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United States v. King

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

June 19, 2015



MARK S. DAVIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on two motions to suppress filed by defendant Anthony Lee King ("Defendant"). ECF Nos. 76, 77. Beginning on May 5, 2015, this Court conducted a two-day hearing on such motions as well as two other motions, one of which the Court denied from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing, with the other subsequently denied by written order. ECF No. 133. For the reasons set forth below, both remaining motions to suppress are DENIED.

I. ECF No. 76 - Las Vegas Searches

On March 29, 2012, Las Vegas Police conducted two searches pursuant to search warrants obtained that same night through telephonic application to the same state-court judge. The first was the search of a short-term "apartment" rented in the name of Daniel Owens, Defendant's alleged co-conspirator. The second search was of the hotel room in which Defendant was staying for the night.

A. "Apartment" 317

The facts and circumstances surrounding the search of apartment 317 were discussed in detail at the two-day evidentiary hearing, and they are not repeated at great length herein. In short, on the evening of March 29, 2012, Las Vegas Police detectives and officers, (collectively, "the Officers") were investigating a citizen-tip that a check forgery lab was being operated from apartment 317 by two individuals named "Tony and Daniel." The Officers performed a "knock and talk" at the apartment, which was essentially one open room with the exception of the bathroom. The apartment had been rented by Defendant's alleged co-conspirator, Daniel Owens, only five days prior to the Officers' arrival.[1]

Officers were admitted into the apartment by Benjamin Sun, an individual who informed them that while the apartment belonged to "Daniel, " Sun was in fact staying there and had his personal effects there. At no time did Mr. Sun purport to give the Officers permission to search the room, rather, he allowed them to come in so that they could speak with Daniel Owens, who was laying unresponsive on the bed, just feet from the exterior door. From the doorway and upon entry, the Officers saw incriminating evidence in plain view, to include a laptop connected to a printer, blank "check stock, " and printed checks that appeared fraudulent. The Officers secured a search warrant based both on what they saw in plain view and on Mr. Sun's post-Miranda statement implicating both Daniel Owens and Defendant King in a check fraud scheme.

Defendant testified at the suppression hearing conducted by this Court that apartment 317 was rented primarily as a web design/internet marketing "business office" and that he paid a portion of the rent-purportedly making him a "co-tenant" even though his name was not on any of the rental paperwork. Defendant indicated that in addition to working at the apartment, he slept there for three nights and that Sun used such location as his Las Vegas residence.[2] It is unclear from Defendant's testimony how often Owens was at such location, although Defendant testified that Owens was not there when Defendant and Sun worked alongside each other for three days, purportedly doing legitimate computer/internet work.

There are two primary legal issues in dispute with respect to the search of apartment 317. First, the Government asserts that Defendant fails to demonstrate that he has a privacy interest in apartment 317. Second, Defendant asserts that Mr. Sun lacked sufficient actual or apparent authority to allow the Officers to enter the apartment.

1. Privacy Interest

It is well-established that "[t]he Fourth Amendment's guarantee of the people's right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, ' protects individuals living in a large number of legal arrangements." United States v. Gray, 491 F.3d 138, 144 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV). As explained by the Fourth Circuit in Gray:

Until a valid search warrant has issued, the Amendment safeguards the privacy interests of owners, boarders, and tenants, of a home, apartment, or other dwelling place. Co-tenants, co-owners, and co-occupants can also avail themselves of the Fourth Amendment's protections. And, travelers are entitled to be free from unreasonable government scrutiny in their hotel and motel rooms. Moreover, while the text of the Amendment suggests that its protections extend only to people in their houses[, ] a person may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the house of someone else.

Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Although the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment are "broad, they are not unlimited, " and "suppression... can be successfully urged only by those whose rights were violated by the search itself.'" Id . (quoting Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 171-72 (1969)). Stated differently, suppression is proper if, and only if, the individual moving for suppression himself had a recognizable privacy interest in the area that was searched, and such right was violated by the unconstitutional search. Id.

Here, although a relatively close call, the Court finds that Defendant has demonstrated a privacy interest in apartment 317. The facts and circumstances of Defendant's and Owens' "business" and "residential" uses of the short-term rental may not be entirely clear; however, the facts are distinguishable from those in Gray where the majority concluded that the drug-dealing defendant was merely a business "invitee" on the premises that was searched. In contrast, here, the evidence demonstrates that apartment 317 was a weekly rental in which Defendant was a co-tenant with Owens from the time the apartment was rented. Because Defendant contributed to the rent and not only purportedly used such location as ...

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