United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Maurice Joseph Fregia's motion to
suppress evidence obtained from a search of his cell phone,
cell-site location information, and residence. (Doc. 69). The
matter was submitted on the briefs and exhibits because the
issues involve purely legal questions. For the following
reasons, the Court denies the motion.
with a search warrant, members of the Eastern Montana High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force were searching a
Billings motel room in late January 2018 when they came
across a cell phone containing text messages from an apparent
methamphetamine supplier. The task force identified the
alleged supplier as Chad Beres and obtained a search warrant
for his cell phone. Beres' cell phone revealed evidence
of methamphetamine trafficking and implicated Maurice Fregia
as an associate supplier.
the same time, the task force received information from an
alleged methamphetamine distributor named Christopher Hurst
that Fregia was Hurst's source of supply. Hurst stated he
received up to a half pound of methamphetamine per day from
Fregia. From Hurst, the task force obtained phone numbers
allegedly belonging to Beres and Fregia.
on affidavits of probable cause, the task force was granted
orders from a state judge authorizing the use of pen
registers and trap and trace devices on two numbers believed
to be Fregia's. (Docs. 70-1, 70-2, 70-3, 70-4). The
orders stated they applied without geographic limitation and
authorized the task force to obtain cell-site location
information (CSLI). (Docs. 70-2 and 70-4). Using information
gleaned from the pen registers and trap and trace devices and
Fregia's CSLI, as well as other information gathered
during the investigation, the task force was granted a search
warrant for Fregia's Verizon Wireless phone records,
including stored text messages. (Docs. 70-5 and 70-6). Based
on the information from the pen registers and trap and trace
devices, the CSLI, the phone records obtained from Verizon
Wireless, and other information, the task force was granted a
search warrant for Fregia's residence, where they seized
over a pound of methamphetamine, firearms, and cash. (Docs.
70-7, 70-8, and 70-9).
Standard of review
motion to suppress, the Ninth Circuit reviews legal
conclusions de novo and factual findings for clear error.
United States v. Basher, 629 F.3d 1161, 1167 (9th
argues the pen register and trap and trace orders failed to
comply with the requirements of state law, were therefore
illegal, and the subsequent search warrants issued for
Fregia's phone records with Verizon Wireless and
Fregia's residence are tainted as fruit of the poisonous
tree. The Court disagrees because the pen register and trap
and trace orders were valid search warrants under the Fourth
takes some unpacking of Montana law to understand
Fregia's argument. A pen register is a device which
identifies a phone's outgoing calls whereas a trap and
trace device identifies a phone's incoming calls. Mont.
Code Ann. §§ 46-4-401(1-2). A judge may issue an
order for a pen register and trap and trace device upon
finding a prosecutor's sworn application contains
probable cause. Mont. Code Ann. § 46-4-403(1-2). The
order must include its geographic limits. Mont. Code Ann.
§ 46-4-403(2)(c). The statutes do not explicitly
authorize the government to obtain cellphone location
information using pen registers or trap and trace devices.
But § 46-5-110 provides the government may obtain
cellphone location information with a search warrant issued
by a duly authorized court.
has two issues with the orders authorizing pen registers and
trap and trace devices. First, Fregia argues the orders were
issued without geographic limitation in violation of §
46-4-403(2)(c). Second, Fregia argues the orders authorized
the task force to obtain CSLI, which is not provided for in
the statute. However, an analysis of whether the orders
complied with Montana law is unnecessary because in federal
court evidence will not be excluded when it is tainted solely
under state law. United States v. Becerra-Garcia,
397 F.3d 1167, 1173 (9th Cir. 2005). To be excluded in
federal court, the evidence must violate either the
Constitution or a federal law that provides for suppression
as a remedy. Becerra-Garcia, 397 F.3d at 1173.
the task force did not violate the Constitution when it
obtained Fregia's CSLI. Under the Fourth Amendment, the
task force was required to get a warrant supported by
probable cause before it could obtain Fregia's CSLI.
Carpenter v. United States,128 S.Ct. 2206, 2221
(2018). A warrant has four general requirements: (1) a
neutral and disinterested magistrate; (2) sworn affidavits;
(3) probable cause; and (4) a particular description of the
things to be seized or the place to be searched. Groh v.
Ramirez,540 U.S. 551, 557 (2004). Fregia does not
contest the state court's orders authorizing the pen
register and trap and trace devices met these requirements.
The task force's search of his ...