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United States v. Ramos

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

July 11, 2019

JESUS RAMOS, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant Jesus Ramos' Motion to Suppress evidence obtained through a series of three interrelated searches. Mr. Ramos challenges the validity of the searches under the Fourth Amendment. The first search was of Mr. Ramos' cell phone records, including cell-site location information ("CSLI"). The second search was of Mr. Ramos' apartment, conducted when the police executed an arrest warrant for him. The third search was a more in-depth examination of Mr. Ramos' apartment, conducted after the police secured a search warrant. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS Mr. Ramos' Motion to Suppress. ECF 24.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In Spring 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") surveilled a home on Ford Street in Providence, R, I. ("Ford St. Property") and one of its residents because it suspected that illegal narcotic activity was taking place there. The DEA came to believe that the resident was Mr. Ramos based on its observation of him and an informant's tip that Mr. Ramos was residing in the area of Ford Street.

         The DEA and the Boston Police Department ("BPD") met with the Rhode Island State Police ("State Police") to discuss their drug investigation and suspicions that the individual under surveillance was Mr. Ramos. In their meetings, the DEA and BPD informed the State Police that Mr. Ramos had an extraditable arrest warrant from Massachusetts for several drug- and firearm-related offenses. Massachusetts issued this warrant when Mr. Ramos removed a global position satellite monitor pending trial for those offenses. The DEA and BPD also informed the State Police that Mr. Ramos had two state convictions for drug distribution and trafficking, and that Mr. Ramos had falsified his identity.[1] Additionally, the DEA relayed information from an informant to the State Police that Mr. Ramos was using cell phone No. 508-649-XXXX.

         The State Police took two steps to continue the DEA's investigation of the Ford St. Property and to establish a link between Mr. Ramos and the Property. First, it conducted a check of property and utility records that gave W&W Realty LLC as the property owner, and showed electric accounts in the names of Catalino Ramos Polanco[2] and Earl Raymond. Second, State Police officers tested white residue found in plastic baggies in the trash outside the Ford Street Property and identified traces of cocaine therein.

         After the trash pull, the State Police obtained a warrant from a Rhode Island magistrate to obtain records and CSLI for cell phone No. 508-649-XXXX, In support of the warrant request, Detective Ryan Santo filed an affidavit stating that a credible, confidential source had linked Mr. Ramos to the 508-649-XXXX number. ECF 37-1 at 4. A search of that number's CSLI subsequently showed its location to be at or near the Ford Street Property.

         Having established a link between the cell phone No. believed to belong to Mr. Ramos and the Ford Street Property, the State Police and Providence Police executed the arrest warrant for Mr. Ramos. Upon arrival at the Ford Street Property, the police encountered Mr. Ramos' landlord, Ramon Polanco. Mr. Polanco identified Mr. Ramos as his downstairs tenant and opened the locked door to Mr. Ramos' apartment with a key. The police found Mr. Ramos in his bed and arrested him.

         The Government's factual account of the events following Mr. Ramos' arrest diverges from Mr. Ramos'. The Government claims that the police searched Mr. Ramos' bathroom and two closets. In addition, the Government's affidavit supporting a subsequent physical search describes a scale with white residue found inside a large kitchen cabinet, implying a search of the cabinet. Evidence uncovered during the search, per the Government's memorandum, includes a kilo press and red cellophane in one closet. Furthermore, the Government alleges that the police spotted another kilo press in plain view, outside the back door to the apartment. In contrast, Mr. Ramos asserts that no evidence cited in the affidavit was in plain view during the police's search, but rather was uncovered during it.

         Following their preliminary search of Mr. Ramos' apartment, the State Police sought and obtained a search warrant for the property. To justify this warrant, the State Police cited the DEA's prior surveillance of the property and of Mr. Ramos, their search of the trash cans, Mr. Ramos' criminal history and arrest warrant, and their warrantless search after arresting Mr. Ramos. A more in depth search conducted pursuant to the physical search warrant revealed a variety of evidence that Mr. Ramos now seeks to suppress. In Mr. Ramos' several filings in support of his Motion to Suppress, he contends that the first and third searches (under valid warrants) were unsupported by probable cause, and that the second (warrantless) search was overbroad.


         The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against, inter alia, unreasonable searches and seizures of their homes. U.S. Const, amend. IV. The first issue here is whether the Government's warrants for Mr. Ramos' cell records and for his apartment were constitutionally valid: that is, whether they were supported by probable cause. Searches without warrants supported by probable cause, including searches of the home, are generally presumed unreasonable and thus unconstitutional. Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011); United States v. Dion, 859 F.3d 114, 131-32 (1st Cir. 2017) (expounding the probable-cause standard in the First Circuit). In 2018, the Supreme Court extended the probable-cause requirement to include searches of CSLI. See Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2221 (2018), The second issue is whether the police's search of Mr. Ramos' apartment, conducted during his arrest and before the issuance of a search warrant for the apartment, was constitutionally valid. The parties argue that either the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine or the protective-sweep doctrine should apply. See Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009) (search incident to arrest doctrine); Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990) (protective-sweep doctrine); United States v. Delgado-Perez, 867 F.3d 244 (1st Cir. 2017) (protective-sweep doctrine). See also Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969) (laying out the modern basis for the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine). However, for the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the State Police's entry into Mr. Ramos' apartment was unconstitutional and thus needs not address the warrantless search's validity under either doctrine.

         If a Fourth Amendment violation is found, a court reviewing a motion to suppress must then determine whether to apply the exclusionary rule. The rule is a "last resort," only properly applied when the deterrent effects of its application outweigh the sizable social costs. Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 591 (2006). Furthermore, several categorical exceptions to the exclusionary rule exist. While the Government has not briefed them in its filings, the Court considers three here: the independent-source exception, the good-faith exception, and the inevitable-discovery exception. See Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 238 (2011) (good-faith ...

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