USA v. Ronald Johnson
Filed opinion of the court by Judge Bauer. AFFIRMED. William J. Bauer, Circuit Judge; Joel M. Flaum, Circuit Judge and Michael S. Kanne, Circuit Judge. [6860778-1]  [16-3595]
United States Court of Appeals
For the Seventh Circuit
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Appeal from the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.
No. 11 CR 290 — Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Judge.
ARGUED MAY 16, 2017 — DECIDED AUGUST 11, 2017
Before BAUER, FLAUM, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.
BAUER, Circuit Judge. Defendant Ronald Johnson entered a
conditional guilty plea to one count of possession of heroin
with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), reserving the
right to appeal the denials of his motions to suppress the
evidence found in his condominium. Johnson now challenges
those denials. We affirm.
A. Search Warrant Affidavit
On April 12, 2011, Agent Paul Matuszczak of the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, applied for a
search warrant for Johnson’s condominium located at 728 W.
Jackson Blvd., Unit #310, in Chicago, Illinois (the “Jackson
residence” or “condo”). The search warrant affidavit, which
also incorporated by reference an affidavit submitted in
support of the search of informant Loren Coleman’s residence,
included the following information.
On March 30, 2011, a grand jury returned an indictment
charging Coleman with two counts of being a felon in posses‐
sion of a firearm, 21 U.S.C. § 922(g), and two counts of posses‐
sion of heroin with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
On that same day, the district court issued a warrant for
On April 12, 2011, ATF agents executed the warrant at
Coleman’s residence, located in Chicago, Illinois. During a
protective sweep, the agents observed a tannish substance on
a bedroom dresser that appeared to be heroin. The agents
asked for permission to search the apartment, but Coleman
refused. After reading Coleman his Miranda rights, the agents
asked about the substance; Coleman responded that it was
heroin for his personal use, that he used heroin the previous
night, and that he expected to suffer from withdrawal within
After the agents escorted Coleman out of the apartment and
placed him in a law enforcement vehicle, they interviewed his
wife, Charisse Coleman, at the residence. According to
Charisse, Coleman kept a gun in the bedroom. She said that the
last time she saw Coleman use the gun was on December 31,
2010, when she observed him shoot a round out of the resi‐
dence’s window. According to Charisse, Johnson and Coleman
had been selling heroin for the past 20 years. She told agents
that Johnson was the leader of a crew of five to six other heroin
dealers, who were all members of the Gangster Disciples. She
said that, over the past year, Coleman would acquire heroin
from Johnson and resell it. She stated that, up until a few
months prior, Johnson and Coleman would bag heroin at her
residence and that she had occasionally passed through the
room where they were completing this task. She recalled
seeing Johnson and Coleman in her residence with heroin,
guns, and money in October or November 2010. She said that
she overheard several phone conversations between Coleman
and Johnson in 2011 that involved code words for heroin deals.
She stated that a few months prior Coleman told her that he
and Johnson began bagging the heroin at Johnson’s new
residence located in Greektown, a neighborhood in Chicago;
Agent Matuszczak testified that the condo is directly across the
highway from the Chicago neighborhood known as
“Greektown.” Charisse ultimately consented to the search of
The agents then re‐approached Coleman and told him they
would transport him to the hospital before he got sick. Cole‐
man then said, unprompted, “That shit up there ain’t
[Charisse’s], let’s work out a deal.” Agents responded that they
could not make him a deal. The agents read Coleman his
Miranda rights again and provided him a waiver form, which
he signed. Coleman then told the agents that he had two guns
and 100 grams of heroin inside the residence. The agents again
asked Coleman for consent to search; he agreed. Coleman was
then transported to the hospital.
Despite receiving consent from both Coleman and Charisse,
agents obtained and executed a search warrant for Coleman’s
residence where they found a variety of drug paraphernalia,
two guns, and approximately 168 grams of heroin.
At some point, Coleman was again advised of and had
waived his Miranda rights before being interviewed by agents.
During the interview, Coleman stated that he bought 150‐200
grams of heroin per week from Johnson and that Johnson
provided most of the heroin he sold. He purchased drugs at
Johnson’s condo, which he told the agents was unit #310 at the
Jackson residence. He would pay Johnson $13,000 for 200
grams of heroin, but, frequently, would pay Johnson a portion
of the $13,000 up front and pay the remaining balance after he
sold the drugs. He stated that he bought 200 grams of heroin
from Johnson at his condo on April 10, 2011, for which he paid
him $6,500 and promised to pay the remaining $6,500 after he
sold the heroin. Agents showed Coleman a driver’s license
photo of Johnson, and Coleman indicated that the person in the
photo was the same person who he bought heroin from on a
The agents performed a search on a law enforcement
database for Johnson’s and Coleman’s prior convictions.
