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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 20, 2017


         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 2:15-cr-00283-LSC-HGD-15

          Before TJOFLAT, HULL and WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM:

         After a jury trial, Anthony DeJuan Williams appeals his convictions for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute 500 or more grams of cocaine, multiple counts of using a telephone in furtherance of drug trafficking, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.[1]

         On appeal, Williams challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence agents found in an outbuilding adjacent to Williams's main residence while they were executing a warrant for Williams's arrest. The district court concluded that the search of the adjacent outbuilding was a reasonable entry pursuant to the arrest warrant, and alternatively, was a valid protective sweep. Williams argues that it was unreasonable for the agents to believe anyone, much less Williams, lived in or was present inside the outbuilding. For the first time on appeal, Williams argues that the district court also erred in denying the motion to suppress because the evidence established that the agents executed the underlying arrest warrant at "approximately" 6:00 a.m., which rendered the arrest warrant invalid. After review, we affirm.[2]


         According to the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") agents began surveilling a large-scale drug trafficking operation led by Patrick DeWayne Hall. During surveillance, agents learned of a new participant, later identified as defendant Williams. The agents intercepted telephone calls between Hall and defendant Williams discussing a kilogram of cocaine.

         The agents tracked Hall to defendant Williams's residence at 344 Sun Valley Road, where the agents also found a car registered to Williams parked in the driveway. The agents heard from the street what sounded to them like a metal drug compressor, which is used to repress and repackage cocaine with a diluting agent. The agents could not tell whether the activity was occurring in the main residence or the outbuilding. Approximately twenty minutes later, the agents observed both Hall and defendant Williams walk into the carport and leave in Williams's car.

         Williams's residence consisted of a single-family, ranch-style house, with a carport and metal shed abutting the house, and an outbuilding approximately twenty feet away in the backyard. Photographs of the outbuilding show a structure with a front and a back door, several windows, and a garage door. The district court found, and we do not disagree, that the outbuilding "looks like a mother-in-law suite or guest house." In addition to surveillance, the agents performed a public records search, which listed 344 Sun Valley Road as defendant Williams's probable address.

         After a grand jury indicted defendant Williams, Hall and 24 other individuals with, among other things, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, a warrant was issued for defendant Williams's arrest. On October 21, 2015, FBI agents prepared to perform coordinated arrests of multiple members of the charged conspiracy, including defendant Williams, at 6:00 a.m. During a pre-arrest operational meeting, Special Agent Michael Greene, the leader for the team assigned to arrest defendant Williams at the 344 Sun Valley Road address, was given information about Williams, including a photograph of Williams and a description of his car. At that meeting, particular note was made of the outbuilding because it looked like it could be a living space, and the agents did not know whether defendant Williams lived in the main house or the outbuilding. As a consequence, Agent Greene planned to make simultaneous entries of both buildings.

         The team of agents met first at a staging area, and Agent Greene performed a drive-by of 344 Sun Valley Road. At that time, Agent Greene observed Williams's car and two other vehicles parked at the residence. Based on these observations, Agent Greene believed defendant Williams was possibly inside the residence with multiple other subjects.

         The FBI agents arrived at 344 Sun Valley Road at approximately 6:00 a.m. to execute the arrest warrant. Agent Greene split his team into two groups, one at the main residence and one at the outbuilding. Each team moved on its own command. After a knock and announce, Agent Greene was with the first group as it breached the main residence door. Agent Greene then moved around to the outbuilding, which was about to be breached, and was the fourth person to enter the outbuilding. According to Agent Greene, the entry of the main residence and the outbuilding happened within about a minute of each other. Inside the outbuilding, agents found a white powdery residue and some razor blades on a table and a drug press sitting in a corner of the room, but did not find any people. As the agents "cleared" the outbuilding, Agent Greene called back on his radio and learned that the other group in the main residence had defendant Williams in custody. Once defendant Williams was in custody and the property was cleared, the search stopped.

         Based on what the agents observed in plain view in the outbuilding and the main residence, agents obtained a search warrant for the property. During the search pursuant to the search warrant, agents found cocaine, heroin, diluting agent, blenders, two large mechanical drug presses, wrappers, and weapons. Agents also found evidence connecting defendant Williams to the residence, including a deed indicating Williams had purchased the property.

          II. SEARCH ...

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