U.S. Dist. Ct. for Connecticut denies suppression motion regarding Defendants’ Facebook pages, citing good faith exception.

In this prosecution for RICO conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering (“VCAR”), offenses related to possession, transfer, and use of firearms, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics, several defendants filed motions to suppress evidence obtained from their respective Facebook accounts.

The District Court denied the motions. The Court started its analysis by looking at the Special Agent’s affidavit that was used in part to secure search warrants from a Magistrate Judge. The ATF had been investigating upwards of 40 shootings that occurred in New Haven in 2016. Agents thought that a number of those shootings were committed by members of the Goodrich Street Boys (“GSB”). The Agent claimed that individuals used Facebook to signify their membership in the GSB.

The ATF agent averred that probable cause existed to believe that the Facebook accounts would contain direct evidence of drug trafficking, firearms offenses, racketeering, evidence that GSB was an “enterprise” under the racketeering laws, and the identities of the members of said enterprise.

The Court then noted that “courts have held that whether the Fourth Amendment applies to a user’s Facebook content ‘depends, inter alia, on the user’s privacy settings.'” The judge decided that the Motion should fail because the Defendants failed to submit any information regarding steps they took to keep their Facebook content private. Therefore, the defendants did not meet their burden to demonstrate that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in any of the information.

The Court then addressed the defense arguments that the warrants lacked particularity and were overbroad, especially for failing to have a temporal limitation for information sought. The Court decided not to resolve this issue because the Court believes that the good faith exception applies.

The Court also notably declined to decide if Carpenter extends to Facebook subscriber information.

The case is United States v. Westley, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118571, 2018 WL 3448161 (D. Conn.) (July 17).

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