United States v. Wenzel, No. 16-1323 (7th Cir. 2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered pursuant to search warrants executed on his home. Defendant cared for young children at his Wisconsin home. After a parent reported to the Rock County Sheriff that she had found a video camera concealed in the bathroom of defendant’s house, officers discovered that he was on the sex‐offender registry and applied for a search warrant. The supporting affidavit listed several categories of items the detective believed could be found in connection with hidden‐camera recordings, indicating that defendant had violated Wis. Stat. 942.09, “Representations depicting nudity.” About a week after the initial search, officers requested a follow‐on search warrant for evidence of child pornography, supported by evidence gathered during the initial search. On the basis of evidence collected from those searches, defendant was charged with unlawfully creating child pornography (18 U.S.C. 2251(a)). After denial of a motion to suppress, defendant pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal that denial, and was sentenced to 25 years’ incarceration. The district court found, and the Seventh Circuit agreed, that the warrant was supported by probable cause, was not overly broad, and in any case was subject to the good‐faith exception.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 16 1323 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff Appellee, v. DAVID G. WENZEL, Defendant Appellant. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 15 cr 63 bbc — Barbara B. Crabb, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED APRIL 11, 2017 — DECIDED APRIL 27, 2017 ____________________ Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges. FLAUM, Circuit Judge. David G. Wenzel appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence gathered as the result of search warrants executed on his home. For the following rea sons, we affirm. 2 No. 16 1323 I. Background Wenzel occasionally looked after young children at his Wisconsin home. On March 25, 2015, one mother dropped off her son in Wenzel’s care. When the mother returned to pick up her son, she went into the house to use the restroom. Inside the restroom, she noticed a red light coming from inside a grated vent and pointing towards the toilet. She pried off the vent cover and pulled out a video camera wrapped in black electrical tape. The mother reported this information to the Rock County Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement officers checked Wenzel’s criminal history and discovered that he was on the sex offender registry and had been convicted in 1997 of first degree sexual assault. On March 26, 2015, a Rock County detective applied for a warrant to search Wenzel’s residence. The supporting affida vit described Wenzel’s property and listed several categories of items the detective believed could be found in connection with hidden camera recordings.1 The affidavit included facts 1 The items authorized by the search included: Video tapes, camera hardware, film, video recording de vices, DVDs, cellular phones, digital storage devices, pho tographs, photo equipment, Pornographic materials, computers, (central processing units), computer attach ments, computer monitors, computer scanners, computer hard drives, and any other computer components used to generate computer discs or other inscribable media, and any other storage media such as computer discs, thumb drives, tapes, CD ROMS, or CD writeables, and books, materials, and manuals relating to computer operation or software operation, and any software or passwords nec essary to examine the computer’s readable records, text No. 16 1323 3 the detective believed would establish probable cause that Wenzel had violated Wis. Stat. § 942.09, “Representations de picting nudity,” which prohibits certain clandestine record ings of others.2 The affidavit detailed the detective’s many years of law enforcement training and experience, including previous investigations of child sex offenses and violations of § 942.09; the mother’s firsthand account of discovering the video camera in Wenzel’s bathroom; the detective’s awareness that hidden cameras such as Wenzel’s could connect to vari ous recording devices and that such recordings were often shared on the Internet or stored on hard drives; and Wenzel’s criminal history and sex offender registry status. The affida vit requested permission to search Wenzel’s property for re cording related items. The same day, the Rock County Circuit Court issued a warrant authorizing the search, and officers conducted the search later that day. On April 2, 2015, law enforcement offic ers requested a follow on search warrant for evidence of child pornography, supported by evidence gathered during the March 26 search. messaging, Internet chat, E mail, web camera images, to include the contents of any above listed item, or anything else that would constitute evidence of a crime, to wit: Representations Depicting Nudity, in violation of Wis consin Statute 942.09 … . 2 Section 942.09 generally prohibits capturing, reproducing, pos sessing, distributing, or exhibiting “an intimate representation without the consent of the person depicted under circumstances in which he or she has a reasonable expectation of privacy, if the [defendant] knows or has reason to know that the person who is depicted does not consent to the capture of the intimate representation.” Wis. Stat. § 942.09(2). 4 No. 16 1323 On the basis of evidence collected from those searches, on May 13, 2015, the government charged Wenzel with two counts of unlawfully creating child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). On August 17, 2015, Wenzel moved to suppress evidence from the March 26 search and all deriva tive evidence. The magistrate judge, on September 23, 2015, recommended denying Wenzel’s motion and finding that the warrant was supported by probable cause, was not overly broad, and in any case was subject to the good faith exception. On October 9, 2015, the district court adopted the recommen dation. Wenzel pleaded guilty on December 28, 2015, pursuant to a written plea agreement that reserved his right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. On February 5, 2016, the dis trict court sentenced Wenzel to twenty five years’ incarcera tion and twenty years’ supervised release. This appeal fol lowed. II. Discussion When reviewing a district court’s decision on a motion to suppress, we review the court’s factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. United States v. Kelly, 772 F.3d 1072, 1077 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). A. Probable Cause Wenzel first argues that the March 26 warrant was not supported by probable cause.3 This Court affords “great def erence to the decision of the judge issuing the warrant, and 3 Wenzel does not directly challenge the April 2 warrant, but argues that the evidence from both searches should be suppressed if the March 26 warrant is determined to be unconstitutional. No. 16 1323 5 we will uphold a finding of probable cause so long as the is suing judge had a substantial basis to conclude that the search was reasonably likely to uncover evidence of wrongdoing.” United States v. Aljabari, 626 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2010) (cita tions and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236 (1983). Probable cause for a search ex ists when known facts and circumstances would cause a rea sonable person to believe that evidence of a crime will be found. