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United States v. Dent

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 8, 2017

CHRISTIAN DENT, Defendant, Appellant.


          Jeffrey W. Langholtz on brief for appellant.

          Julia M. Lipez, Assistant United States Attorney, and Richard W. Murphy, Acting United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Kayatta and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Christian Dent appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence that was seized from his apartment pursuant to a warrant. While two law enforcement agents were seeking the warrant, other agents entered the apartment, detained the individuals who were present, and, in the ostensible course of securing the premises, came upon some of the evidence that was later seized. Dent contends that the officers exploited their presence in the apartment in so egregious a manner as to foreclose the application of any relevant exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule. Because it is undisputed that the warrant was not based on information gleaned from the warrant less seizure and sweep of Dent's apartment, and because the officers' conduct did not rise to a level that might arguably justify a departure from the normal rules governing suppression, we affirm the district court's ruling.


         On November 11, 2014, law enforcement agents monitoring a court-authorized wiretap determined that a cell phone associated with an individual named Troy Jones appeared to be moving from New York to Maine. Eventually, the phone was traced to the Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine. On November 12, the wiretap intercepted a call from Jones--using a different phone than the one that the agents had been tracking--to Dent. During that call, Dent stated that "he fixed it, he tied that shit up, gave it to [Jones's girlfriend, later identified as Dominique Jackson, ] and told her to put it up." Dent further noted that Jackson was "still in the crib."

         Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Patrick Clancy, who had been overseeing the wiretap operation and monitoring the wiretap on the days in question, testified at the suppression hearing that he understood the conversation to mean that Jackson was in an apartment associated with Dent and that she possessed individually bagged allotments of crack cocaine, which Dent had prepared from powder cocaine. Clancy also testified that he believed that Dent was not in the apartment at the time of the intercepted call.

         Based on his understanding of the situation, Clancy decided not only to apply for a warrant to search the apartment, but also "[t]o secure the residence in advance of obtaining a search warrant." Clancy testified that his decision was informed by concern that the ready-to-sell drugs would be moved, as well as concern about the safety of officers if they first arrived to execute the warrant after Dent returned. Clancy further testified that he considered but decided against establishing a perimeter around the apartment building, as Dent had previously been able to recognize and "identif[y] some of the surveill[ing] [officers] on the street by name"; Clancy stated that he "was concerned that an occupant inside or somebody passing by [the residence] might see law enforcement in the area, [and] alert Mr. Dent or others to the presence of law enforcement, " which might thereby lead to the disposal or relocation of the drugs that they suspected to be in the apartment. Clancy also acknowledged that he was "looking for a conclusion to the investigation" of Dent, i.e., that he was "hoping to catch somebody with a load of drugs, " and that the authorization for the relevant wiretap was about to expire.

         While Clancy and another agent prepared the search warrant application, three police officers went to Dent's apartment for the stated purpose of "preserv[ing] any evidence in anticipation of th[e] search warrant." One officer stationed himself outside of the apartment building, while the other two officers entered the building and knocked on the door of the apartment in question. The officers were wearing clothing and gear that indicated that they were law enforcement agents, but they did not identify themselves as such when they knocked on the door. When Jackson opened the door and saw the officers, she tried to slam the door shut, but the officers pushed their way into the residence, forced Jackson to the ground, and placed her in handcuffs.

         While they were subduing Jackson, the officers heard music that had been playing elsewhere in the apartment decrease in volume, which led them to believe that another individual was present. With guns drawn, the officers began to "clear every room in the apartment." When they reached the final room to be cleared, they opened the closed door and observed an individual--later identified as Jonathan Banyan--attempting to stuff something under an air mattress. After placing Banyan in handcuffs, the officers "searched the vicinity of where he had his hand underneath the air mattress and saw a baggie of what [they] believed at the time was drugs, " which they "left" undisturbed. According to one of the officers, they looked under the air mattress "[t]o make sure the room was safe, " but did not "search for any other contraband during the security sweep" because they did not have a warrant.

         After the officers finished their sweep of the apartment, they detained Jackson and Banyan in separate rooms and waited for the warrant to be issued. During this time, the officer who had been stationed outside of the building joined the other officers inside, as did at least one additional officer who had not been on site for the initial entry. Upon issuance and execution of the search warrant several hours after the initial entry, officers seized various pieces of evidence from the apartment. In addition to "126.1 grams of cocaine base . . . found in a package inside of a black bag, " officers discovered an unloaded revolver in the kitchen ceiling, small quantities of cocaine base scattered throughout the master bedroom, approximately 80.3 grams of cocaine base in the bathroom ceiling, approximately eight grams of heroin inside a cigarette box, and a digital scale with drug residue in a kitchen closet.

         After the district court denied Dent's motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized from the apartment, Dent pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and twenty-eight grams or more of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Dent was subsequently sentenced to 114 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. However, Dent's guilty plea was conditional, ...

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