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‘Bonnie and Clyde’ bank robber loses 7th Circuit appeal

February 5, 2019

An Indiana man convicted of “Bonnie and Clyde-style” bank robberies lost his appeal before the 7th Circuit, which ruled Monday that the defendant’s rights weren’t violated when he was tracked from Indiana to California or when evidence of other robberies he wasn’t charged with were admitted at his trial.

Artez Brewer, working alongside his girlfriend, Robin Pawlak, robbed five banks in three states over a six-week period before he was ultimately arrested in the Golden State. The first robbery occurred in Griffith, Indiana in April 2016, when a young man entered a Centier Bank and asked for change in $2 bills. The next day a woman wearing a mask came into the bank, stuck a wooden stick in between the bank’s doors and gave the teller a note demanding all of the money in the counter.

A similar pattern was repeated at banks in Perrysburg, Ohio, and Crown Point and Whiting, Indiana, with slight variations in the change the man requested or how the woman demanded the money. Always, though, the woman would rob the bank one day after the man came in asking for change or other assistance.

An FBI task force eventually identified Brewer as the young man visiting the banks, and vehicles similar to those Brewer and Pawlak drove were tied to the couple. Thus, the task force obtained a warrant to monitor one of the vehicles, a silver Volvo, with GPS tracking. The warrant granted the use of the tracking device within Indiana for 45 days.

Officers then tracked the Volvo as it made its way from Indiana to Los Angeles, but according to a Monday 7th Circuit opinion, the officer in charge of the tracking was unaware that the warrant was limited to Indiana. Thus, when the officer noticed the car circling a bank in L.A., he alerted California law enforcement, who arrested Brewer and Pawlak after they robbed the L.A. bank. The L.A. robbery followed the same pattern as the heists in Indiana and Ohio.

During subsequent police questioning, Brewer told law enforcement he did not plan the robberies on his own, a statement the 7th Circuit likened to a confession. Brewer was eventually charged with three counts of robbery for the Indiana offenses, but at his trial, evidence of the Ohio and California robberies also was admitted over his objection.

A jury found Brewer guilty as charged, but on appeal in United States of America v. Artez Brewer, 18-2035, Brewer first argued his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was tracked to California, even though the warrant limited use of the GPS to Indiana. The 7th Circuit, however, disagreed, with Judge Amy St. Eve writing that violating a search warrant is not equivalent to violating the Fourth Amendment, and “state law does not by proxy heighten the Fourth Amendment’s protections.”

“The affidavit supporting the warrant in this case described a multistate bank-robbery spree, and we do not see how such evidence could justify monitoring only within Indiana,” St. Eve wrote for the unanimous circuit panel. “Brewer may have had a constitutionally protected privacy interest in his whereabouts … but that interest was no greater on Indiana roads than it was on Illinois or California roads.”

The circuit court likewise rejected Brewer’s argument that the government violated Evidence Rule 404(b) when it admitted evidence of his unindicted robberies in Ohio and California, finding that evidence was probative of Brewer’s identify. St. Eve further noted the way in which the unindicted robberies were perpetrated — with a man visiting a bank followed by a woman with a note and a stick demanding cash — underscored Brewer’s “idiosyncratic way” of robbing banks in Indiana. 

Finally, Brewer argued the government did not properly authenticate surveillance footage from the Ohio robbery, but the appellate panel disagreed, noting an eyewitness testified that the footage “fairly and accurately depict[ed] the events as they happened.” Thus, any error in the admission of the footage was harmless.

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