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United States v. Leonard

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

July 10, 2019




         Defendant Christopher Dean Leonard (“Leonard”) was charged on November 29, 2018, in a three count indictment with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). On February 15, 2019, Leonard filed a motion to suppress all “tangible and testimonial evidence recovered as a result of an unlawful traffic stop” on February 7, 2017, in Montgomery, Alabama, in the Middle District of Alabama. (Doc. 17 at 1). Claiming that the stop of the vehicle in which he was a passenger was unsupported by reasonable suspicion, Leonard contends that all evidence seized and statements made should be suppressed because the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After an evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge recommended the Court deny the motion to suppress. (Doc. 31). On April 5, 2019, Leonard filed objections to the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 39). Upon an independent and de novo review of the record, including a review of the transcript of the hearing before the Magistrate Judge, and for the reasons which follow, the Court concludes that the Defendant's objections are due to be OVERRULED and the motion to suppress is due to be DENIED


         When a party objects to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the district court must review the disputed portions of the Recommendation de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or resubmit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Crim.P. 59(b)(3).

         De novo review requires that the district court independently consider factual issues based on the record. Jeffrey S. ex rel. Ernest S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of Ga., 896 F.2d 507, 513 (11th Cir. 1990). “Although de novo review does not require a new hearing of witness testimony, United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 2412-13, 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980), it does require independent consideration of factual issues based on the record.” Id. If the Magistrate Judge made findings based on witness testimony, the district court must review the transcript or listen to a recording of the proceeding. Id. The Court has reviewed the transcript of the suppression hearing in its entirety.


         On February 7, 2017, Leonard was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Michael Perkins. (Doc. 17 at 1-2). Montgomery Police officers Deberry and Livingston initiated a traffic stop because Perkins turned left without using his turn signal. (Doc. 29, Supp. Hrg Tr. at 7 & 34). As the vehicle was coming to a stop, Leonard fled on foot.[1] (Id. at 7-8). Officer Deberry chased Leonard and eventually tackled him. (Id. at 8).

When I apprehended Mr. Leonard, we went to the ground. There was a brief struggle. I was able to get him detained. I then rolled him over, and I noticed that his shirt had come up, and I could see there was a black pistol inside a holster that was clipped to the front of his waistband.

(Id. at 9).

         While conducting a search incident to the arrest, Deberry also found several bags of marijuana in Leonard's shorts.

         The Defendant first objects to the Magistrate Judge's credibility findings, citing to inconsistencies in the officers' testimonies, and bias on the part of the Magistrate Judge because of the way in which the Court conducted the hearing, the Court's findings in the Report and Recommendation, and the Magistrate Judge's former position as “Government lawyer.” (Doc. 39).

First, judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. See United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S., at 583, 86 S.Ct., at 1710. In and of themselves (i.e., apart from surrounding comments or accompanying opinion), they cannot possibly show reliance upon an extrajudicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required (as discussed below) when no extrajudicial source is involved. Almost invariably, they are proper grounds for appeal, not for recusal. Second, opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion unless they display a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible. Thus, judicial remarks during the course of a trial that are critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to, counsel, the parties, or their cases, ordinarily do not support a bias or partiality challenge. They may do so if they reveal an opinion that derives from an extrajudicial source; and they will do so if they reveal such a high degree of favoritism or antagonism as to make fair judgment impossible. . . . Not establishing bias or partiality, however, are expressions of impatience, dissatisfaction, annoyance, and even anger, that are within the bounds of what imperfect men and women, even after having been confirmed as federal judges, sometimes display. A judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom administration-even a stern and short-tempered judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom administration-remain immune.

Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555-56 (1994)

         Leonard's conclusory allegations that the Magistrate Judge was biased is simply insufficient as a matter of law. ...

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