United States v. Demontae Bell (7th Cir. June 2019)

Fourth Amendment/Search Warrant – Search warrant was upheld despite unlawful search of defendant’s phone by officer since the officer had already seen the incriminating picture on the phone before through an independent source and because there was probable cause in the warrant notwithstanding the information regarding the phone.

Speedy Trial – The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s speedy trial motion as it was acceptable to grant the Government a continuance after it filed a superseding indictment.

 

Demontae Bell was convicted of firearms offenses after law enforcement used an informant to set up controlled firearm sales with Bell. After Bell was arrested, an officer opened Bell’s flip phone and saw a photograph of the AK-47 in question on the home screen. In part based on that photograph and other evidence collected through the informant, including Bell sending the informant the same picture of the AK-47, officers sought and obtained warrants to search Bell’s phone.

While the district court agreed that the officer violated Bell’s Fourth Amendment right by opening his phone after Bell’s arrest, it denied Bell’s motion to suppress, citing the independent source doctrine. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed that the initial search of Bell’s phone during his arrest was “likely an unconstitutional search,” but affirmed the district court’s order.

First, the picture would have been admissible under the independent source doctrine, as the law enforcement had first seen the picture of the AK-47 in text messages between the informant and Bell. Second, the search warrants for Bell’s phones that were subsequently obtained by law enforcement would have been supported by probable cause even without the “tainted information” and the officers were not prompted to seek the warrant by the initial illegal search. The Court noted that the supporting affidavit contained extensive facts establishing probable cause, including descriptions of the types of guns involved, the informant’s history and cooperation, and audio and video evidence connecting Bell to the informant and the firearms. The warrants also reflected that law enforcement had seen the photograph of the AK-47 through the informant. The Court also agreed that the officers were motivated by this evidence, and not the initial look at Bell’s phone, to seek a search warrant for the phone.

The Court also rejected Bell’s Speedy Trial Act arguments. Bell first argued that the trial court wrongfully excluded a period of time after it granted the Government’s motion for a continuance after it filed a superseding indictment. The Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the continuance from the speedy trial close under the “ends-of-justice exclusion,” given the new charges in the superseding indictment and additional discovery. The Court stated that failing to grant the Government’s motion for a continuance would also have rendered Bell’s counsel “seriously disadvantaged” in preparing for the upcoming trial, despite the fact that she did not move for one. Moreover, Bell failed to show he was prejudiced by the continuance.

The Court also rejected Bell’s unpreserved challenges to other periods of time were improperly excluded, including time excluded after the court rescheduled trial due to the informant’s unavailability as a witness and time excluded while pretrial motions were pending. The Court also rejected Bell’s Sixth Amendment speedy trial challenge.

Appeal from Central District of Illinois

Opinion by St. Eve, joined by Ripple and Hamilton

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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