United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE G. MURRAY SNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Ryan Patrick Michell's
Motion to Suppress (Doc. 31). The Court denies the motion.
law enforcement attested to the following facts in an
application for a search warrant of Defendant Ryan Patrick
Michell's property. On October 24, 2017, Defendant
Michell contacted an undercover law enforcement officer via
an online, hidden-service market in an attempt to purchase
potassium cyanide and dimethyl mercury. Over the next few
weeks, Defendant Michell and the officer discussed various
aspects of the chemicals, such as price, quantity and purity.
Mr. Michell stated that he planned to use the chemicals for
gold extraction, and he eventually purchased one hundred
grams of potassium cyanide, which he purchased using Bitcoin.
Mr. Michell had the potassium cyanide delivered to his home,
addressing the package to “K.F.”, which are the
initials of the property's previous tenant.
warrant application also requested a search for firearms and
ammunition. In 1996, Arizona law enforcement arrested Mr.
Michell for aggravated assault. Although Mr. Michelle was a
minor at the time, his case was transferred to adult court,
and Mr. Michell pled guilty and received a two-year prison
sentence. In April 2015, Mr. Michell posted two pictures on
his Facebook account in which he was shooting a rifle. In May
2016, Mr. Michell posted another picture of a rifle and
included this caption, “Went out to practice with my
AR-10 today! . . . It is a great addition to our
collection.” (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶ 30).
December 1, 2017, Magistrate Judge Bridget Bade authorized a
warrant for law enforcement to search Defendant Ryan Patrick
Michell's one-story home for items associated with
chemical weapons and firearms and ammunition.
Fourth Amendment requires that search warrants be based
“upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation,
and particularity describing the place to be searched, and
the persons or things to be seized.” The duty of a
reviewing court is simply to ensure that the issuing judge
had a “substantial basis” for concluding that
probable cause existed under the totality of the
circumstances. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 214
(1983). The task of the issuing judge is “to make a
practical, common-sense decision whether . . . there is a
fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will
be found in a particular place.” Id. When
interpreting seemingly innocent conduct, the court issuing
the warrant is entitled to rely on the training and
experience of police officers. United States v. Gil,
58 F.3d 1414, 1418 (9th Cir. 1995); United States v.
Arrellano-Rios, 799 F.2d 520, 523 (9th Cir. 1986)
(“The experience of a trained law enforcement agent is
entitled to consideration in determining whether there was
probable cause.”). The issuing judge considers
“the totality of the circumstances” in its
decision. United States v. Ocampo, 937 F.2d 485, 490
(9th Cir. 1991). In borderline cases, preference will be
accorded to warrants and to the decision of the judge issuing
it. United States v. Krupa, 658 F.3d 1174,
1179 (9th Cir. 2011).
warrant application listed 18 U.S.C. § 229(a) in
Attachment B of the warrant as a basis for its search. (Doc.
36, Exh. 1 at 6). This section prohibits the use of chemical
weapons and makes it unlawful “to develop, produce,
otherwise acquire, transfer directly or indirectly, receive,
stockpile, retain, own, possess, or use, or threaten to use,
any chemical weapon . . . .” The statute defines
“toxic chemical” as “any chemical which
through its chemical action on life processes can cause
death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans
or animals.” Id. at § 229F(8)(A). The
statute allows for ownership of such chemicals for
“[p]urposes not prohibited by this chapter, ”
which encompasses “[a]ny peaceful purpose related to an
industrial, agricultural, research, medical, or
pharmaceutical activity or other activity.”
Id. at § 229F(7)(A); see also Bond v.
U.S., 134 S.Ct. 2077, 2092 (2014) (citing to a
prosecution of potassium cyanide possession as an example of
a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 229 of an extremely
dangerous substance). The warrant application included a
section on 18 U.S.C. § 229 where it described the
prohibited use of chemical weapons, the definition of a toxic
chemical, and the definition of prohibited use of these
chemicals. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶ 34-37).
The warrant application also described the potential
malicious use of potassium cyanide and dimethyl mercury.
(Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶ 24- 25). Mr.
Michell argues that because the mere purchase and possession
of potassium cyanide is not a crime, the government lacked
probable cause that Mr. Michell would use the potassium
cyanide as a chemical weapon.
series of legal acts may provide the basis for probable cause
of illegal acts. As the Ninth Circuit has described, innocent
acts, which “if reviewed separately, might be
consistent with innocence, ” may establish probably
cause if “considered as a totality, would likely create
a fair probability of suspicion in any person of average
acumen and experience.” United States v.
Ocampo, 937 F.2d 485, 490 (9th Cir. 1991) (quoting
United States v. Hoyos, 892 F.2d 1387, 1393 (9th
warrant application, the FBI Special Agent testified that Mr.
Michell participated in the following activities. Mr. Michell
used a hidden service website to solicit the purchase of
potassium cyanide and dimethyl mercury, even though these
chemicals are available at much cheaper prices in public
forums. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶ 4-6, 25).
Mr. Michell used the essentially non-traceable Bitcoin
cryptocurrency to purchase the chemicals. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1,
SW ¶ 17). Mr. Michell used the initials of a
former tenant of his property for shipping the potassium
cyanide. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶ 17-18).
Mr. Michell ensured that his communication with the seller
was secured and encrypted. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW
¶ 15). Although Mr. Michell stated that he planned to
use the chemicals for gold extraction, he did not own or
participate in a laboratory business or metal extraction
business. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶ 11, 21).
The undercover agent did not ship dimethyl mercury to Mr.
Michell, but Mr. Michell repeatedly asked to purchase it and
said that he would “continue to regularly buy”
dimethyl mercury. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶¶
11-16). Dimethyl mercury is highly toxic and a single drop
may threaten someone's life. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1,
SW ¶ 23). Contrary to Mr. Michell's claims,
dimethyl mercury is not used for gold extraction. It has few
legitimate applications and is primarily used for chemical
research. (Doc. 36, Exh. 1, SW ¶ 23). Mr.
Michell purchased one hundred grams of potassium cyanide,
which is enough to poison many individuals if mixed ...