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United States v. Holstick

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

March 12, 2018




         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) this case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for review and submission of a report with recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law. Worldly Dieago Holstick (“Holstick”) and Leanne Grimmett (“Grimmett”) - collectively referred to as “Defendants” - filed motions to suppress information gathered through search of the residence at 533 Lee Road 57, Lot 52, Auburn, Lee County, Alabama which is located at the Orchard Way Trailer Park. (Docs. 338, 366). The Government timely filed its response in opposition. (Doc. 356). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motions on February 28, 2018. Based on the evidence presented to the Court, arguments of the parties, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the motions to suppress (Docs. 338, 366) be DENIED.

         I. Factual Background

         Defendant Holstick timely filed his motion to suppress the fruits of the search of the trailer at Lot 52. See Doc. 338. Defendant Holstick has standing due to his status as a resident. Defendant Holstick argues the officers lacked probable cause and no exigent circumstances existed which authorized entry into the residence. The Government filed its response on February 2, 2018. See Doc. 356. In its response, the Government asserts that the warrantless entry was justified by exigent circumstances. Subsequently, Defendant Grimmitt filed her motion to suppress adopting and joining Defendant Holstick as the co-tenant of the same premises.

         The facts are virtually not in dispute. On September 16, 2016, around 9:50 p.m., Auburn police received a 911 call that a juvenile was shot at the Orchard Way Trailer Park. Detective Terry White (“Detective White”) who was then a Patrol Officer with Auburn Police Department, was one of the officers responding to the shooting. As Detective White traveled along Highway 14 to get to the trailer park, he saw other two other officers stopped on the side of the road with civilians who were in their car. The other officers were also responding to the shooting, but had been flagged down en route by Kayla Hall, the mother of gunshot victim, D.H. Detective White got out of his car and remained briefly with the Officers. He saw D.H. had a gunshot wound in the chest which he sustained while in the car with Hall and Defendant Timothy Spinks. The trio were on the way to Hall's brother's residence in Orchard Way when the car was shot. The first responding officers were assessing him in the back seat of the car. D.H. was ultimately airlifted to Birmingham due to his wound. Detective White left the roadside because the other officers did not need his assistance with D.H. Within a few minutes, Detective White and other officers entered the Orchard Way trailer park to find the exact location of the shooting. Witnesses standing outside an adjacent trailer told the officers the shooting happened near lot 52 and pointed at the trailer on the lot. The officers did not question the witnesses extensively at the time. Detective White and the other officers could see bullet holes down the side of the trailer at lot 52. They also saw a black sedan parked on the property with a shattered passenger-side window and bullet strike on the roof. Additionally, officers found a number of shell casings nearby. Detective White and two other officers went to the front of the residence.

         Prior to entry, the officers announced their presence, and asked if anyone was inside the residence. When there was no response, Detective White and the other officers entered to determine whether there were any victims inside the residence. The sweep of the trailer took a few minutes. The officers found no additional victims but smelled marijuana and saw drug paraphernalia. Once they determined no additional people were inside, they backed out of the residence and roped it off as a crime scene. On cross examination, Detective White said that the officers did not know whether any person was inside prior to conducting the sweep of the trailer and no witnesses outside the trailer said whether anyone was inside the trailer. There were also no noises, moans, screams, or cries coming from inside the mobile home. Once inside, the officers went in each room to look for victims which would include looking in closets, the shower, and any other place a person might be found. They did not open any drawers or conduct a full search of the premises. After they roped off the premises as a crime scene, Defendant Grimmett came to the trailer. Throughout the testimony, defense counsel utilized a drawing of the trailer location which was admitted as Defendant's Exhibit 1. The only factual dispute is that Officer White testified he found the door to the trailer was partially open while Defendants claim the door was closed.

         Agent Kendall also testified as to the contraband ultimately found at the residence including items consistent with the manufacturing of cocaine and/or crack, firearms, and a DVR system that operated the cameras outside the residence which contained video of the actual shooting. In particular the DVR contained video evidence of criminal activities by the defendants. On cross examination, Agent Kendall testified that the footage on the video after the shooting appeared to show the trailer's occupants during the shooting shut the door when they fled the trailer. Agent Kendall also testified that the video is motion activated and will jump as motion is detected. Therefore, he could not testify whether the door was 100 percent closed when they left or if it was partially open. Ultimately, the Court considered a proffer by Defense counsel as to what was viewed on the video. The Court credits the testimony of White, but assumes arguendo and for purposes of analysis that the door was closed.

         Finally, the hearing revealed that the officers ultimately sought and received a search warrant for the premises after the shooting. The Warrant, its supporting documentation, and return was entered as Government Exhibit 1. The Affidavit discuses that officers also detected the odor of green marijuana and saw plastic bags commonly used to package marijuana. The Search warrant was granted by Judge Bush by telephone at 11:49 p.m. on September 16, 2016 and signed in person on September 19, 2016. The search results were detailed on the return which was signed on September 23, 2016. The return lists several items indicative of drug distribution.

         II. Law Generally

         A. Fourth Amendment Warrantless Searches

         Holstick and Grimmett seek suppression under the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable unless an exception applies. Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 1716, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967)). However, a warrantless search is allowed where both probable cause and exigent circumstances exist. United States v. Santa, 236 F.3d 662, 668 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Tobin, 923 F.2d 1506, 1510 (11th Cir. 1991)). The exception applies when the exigencies of the situation “make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Riley v. California, ___U.S. ___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2494, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014) (quoting Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 460, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856, 179 L.Ed.2d 865). Such exigencies may include the need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence in individual cases, to pursue a fleeing suspect, and to assist persons who are seriously injured or are threatened with imminent injury. Id.

         B. Standing

         It is well established that for a defendant to move to suppress evidence, he must have standing. United States v. Eyster, 948 F.2d 1196, 1208-09 (11th Cir. 1991). Fourth Amendment rights are personal, and only individuals who actually enjoy the reasonable expectation of privacy may challenge the validity of a government search. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 133-34, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). Thus, the defendant must have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the premises. See United States v. Epps, 613 F.3d 1093, 1097 (11th Cir. 2010) (“Only individuals who have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area invaded may invoke the protections of the Fourth Amendment.”). An individual has standing to challenge a search if “(1) he has a subjective expectation of privacy, and (2) society is prepared to recognize that expectation as objectively reasonable.” United States v. Harris, 526 F.3d 1334, 1338 (11th Cir. 2008); see also United States v. Segura-Baltazar, 448 F.3d 1281, 1286 (11th Cir. 2006) (must establish both a subjective and an objective expectation of privacy). Courts assess on a case-by-case basis the standing of a particular person to challenge an intrusion by government officials into an area over which that person lacked primary control. Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 191 n. 13, 104 S.Ct. 1735, 80 L.Ed.2d 214 (1984). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit has held that where a defendant is neither the owner nor the lessee of the place searched, in order to contest a search, he must “demonstrate a significant and current interest in the property at the time it was searched.” United States v. Miller, 387 Fed.Appx. 949, 951 (11th Cir. 2010).

         III. ...

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