defendant did not object to the basic facts outlined in Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation, but he did object to the findings and legal conclusions related to those facts. (See Docs. 93-94, 96.) After reviewing the record before the Court and finding the facts to be consistent with Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts as set out in the report and recommendation.[1](Doc. 91, at 1-3); see, e.g., United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d 289, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2013). The Court will refer to the facts only as necessary to analyze the issues raised on objection. Defendant's objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation are now ripe for review.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant, through standby counsel, raises two objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation. Specifically, Defendant objects to Magistrate Judge Steger's findings that (1) the facts contained in the affidavit establish probable cause to believe the Subject Vehicle was used in interstate sex trafficking, and (2) the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies. (Doc. 93, at 2-11.) Additionally, Defendant raises three objections in his pro se filings, [2] asserting that: (1) Defendant was in Indiana sleeping on February 3, 2016, and has no knowledge of any incident occurring on that date; (2) Defendant did not own the Subject Vehicle at the time of the arrest on July 26, 2013; and (3) Special Agent Mullins and AUSA Woods conspired together to manipulate “the U.S. caselaws and Magistrate Judge Walter Johnson” in obtaining the warrant. (Doc. 94, at 1-3.)

         A. Probable Cause for Interstate Sex Trafficking

         Defendant first objects to Magistrate Judge Steger's finding that the supporting affidavit contains facts sufficient to establish probable cause for interstate sex trafficking. (Doc. 93, at 2- 7.) On its face, the warrant affidavit alleges violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2423, but both parties have agreed there is no probable cause to support the transportation of minors in interstate commerce for prostitution or other sexual activities, as required by the cited section. (Doc. 40, at 6; Doc. 55, at 2-3). Instead, the government acknowledges an error in listing the wrong section of the Mann Act. (Doc. 55, at 3.) The government asserts it intended to list §§ 2421 and 2422(a) in the affidavit, which prohibit knowingly transporting any individual in interstate sex trafficking. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421, 2422(a). Defendant argues there is no probable cause to support interstate sex trafficking-regardless of whether the trafficked individuals are adults or minors-and, thus, the warrant should never have issued. (Doc. 93, at 2-7.)

         Where an affidavit serves as the basis for a probable-cause determination, it “must provide the magistrate with a substantial basis for determining the existence of probable cause.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 239 (1983). “Sufficient information must be presented to the magistrate to allow that official to determine probable cause; his action cannot be a mere ratification of the bare conclusions of others.” Id. However, probable cause is not a high bar; it requires only the kind of fair probability “on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.” Id. at 231. Where no outside facts were presented to the issuing judge, the court makes a determination of probable cause by evaluating the information contained solely within the ...


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