According to the search, Coleman had three convictions for
manufacturing and delivering a controlled substance. He also
had convictions for passing a forged check, possession of a
controlled substance, and aggravated unlawful discharge of a
firearm in a vehicle. The search for Johnson’s criminal history
revealed that he had a state conviction in 2002 for manufactur‐
ing and delivering a controlled substance.
Agents also performed a search on two other databases,
Westlaw and Accurint, for more information on Johnson. The
databases revealed that the registered owner of unit #310 was
Francine Johnson. The Accurint database listed Ronald
Johnson as a person “associated” with this address. Agent
Matuszczak indicated in the affidavit that, based on his
experience, a person associated with this address could mean
several things, including that the person listed the address on
a utility bill, credit card application, or a library card.
Agents also inquired about Johnson with the Chicago Police
Department who informed the agents that it was running an
ongoing money laundering investigation involving Johnson.
Based on their investigation, CPD officers concluded that
Francine was Johnson’s sister, but she did not actually live at
the address. CPD officers also followed Johnson to and from
the condo on several occasions, including twice on Febru‐
ary 25, 2011. According to CPD records, Johnson received a
parking ticket outside the residence in December 2010.
Agent Matuszczak testified that individuals who possess
150‐200 grams of heroin are distributing drugs, and drug
dealers often keep drugs, money, records, and weapons at their
residences. Based on this information, he concluded that there
was probable cause to believe contraband relating to criminal
conduct would be found in the Jackson residence.
B. Johnson’s Arrest
On April 12, 2011, ATF agents obtained and executed a
search warrant for Johnson’s condo.1 During the search, the
agents seized approximately 4.8 kilograms of heroin, approxi‐
mately $155,000 in cash, a digital scale, plastic baggies, and
other items used to repackage and sell drugs. In a post‐arrest
interview, Johnson admitted owning the drugs and money
found in the condo.
C. Procedural History
On May 11, 2011, Johnson was indicted on one count of
possession of heroin with intent to distribute. On June 23, 2011,
Johnson moved to quash the search warrant and suppress the
evidence, claiming that the government lacked probable cause
to support the issuance of the search warrant. He claimed,
among other things, that the search warrant affidavit did not
contain sufficient information about Coleman and Charisse’s
credibility and reliability.
On September 20, 2011, the district court denied the motion,
finding that the search warrant was supported by probable
cause and that, even if the search warrant was not supported
by probable cause, the agents relied on the warrant in good
Johnson then moved to reconsider, reiterating the same
arguments in his initial motion. The district court continued
the motion because Johnson’s counsel withdrew due to a
The search warrant for the Coleman and Johnson’s residences were both
issued by Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert.
conflict. With new counsel, Johnson filed a supplemental
motion to suppress and requested an evidentiary hearing
under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).
On June 27, 2012, the district court denied the motions and
the request for a Franks hearing. The court found that Johnson’s
arguments supporting his request for a Franks hearing were
either factually inaccurate or based on omissions that were
On May 22, 2013, Johnson pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea
agreement, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his
motions to suppress. He was sentenced to 121 months’
imprisonment. This appeal followed.
Johnson contends that the district court erred in denying his
motions to suppress and his request for a Franks hearing. When
reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we review the
district court’s legal conclusions de novo and factual findings
for clear error. United States v. Glover, 755 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir.
2014). We review a district court’s denial of a Franks hearing for
clear error, but any legal determinations that factored into its
ruling are reviewed de novo. United States v. Jones, 208 F.3d 603,
606 (7th Cir. 2000).
Johnson argues that the district court erred in denying his
suppression motion because the search warrant affidavit was
not supported by probable cause. “A search warrant affidavit
establishes probable cause when it sets forth facts sufficient to
induce a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search
thereof will uncover evidence of a crime.” United States v.
Gregory, 795 F.3d 735, 741 (7th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).
Where, as here, an affidavit is the only evidence presented in
support of a search warrant, the validity of the warrant
depends solely on the strength of the affidavit. United States v.
Carson, 582 F.3d 827, 831–32 (7th Cir. 2009).
Where the affidavit is supported by information from an
informant, we employ a totality‐of‐the‐circumstances inquiry
to determine whether that information establishes probable
cause for the search. Gregory, 795 F.3d at 741. This inquiry
encompasses several factors, including: “the level of detail, the
extent of firsthand observation, the degree of corroboration, the
time between the events reported and the warrant application,
and whether the informant appeared or testified before the
magistrate.” Glover, 755 F.3d at 816. No one factor is
dispositive; a deficiency in one factor may be compensated by
a stronger showing in others. United States v. Peck, 317 F.3d 754,
756 (7th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). We give “great
deference” to the issuing judge’s conclusion that there is
probable cause. United States v. Robinson, 724 F.3d 878, 884 (7th
Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).
