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United States v. Collier

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 1, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Anthony Donte Collier Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: May 15, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of North Dakota

          Before BENTON, WOLLMAN, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.


         Anthony Donte Collier was convicted in the district court[1] of five counts of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1), 1591(b)(1), and 1594(a); and one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, specifically facilitating the promotion and management of a business enterprise involving prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Collier filed an appeal and we affirm.

         I. Background

         Collier was on supervised release in Minnesota for a prior state crime when his supervising officials learned he was engaging in the business of prostitution. Collier was arrested at the request of a supervising official, who then conducted a warrantless search of Collier's cell phone. Local police later secured a warrant to search all of Collier's electronic devices. Further investigation led officials to believe that Collier had been forcing several women to engage in commercial sex acts and give him the proceeds from those acts. Following a jury trial, Collier was convicted of conspiracy, interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises, sex trafficking, and attempted sex trafficking.

         II. Analysis

         Collier raises numerous issues on appeal, including denial of his motion to suppress; improper jury instructions; denial of his right to counsel; various evidentiary and witness errors; violation of due process rights; judicial bias; and the denial of his motion to dismiss based on the sufficiency of the evidence. For the reasons discussed below, we find each contention ultimately fails.

         A. Search of Collier's Cell Phone

         Collier alleges the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence gained from the search of his cell phone. The phone was searched without a warrant during Collier's arrest. In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, "[w]e review the district court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard, and the ultimate conclusion of whether the Fourth Amendment was violated is subject to de novo review." United States v. Williams, 777 F.3d 1013, 1015 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Stephenson, 924 F.2d 753, 758 (8th Cir. 1991)).

         "A warrantless search is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent a recognized exception." United States v. Brooks, 715 F.3d 1069, 1075 (8th Cir. 2013). Courts "'examin[e] the totality of the circumstances' to determine whether a search is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment." Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 848 (2006) (quoting United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 118 (2001)). "[T]o determine whether the Fourth Amendment forbids a search, we weigh the degree to which a search intrudes upon an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy against the degree to which the government needs to search to promote its legitimate interests." United States v. Brown, 346 F.3d 808, 811 (8th Cir. 2003).

         The district court denied Collier's motion to suppress evidence discovered as a result of the warrantless search of his phone. As to the cell phone search by the supervising official (Agent Welle), the district court held that Collier had a reduced expectation of privacy while on supervised release and was subject to Standard Condition of Supervised Release No. 13, which provided that Collier "must submit at any time to an unannounced visit and/or search of [his] person, vehicle, or premises by the agent/designee." The district court found that Welle was not acting as an agent for the police. Collier's computer and other cell phones were also permissibly seized the following day, given that these items could have been searched because of Collier's reduced expectation of privacy.

         Collier argues the Supreme Court's decision in Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), forbade the warrantless search of his cell phone at the time of his arrest. Although Riley held that police officers must generally obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone seized incident to arrest, see id. at 386, this court has recognized "Riley addressed privacy interests of an arrestee, not the circumscribed interests of an offender serving a term of supervised release." United States v. Jackson, 866 F.3d 982, 985-86 (8th Cir. 2017). This court has said "supervised release . . . involves 'the most circumscribed expectations of privacy.'" Id. at 985 (quoting United States v. Makeeff, 820 F.3d 995, 1001 (8th Cir. 2016)). Searches of a person on supervised release further "substantial interests in preventing recidivism and facilitating an offender's reentry into the community." Id.

         On the night of the search, Agent Welle requested an arrest warrant after failing to find Collier at the location where he was supposed to be and called the Moorhead police to arrest him. Additionally, Agent Welle testified he searched the phone to verify ...

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