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United States v. Graham

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 5, 2015




On January 17, 2015, Justin Graham (“Graham”) was indicted by a federal grand jury for two counts of possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) (Dkt. No. 9). The matter is before the Court on Graham’s motion to suppress all physical evidence seized from his home on December 10, 2014, as well as any statements Graham made after he was arrested on that same day. Def.’s Mot. Suppress at 1 (Dkt. No. 21). The Government has objected (Dkt. No. 22-1).

On August 24, 2015, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Graham’s motion to suppress, during which the government presented the testimony of two witnesses and several exhibits. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court requested additional briefing on the issue of probable cause as it relates to the specific facts of this case. On August 31, 2015 and September 2, 2015, respectively, the parties submitted supplemental memoranda on the issue of probable cause. (Government, Dkt. No. 31; Defendant, Dkt. No. 32). The matter is now in order for a decision.

I. Factual Background

The Court makes its factual determinations based on the testimony of Postal Inspector James Foley (“Foley”) and HIDTA[1] task force member Mario Cerullo (“Officer Cerullo”), both of whom the Court found to be credible and candid, as well as the physical evidence presented at the hearing.

Graham was arrested in his residence on December 10, 2014 after he accepted delivery of a package addressed to Ryan Smith. Subsequent to Graham’s arrest, members of the HIDTA task force conducted a “protective sweep” of his residence, during which they found bags of pills and several weapons. Officer Cerullo of the task force read Graham his Miranda rights, after which Graham identified his bedroom; Graham refused, however, to give consent to the officers to open the package he had just taken possession of from Foley.

Based upon certain information Foley had collected prior to Graham’s December 10, 2014 arrest, and the items observed by the police “in plain view” during the sweep of Defendant’s home (pills and weapons), the police secured a search warrant from a state court judge. After receipt of the warrant, the package was opened and found to contain a controlled substance.

Foley has been a postal inspector for seven years. He has received training on narcotics trafficking through the U.S. Postal Service. Foley’s training included how to identify packages and originating countries with regard to drug trafficking. In the Spring of 2014, Foley began investigating packages from China which were shipped to 1205 Hill Farm Road in Coventry, Rhode Island. Foley set up a “parcel watch, ” which gave him notice any time a parcel addressed to the Hill Farm Road address came in. Foley also testified that China is a source to the United States for synthetic drugs.

On March 12, 2014, Foley received notice of a package that was at the Coventry post office for delivery to 1205 Hill Farm Road. Foley went to the post office and looked at the outside of the package. Although he looked at the label and wrapping, he could not tell if the sending address was in China because “it was in Chinese writing” and Foley does not read Chinese. The package was addressed to Chris Bernard at 1205 Hill Farm Road. Foley checked the CLEAR[2]database to see if any individual by that name “came back” to that address, but the name Chris Bernard was not listed for that address in the database. Foley testified that the fact that the name on the package was not associated with the address was significant because “it’s common with narcotics parcels. They’ll have a good delivery address, but have a fictitious name.”

On March 12, 2014, Foley delivered the package to 1205 Hill Farm Road. Graham came to the door, and after being advised by Foley that the package was for Chris Bernard, Graham signed a receipt and took possession of the package. Foley testified that he did not arrest Graham at that time because he was “building an intelligence on the parcel” and he didn’t know if it contained narcotics “or what, ” so the delivery was “more or less to identify who was receiving the parcel.”

In November 2014, Foley received an alert that another package addressed to 1205 Hill Farm Road had come in. Foley went to the post office to retrieve the package. He observed the label which indicated that the sender was “Shanghai Jifeng.” Foley next checked the “prohibited mail narcotics” database for “Shanghai Jifeng.” He learned that there were multiple listings of Shanghai Jifeng as the sender of seized parcels containing controlled substances. Foley found that, at that point, fourteen such parcels had been entered in the system in the preceding six months. Foley acknowledged, however, that he had no way of knowing how many legitimate packages had been shipped by Shanghai Jifeng to the United States during that time frame and he conceded that it could be “millions.”

On November 10, 2014, Foley delivered the package from Shanghai Jifeng to 1205 Hill Farm Road. This second package was addressed to “Ryan Smith.” Foley had checked that name in the CLEAR database, and, again, found no listing for a Ryan Smith at that address. Foley rang the doorbell, told Graham the package was for Ryan Smith, and Graham took possession of it and signed the receipt “Justin G.”

From the time he made the March 12, 2014 delivery through November 10, 2014, when he made the second delivery, Foley did minimal investigation regarding Graham. Foley testified that he ran a report on the vehicle registration on the car parked at 1205 Hill Farm Road on March 10, 2014 and found that it was registered to Graham. Foley did no surveillance of 1205 Hill Farm Road. He did “pull” information from the CLEAR database and got Graham’s “information, ” although it is unclear what “information” was included in that report.

On December 8, 2014, Foley got an alert from the post office that there was a third package for 1205 Hill Farm Road. Foley notified Detective Schatz of the HIDTA task force (as he had done in March 2014) and they decided to do a controlled delivery. Foley saw that the third package was shipped by Shanghai Jifeng and that it was addressed to “Ryan Smith.” Foley acknowledged that the ...

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