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United States v. Anzalone

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 24, 2019

VINCENT ANZALONE, Defendant, Appellant.


          Zainabu Rumala, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender Office, was on brief, for appellant.

          Randall E. Kromm, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Selya, and Barron, Circuit Judges.


         This case is one of many arising nationwide from the 2015 FBI investigation into Playpen, an online forum hosted in the Tor Network that allowed users to upload, download, and distribute child pornography. Through that investigation, defendant-appellant Vincent Anzalone ("Anzalone") was identified as a Playpen user and indicted for possession and receipt of child pornography. Anzalone thereafter moved to suppress all evidence obtained pursuant to a Network Investigative Technique ("NIT") warrant and to dismiss his indictment for outrageous government conduct. The district court denied both requests, which Anzalone asks us to reconsider on appeal, and we now affirm.


         Those interested in the particulars of the FBI's Playpen sting should refer to our opinion in United States v. Levin, 874 F.3d 316, 319-21 (1st Cir. 2017), which was the first case to come before this court in relation to this investigation. The background that follows thus only focuses on the facts most pertinent to Anzalone's case.

         On the evening of February 19, 2015, the FBI assumed control of Playpen and decided to maintain the website live for two weeks to identify and apprehend its users. On February 20, the government obtained a warrant from a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia authorizing it to deploy the NIT. Id. at 320. A meticulous 31-page affidavit accompanied the FBI's application for this warrant. The affidavit's statement of facts in support of probable cause described, among other things, the purpose of Playpen, the Tor Network and its hidden services, the difficulty of coming across Playpen without seeking out its content, and the appearance of Playpen's homepage on February 18, 2015 -- two days before the FBI applied for the NIT warrant. With regards to Playpen's homepage, the affidavit averred that the page showed "two images depicting partially clothed prepubescent females with their legs spread apart."[1] The affidavit also explained that Playpen counseled its visitors not to use their real email addresses to register with the website.

         Technicalities aside, the NIT allowed the FBI to identify Playpen users when they entered their credentials to access the website. Id. The NIT eventually led to the identification of Anzalone as a Playpen user. During the two weeks that the government ran Playpen, Anzalone was logged into the website for twelve hours. On October 21, 2015, the FBI executed a search warrant of Anzalone's residence. Anzalone waived his Miranda rights and, in an interview at his home with the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force agents who executed the warrant, admitted to possessing child pornography and to downloading it multiple times a week for five or six years.

         On November 12, 2015, Anzalone was indicted with one count of possession of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) and one count of receipt of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A). Anzalone then moved to suppress all the evidence resulting from the NIT warrant, arguing that the warrant: (1) was not rooted in probable cause; (2) lacked particularity; (3) was supported by a misleading affidavit; and (4) was issued in excess of the magistrate judge's limited territorial jurisdiction. Anzalone also sought to dismiss the indictment alleging that the government engaged in outrageous conduct by running Playpen for two weeks after seizing its control. The district court denied these two motions, see United States v. Anzalone, 221 F.Supp.3d 189 (D. Mass. 2016) (denying the motion to dismiss); United States v. Anzalone, 208 F.Supp.3d 358 (D. Mass. 2016) (denying the motion to suppress), after which Anzalone pled guilty to both charges while reserving his right to appeal. Anzalone was sentenced to 84 months in prison and five years of supervised release.


         Anzalone contests the district court's denial of his motion to suppress on four grounds. First, Anzalone claims that the affidavit presented to the magistrate judge in support of the NIT warrant was insufficient to establish probable cause. Second, he maintains that the government included misstatements in the warrant affidavit. Third, Anzalone insists that the magistrate judge lacked jurisdiction to issue the NIT warrant pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Lastly, he argues that the good faith exception established in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), does not apply because the government supplied misleading information to the magistrate judge and knew of the jurisdictional limitations of Rule 41.

         As a threshold matter, we find that our decision in Levin forecloses both Anzalone's challenge under Rule 41 and his argument about the alleged inapplicability of the Leon good faith exception. In Levin, we examined the same NIT warrant and considered a similar argument about the magistrate judge's alleged lack of jurisdiction to issue the warrant under Rule 41 as a basis to suppress evidence. 874 F.3d at 318, 321. We concluded that the Leon good faith exception applied and suppression was not warranted "[r]egardless of whether a Fourth Amendment violation occurred." Id. at 321. Specifically, we observed that there was no government conduct to deter since "[f]aced with the novel question of whether an NIT warrant can issue -- for which there was no precedent on point --the government turned to the courts for guidance" and that, "if anything, such conduct should be encouraged, because it leaves it to the courts to resolve novel legal issues." Id. at 323. We are bound to follow Levin's reasoning on these issues here.[2 ...

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