United States v. Aigbekaen, No. 17-4109

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtDIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge
Citation943 F.3d 713
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff – Appellee, v. Raymond Idemudia AIGBEKAEN, Defendant – Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 17-4109
Decision Date21 November 2019

943 F.3d 713

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff – Appellee,
v.
Raymond Idemudia AIGBEKAEN, Defendant – Appellant.

No. 17-4109

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Argued: May 8, 2019
Decided: November 21, 2019


ARGUED: Michael Lawlor, BRENNAN, MCKENNA & LAWLOR, CHTD., Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant. Matthew James Maddox, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Robert K. Hur, United States Attorney, Ayn B. Ducao, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before MOTZ, WYNN, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Motz wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Wynn joined. Judge Richardson wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment.

DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

943 F.3d 717

In April of 2015, a minor alerted law enforcement officers that Raymond Idemudia Aigbekaen and another man had trafficked her for sex in three mid-Atlantic states. As part of the investigation that followed, when Aigbekaen returned to the United States from traveling abroad, the Government seized his MacBook Pro laptop, iPhone, and iPod at the airport and conducted warrantless forensic searches of the data on all three devices. The Government subsequently charged Aigbekaen with sex trafficking and related crimes, and at the conclusion of a nine-day trial, the jury convicted him of these crimes.

Aigbekaen appeals, arguing primarily that the warrantless forensic searches of his digital devices violated the Fourth Amendment. The Government counters that the searches fell within the "border search" exception to the warrant requirement and that, in any event, suppression is not appropriate. We agree with Aigbekaen that the border search exception does not extend to the challenged searches, rendering them unconstitutional. But we agree with the Government that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule bars suppression. Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

On April 12, 2015, a sixteen-year-old girl (to whom we, like the parties, refer pseudonymously as "L.") called 911 from a Homewood Suites hotel in Bel Air, Maryland. L. reported that she had run away from home and was looking for help. When an officer arrived on the scene and spoke with L., she claimed not to remember with whom she had traveled or where she had been. But after some equivocation, L. disclosed that two men, one named Marcell Greene and another of Nigerian ethnicity named "Raymond," had transported her around Maryland, Virginia, and Long Island, New York; had posted ads of her on Backpage.com; and had trafficked her for sex. L. provided phone numbers for these men and identified Greene and Raymond Aigbekaen in hotel surveillance footage. She also recognized images of herself from online prostitution ads on Backpage.com. Homewood Suites records showed that Aigbekaen had rented L.’s hotel room. Officers searched the room and found used condoms.1

Local law enforcement officers then sent their complete case file to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. After receiving the case file, HSI subpoenaed Verizon Wireless and Backpage.com; the companies’ responses confirmed that the phone number L. had provided

943 F.3d 718

indeed belonged to Aigbekaen, and that this number was listed as a contact on the Backpage.com prostitution ads. The Backpage.com ads were also linked to two Yahoo! email addresses, each of which contained portions of Aigbekaen’s name. HSI further uncovered rental car and hotel records that showed Aigbekaen had traveled to hotels in Maryland, Virginia, and Long Island.

HSI agents learned that Aigbekaen had left the country and was set to return through John F. Kennedy International Airport. The agents asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to seize any electronic media devices in Aigbekaen’s possession at the airport upon his return. On May 19, 2015, the officers honored this request and, without warrants, seized Aigbekaen’s MacBook Pro laptop computer, iPhone, and iPod. The officers transported the devices to Baltimore, where an HSI agent created and reviewed a forensic image of each device. HSI did not return the devices to Aigbekaen until June 2, 2015. The forensic search2 of the laptop revealed temporary backups of Facebook Messenger conversations between Aigbekaen and another user that apparently related to sex trafficking.

A few months after the warrantless forensic searches, the Government secured and executed search warrants for the same MacBook Pro and iPhone, Aigbekaen’s Facebook and Yahoo! accounts, his vehicle, five additional cell phones, his DNA, and Greene’s residence. A magistrate judge also granted the Government’s application to procure cell site location information ("CSLI") under the Stored Communications Act ("SCA") without obtaining a warrant.

In the midst of these warrant and SCA applications, a grand jury indicted Greene and Aigbekaen on six counts, all of which related to interstate sex trafficking of L. and transportation of her for the purpose of prostitution. Prior to trial, Aigbekaen moved to suppress various pieces of evidence, including (as relevant here) any evidence recovered from the May 2015 warrantless forensic searches.

Aigbekaen argued that the May 2015 forensic searches were unconstitutional because they were conducted without warrants and did not fall within the border search exception to the warrant requirement. Aigbekaen maintained that "there has to be a point at which the nature of the government investigation is so separated and so divorced from anything related to the border" that the exception becomes inapplicable. He explained that the Government’s "general interest in enforcing [domestic] criminal laws" does not constitute an interest justifying "border searches." The Government responded that, at the time of the forensic searches, it had reasonable suspicion both that Aigbekaen had trafficked L. for sex domestically and that he "might be bringing contraband in the form of child pornography into the country," citing for the latter argument only an "allegation from the manager of the hotel where the victim was recovered."