The known facts and circumstances here support a finding
of probable cause. Coleman’s description of the activities at
Johnson’s condo was detailed and based on firsthand
knowledge. He specified that he purchased 150‐200 grams of
heroin from Johnson on a weekly basis. He described to agents
the manner in which he paid for the heroin and how much it
cost. He told agents the location where he purchased the
heroin, and he specified the unit number of the condo. He told
agents that his most recent purchase of 200 grams of heroin at
Johnson’s condo was on April 10, 2011, merely two days before
agents obtained and executed a search warrant at the condo.
Moreover, Coleman’s statements were corroborated by
Charisse’s account of previously observing Johnson and
Coleman’s drug‐dealing activities and knowing about their
long‐term relationship. Charisse described to agents how she
saw Coleman and Johnson bag heroin at her residence. She
also told agents that Coleman told her that they recently
switched to bagging heroin at Johnson’s new residence in
Greektown, which is across the highway from where Johnson’s
condo was located. She provided information regarding the
extent of Johnson and Coleman’s relationship, such as being in
the same gang and dealing heroin for the past 20 years.
The affidavit included other corroborating information as
well, although with limited significance. The Accurint search
showed that Johnson was “associated” with the Jackson
residence. Agent Matuszczak explained that “associated”
means that the person listed the address on a utility bill or
library card. Agents also learned more about Johnson’s
association with the condo unit from CPD officers who were
investigating him for money laundering. Although the parking
ticket outside the condominium building also has very limited
significance, it is one of several pieces of evidence that show
Johnson’s association with the location. While, as Johnson
argues, none of these facts directly indicate that Johnson
distributed heroin at the condo, they do further support the
reliability of Coleman’s statements that it was Johnson’s condo.
Johnson takes issue with the fact that Coleman was an
untested, newly arrested informant who used heroin the night
before and had impending symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
But this narrow view of the evidence is contrary to our totality‐
of‐the‐circumstances inquiry. Despite being a newly arrested
informant, whose statements we take with a “greater dose of
skepticism,” United States v. Olson, 408 F.3d 366, 370–71 (7th
Cir. 2005), Coleman’s admissions that he purchased and dealt
drugs were statements against his penal interest and thus “a
weighty factor in establishing probable cause even if the
statements have not been proven reliable[,]” United States v.
Lake, 500 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). It was clear that, even at
his own expense, his primary motivation was to protect
Charisse from criminal liability, giving him a “strong
incentive” to provide accurate information to the agents. Olson,
408 F.3d at 371 (citation omitted). Indeed, the affidavit noted
that Coleman was cooperating in hopes of receiving
consideration on criminal charges. Moreover, the recent nature
of Coleman’s latest heroin transaction at Johnson’s condo gave
agents further reason to rely on his statements. See Lake, 500
F.3d at 633 (citation omitted).
Additionally, Johnson supplies further reason to find
Coleman reliable and credible. In Johnson’s attempts to
discount the fact that Coleman was able to identify a driver’s
license photo of him, he argues that this fact is unhelpful
because “agents knew that the Colemans and Mr. Johnson
were friends who had known each other for a long time … .”
Indeed, the affidavit made this long‐term relationship apparent
when it provided Charisse’s statements that Coleman and
Johnson had been in the same gang and sold heroin for the past
We have considered Johnson’s other arguments on the
probable‐cause issue, but none merit discussion.2 Because the
search warrant affidavit was supported by probable cause, the
district court properly denied Johnson’s motions to suppress.
Finally, Johnson’s argument that the district erred when it
denied his request for a Franks hearing is equally without
merit. The first alleged omission is immaterial, the second
alleged omission is not even an omission, and the third alleged
omission is not an omission because the alleged contradictory
statement did not present itself until May 2011, after the
warrant was issued. The district court properly determined
that Johnson’s allegations about omissions in the search
warrant affidavit did not amount to the “substantial
preliminary showing” required to obtain a Franks hearing. 438
U.S. at 170. We find no error.
The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
Johnson also challenges the district court’s determination that the good‐
faith exception would apply as an alternative ground for denying his
motions to suppress. See United States v. Watts, 535 F.3d 650, 656–57 (7th Cir.
2008) (citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 920 (1984)). Because we hold
that the search warrant was supported by probable cause and thus not
unconstitutional, we need not address this argument.
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