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United States v. Wharton

United States District Court, District of Maryland

August 26, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JOEANN WHARTON JOHN WHARTON

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

In this case, defendants Joeann and John Wharton have been charged with criminal misconduct in connection with their alleged improper receipt of various types of Social Security benefits from 1996 to 2012. See ECF 1 (Indictment of Ms. Wharton); ECF 19 (Superseding Indictment of both defendants). The case has been hotly contested, resulting in other judicial opinions and orders.[1]

This Memorandum Opinion concerns the search warrant executed on July 2, 2013, at the defendants’ single family, two-story row home located on Utrecht Road in Baltimore, for which Ms. Wharton moved to suppress evidence recovered during the search. See ECF 37. The Motion to Suppress is the subject of an earlier Memorandum Opinion. See ECF 128.

Ms. Wharton contended in her Motion to Suppress that the search warrant was obtained in violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She argued, inter alia, that Special Agent Mark Gray from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General omitted material information from his Affidavit submitted in support of the application for the search warrant, and that, if included, the omitted information would have defeated probable cause to search the first and second floors of the house. Ms. Wharton relied on Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), and other cases to support her position.

The Court held an evidentiary motions hearing on June 2 and June 3, 2014, and heard oral argument on July 1, 2014. On August 12, 2014, I issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order (ECF 128, 129), granting, in part, and denying, in part, Ms. Wharton’s motion to suppress.

Specifically, I ordered the suppression at trial of any evidence recovered from Ms. Wharton’s bedroom, but denied the motion as to evidence found in the “common areas” of the house.[2] In the Memorandum Opinion, I wrote, ECF 128 at 31:

In my view, Magistrate Judge Gallagher would not have issued the warrant with regard to Ms. Wharton’s upstairs bedroom had she been presented with all of the information in Agent Gray’s possession that was germane to the subject of the Whartons’ living arrangements. However, I believe Magistrate Judge Gallagher would have issued the warrant with regard to the other areas of the house.

In my ruling, which upheld the search of all but one room, I did not specifically address the two other rooms on the second floor of the house. One room was previously occupied by the defendants’ granddaughters. The other apparently serves as a den or small office. As mentioned in my earlier opinion, a full bathroom is located on the second floor; it is the only full bathroom in the house.

Neither party is satisfied with my ruling. On August 13, 2014, Ms. Wharton filed a Motion for Reconsideration (“Defense Motion, ” ECF 130), in which she (1) requests clarification as to “what the Court means by the ‘common areas’” and (2) contends that the Court made an error of law by considering two pieces of evidence that did not appear in Agent Gray’s Affidavit in support of the warrant request. Pursuant to an Order of the Court (ECF 131), the government filed a response to the Motion on August 21, 2014 (“Opp., ” ECF 133). The government’s response also included a “Request for Reconsideration” of the portion of the Court’s ruling suppressing any evidence recovered from Ms. Wharton’s upstairs bedroom. Id. For clarity, I shall refer to that portion of ECF 133 as “Gov’t. Motion.” Ms. Wharton filed a Reply on August 25, 2014. ECF 134.

No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, both motions will be denied.[3]

Discussion

I.

A.

Ms. Wharton requests “clarification of the terms ‘common areas’ and ‘Ms. Wharton’s bedroom.’” Defense Motion at 2. She states: “The question is which of those two phrases includes the bathroom[, ] the den, and the one bedroom that the government believes was a spare bedroom.” Id. In my discussion, I thought it plain that, by “common areas, ” I was referring to all areas of the Utrecht Road house other than Ms. Wharton’s bedroom on the second floor. To put any ambiguity to rest, the common areas, in my view, include the second-floor bedroom previously used by the Whartons’ granddaughters; the ...


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