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United States v. Arguelles

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

May 8, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Christopher M. Arguelles's motion to suppress, ECF No. 20, which the Government opposes, ECF No. 23. On review of Arguelles's motion and supporting materials, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary.[1] Having fully considered the search warrant, the accompanying affidavit, the applicable law and the parties' arguments, the Court finds that Arguelles's motion is due to be denied.

         Arguelles is charged with one count of knowingly possessing and accessing child pornography that depicted, inter alia, a prepubescent minor and a minor under 12 years of age, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B) and 2252A(b)(2). Arguelles moves, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3), for suppression of all images and videos discovered during the execution of a search warrant on his cell phone. Arguelles argues that the affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant application failed to establish probable cause to issue the warrant and that the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply in this case; therefore, the images and videos found on his cell phone are inadmissible.

         I. Findings of Fact

         On February 27, 2018, the FBI obtained a warrant authorizing the search of an LG Aristo cellular telephone, Model No. LGMS210, belonging to Christopher Arguelles, for evidence of “electronic sexual crimes against children” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, which criminalizes the possession, receipt, and transmission of child pornography. See Case No. 3:18mj35/CJK, ECF No. 4. The following facts are drawn from FBI Special Agent John W. Canning's affidavit in support of the search warrant.

         On or about February 10, 2018, Arguelles brought his cell phone to a MetroPCS store in Pensacola, FL for repairs. A MetroPCS employee, Natasha Cabral, began “going through” Arguelles's cell phone and observed “a large amount of pornographic material.” See Search Warrant Affidavit, ECF No. 20-1 at 5. According to Cabral, within this material, there were “numerous folders, ” one of which was titled “underage.” See id. Cabral did not open the “underage” folder or otherwise view its contents. Instead, she reported her discovery to the Cyber Tipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”). In her report, Cabral described Arguelles's cell phone as an

LG Aristo cellular telephone, IMEI # 359998-08-745442-9 with SIM # 8901260081993261227F.

         Around that same time, an arrest warrant affidavit was filed in state court charging Arguelles, who is a registered sex offender, with failing to report a change in his residence as required by Florida law. The arrest warrant affidavit stated that on December 4, 2017, Arguelles had registered his residence with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office as 3725 Mobile Highway, Room 17, Pensacola, Florida.

         However, on February 2, 2018, when law enforcement attempted to serve him with a subpoena at that address, they learned that he had vacated the room on January 1, 2018. This was not Arguelles's first violation of the sex offender registration requirements, [2] as the search warrant affidavit in this case also describes two prior arrests for failing to register a residence or to report a change of permanent address.

         On or about February 14, 2018, Arguelles was arrested for failing to report his change in residence and, at the time, an LG Aristo cell phone was found on his person. State law enforcement authorities seized the cell phone and, on February 20, 2018, turned it over to the FBI. Special Agent Canning verified that the cell phone found on Arguelles's person when he was arrested was the same cell phone described in MetroPCS employee Natasha Cabral's NCMEC Cyber Tip.

         Special Agent Canning also determined that Arguelles was required to register as a sex offender due to a prior conviction for possession of child pornography in December 2010. That conviction arose from Arguelles's possession of “multiple pornographic images of young children” on a computer. See ECF No. 20-1 at 5. Arguelles had asked his roommate to transfer some files, belonging to Arguelles, off a computer and onto an optical disc. While transferring the files, the roommate observed the images, which prompted him to call the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office investigated the incident and determined that the images were, in fact, child pornography.

         Based on the above facts, Special Agent Canning stated that he “believe[d] there [was] a fair probability” that child pornography was “concealed” on Arguelles's LG Aristo cell phone. See Search Warrant Affidavit, ECF No. 20-1 at 7. On the strength of Special Agent Canning's affidavit, the magistrate judge issued a warrant for a search of the cell phone. A forensic review of the cell phone revealed approximately 40 images and/or videos of child pornography in allocated space and 30 images and/or videos of child pornography in the unallocated space on an S.D. card that was inside the phone, some of which involved prepubescent minors under 12 years of age. The child pornography was organized in a “folder structure, ” including folders entitled “underage, ” “underage porn, ” and “Gallery.”

         II. Discussion

          The Fourth Amendment guarantees that “no [w]arrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A search warrant is supported by probable cause where the totality of the circumstances described in the accompanying affidavit would justify a prudent person in believing that there is a “fair probability” that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in the place to be searched. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983); see also United States v. Brundidge, 170 F.3d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1999). The probable cause inquiry is fluid, requiring an issuing judge to make “practical, common-sense decisions” based on an “assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts.” Gates, 462 U.S. at 232, 238. The duty of a reviewing court, such as this one, is “simply to ensure that the [issuing judge] had a substantial basis for . . . conclud[ing] that probable cause existed.” Id. at 238-39. In doing so, the reviewing court may consider only “the information brought to the attention of the [issuing judge], ” United States v. Lockett, 674 F.2d 843, 845 (11th Cir. 1982), which must be evaluated in light of “the factual and practical ...

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