At the close of the suppression hearing, the district court dismissed the Government’s child pornography argument as "a lot weaker" but held that under "the traditional border search analysis," "the circumstances

943 F.3d 719

of where the property was and where the person was when the search occurred" "trump[ed]" any need to justify the specific search. As a result, the court found that no warrants were required for the May 2015 searches. The court further reasoned that if any individualized suspicion was needed to justify the "intrusive" forensic searches of Aigbekaen’s devices, the Government met this standard because HSI had "at least" reasonable suspicion, if not probable cause, that the warrantless searches would reveal evidence of domestic sex trafficking.3

The court thus denied the suppression motion, and Aigbekaen proceeded to trial. After considering testimony from over twenty witnesses, a jury found Aigbekaen guilty on all six counts. Aigbekaen timely noted this appeal.

II.

Aigbekaen’s principal argument on appeal is that the May 2015 warrantless forensic searches of his laptop, iPhone, and iPod violated the Fourth Amendment. Although the Government contends (and we ultimately agree) that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule requires affirmance in any event, "when a Fourth Amendment case presents a novel question of law whose resolution is necessary to guide future action by law enforcement officers and magistrates, there is sufficient reason for [a court] to decide the violation issue before turning to the good-faith question." United States v. Bosyk , 933 F.3d 319, 332 n.10 (4th Cir. 2019) (alterations in original) (quoting Illinois v. Gates , 462 U.S. 213, 264, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983) (White, J., concurring)).

We review the district court’s legal conclusions de novo and its factual findings for clear error, considering the record evidence in the light most favorable to the Government. Kolsuz , 890 F.3d at 141–42. Because the Government conducted the challenged searches without warrants, it bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that an exception to the warrant requirement applies. United States v. Davis , 690 F.3d 226, 262 (4th Cir. 2012).

A.

The Fourth Amendment requires that governmental searches and seizures be reasonable. In most cases, this requires a warrant based on probable cause. See, e.g. , Riley v. California , 573 U.S. 373, 382, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014).4

943 F.3d 720

"In the absence of a warrant, a search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement." Riley , 573 U.S. at 382, 134 S.Ct. 2473.

One such exception applies at our nation’s borders, where the Supreme Court has long recognized the federal Government’s substantial sovereign interests in "protect[ing] ... territorial integrity" and national security, United States v....

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22 practice notes
  • El Ali v. Barr, Civil Action No. 8:18-cv-02415-PX
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 20 Julio 2020
    ...to the sheer, and ever-increasing, capacity of digital storage.") (quotation marks and citation omitted). See also U.S. v. Aigbekaen , 943 F.3d 713, 723 (4th Cir. 2019) ("We simply apply the teaching of Kolsuz: where a search at the border is so intrusive as to require some level of individ......
  • Alasaad v. Mayorkas, Nos. 20-1077
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 9 Febrero 2021
    ...exception where the officers possess sufficient individualized suspicion of transnational criminal activity." United States v. Aigbekaen, 943 F.3d 713, 719 n.4 (4th Cir. 2019).9 The Ninth Circuit, noting that even "post- Riley, no court has required more than reasonable suspicion to justify......
  • United States v. Cano, No. 17-50151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 2 Septiembre 2020
    ...[and] ignores the Court's admonitions to interpret the doctrine broadly and avoid creating new limitations." United States v. Aigbekaen , 943 F.3d 713, 730 (4th Cir. 2019) (Richardson, J., concurring in judgment) (challenging the majority for imposing even a transnational nexus requirement ......
  • United States v. Garmon, CRIMINAL ACTION NO. 2:20-cr-103-2
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • 6 Julio 2021
    ...that illegally seized evidence is admissible if that evidence was also obtained legally by another means. See United States v. Aigbekaen, 943 F.3d 713 (4th Cir. 2019) (holding that evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • El Ali v. Barr, Civil Action No. 8:18-cv-02415-PX
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 20 Julio 2020
    ...to the sheer, and ever-increasing, capacity of digital storage.") (quotation marks and citation omitted). See also U.S. v. Aigbekaen , 943 F.3d 713, 723 (4th Cir. 2019) ("We simply apply the teaching of Kolsuz: where a search at the border is so intrusive as to require some level of individ......
  • Alasaad v. Mayorkas, Nos. 20-1077
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 9 Febrero 2021
    ...exception where the officers possess sufficient individualized suspicion of transnational criminal activity." United States v. Aigbekaen, 943 F.3d 713, 719 n.4 (4th Cir. 2019).9 The Ninth Circuit, noting that even "post- Riley, no court has required more than reasonable suspicion to justify......
  • United States v. Cano, No. 17-50151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 2 Septiembre 2020
    ...[and] ignores the Court's admonitions to interpret the doctrine broadly and avoid creating new limitations." United States v. Aigbekaen , 943 F.3d 713, 730 (4th Cir. 2019) (Richardson, J., concurring in judgment) (challenging the majority for imposing even a transnational nexus requirement ......
  • United States v. Garmon, CRIMINAL ACTION NO. 2:20-cr-103-2
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • 6 Julio 2021
    ...that illegally seized evidence is admissible if that evidence was also obtained legally by another means. See United States v. Aigbekaen, 943 F.3d 713 (4th Cir. 2019) (holding that evidence initially discovered during, or as a consequence of, an unlawful search, but later obtained independe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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