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696 (1996) (cita tions omitted). Courts employ common sense in reading the supporting affidavit as a whole. See United States v. Quinta nilla, 218 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). The warrant in this case was issued based on an affidavit supported by an informant’s tip. In such circumstances, courts consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether that information establishes probable cause for the search, including the following factors: (1) the extent to which the police have corrobo rated the informant’s statements; (2) the degree to which the informant has ac quired firsthand knowledge of the events; (3) the amount of detail provided; (4) the amount of time between the date of the events and the application for the search war rant; and (5) whether the informant personally appeared before the judge issuing the warrant. United States v. Gregory, 795 F.3d 735, 741 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing United States v. Koerth, 312 F.3d 862, 866 (7th Cir. 2002)). 6 No. 16 1323 The mother who found Wenzel’s hidden camera did not personally testify before the judge who issued the March 26 warrant. However, the other relevant factors were sufficient to support a finding of probable cause that Wenzel had vio lated Wis. Stat. § 942.09. The mother provided a detailed, first hand account of the incident in which she had found a hidden camera wrapped in black electrical tape, placed inside a cov ered vent, and pointed towards the toilet. She also told the officers that she had left her child at Wenzel’s home to be su pervised by Wenzel. The incident took place on March 25, 2015; and the affidavit, based on the mother’s statement, was submitted the next day. And in the meantime, law enforce ment officers searched Wenzel’s criminal history and learned that he was on the sex offense registry and had been con victed of a first degree sexual offense. Together, these facts were sufficient to give rise to probable cause that Wenzel had violated Wis. Stat. § 942.09. B. Overbreadth Wenzel next argues that the warrant was overbroad in two ways: It encompassed too many items, and authorized a search of too much of Wenzel’s property. The Fourth Amend ment requires a warrant to “particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the … things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Accordingly, “the scope of a lawful search is de fined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found.” Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 84 (1987) (internal quotation marks omit ted). To satisfy this requirement, “a warrant must explicate the items to be seized only as precisely as the circumstances and the nature of the alleged crime permit.” United States v. No. 16 1323 7 Vitek Supply Corp., 144 F.3d 476, 481 (7th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Wenzel’s main argument is that the detectives who inter viewed the mother should have asked her approximately twenty nine additional questions and narrowed the scope of the warrant affidavit accordingly. However, courts do not ask whether a warrant could have been more precise; rather, we ask whether a warrant was sufficiently precise to satisfy con stitutional requirements. In this case, the warrant listed sev eral concrete categories of items, all of which related to the capturing, storage, or dissemination of recorded images, or to law enforcement officers’ ability to effectively retrieve stored images. There is nothing constitutionally problematic in au thorizing a search for all such items when there was probable cause to believe that a suspect was clandestinely recording people who used his bathroom, in violation of state laws pro hibiting such recordings. At oral argument, Wenzel asserted that the warrant, which authorized searching outbuildings and vehicles on Wenzel’s property, was also too broad in geographic scope. However, he did not develop such an argument in his opening brief on appeal, and so forfeited it. See Wedemeyer v. CSX Transp., Inc., 850 F.3d 889, 897 (7th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). Regardless, the recording related items authorized to be seized—ranging in size from computers to thumb drives—could plausibly have been found in outbuildings such as sheds, or in Wenzel’s vehicle. Unlike searching for a stolen lawnmower in a bed room, see Garrison, 480 U.S. at 84 (citing United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 824 (1982)), the warrant in this case did not au thorize a search for items that could not plausibly be found in 8 No. 16 1323 the authorized locations. In sum, the warrant’s scope was suf ficiently tailored to the nature of the crime being investigated. C. Good Faith Exception The government argues that the good faith exception would apply as an alternative ground for denying Wenzel’s motion to suppress. See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 926 (1984). The magistrate judge agreed that the exception would apply and the district court adopted this recommendation. Because we hold that the warrant was not unconstitutional, we need not reach the issue of whether the good faith excep tion would apply. We note, however, that Wenzel did not challenge this alternate ruling on appeal, and he advanced no arguments that the state court judge “abandoned his de tached and neutral role” when he issued the warrant, or that “the officers were dishonest or reckless in preparing their af fidavit or could not have harbored an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause.” Id. III. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.