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United States v. Metcalf

July 30, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry S. Mattice, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Mattice


Before the Court is Defendant Charles Steven Metcalf's Motion to Suppress Evidence [Court Doc. No. 12]. In that Motion, Defendant Metcalf seeks to suppress all evidence seized and statements given in connection with a warrantless search of his residence in Lincoln County, Tennessee, on or about September 9, 2006. As grounds for such Motion, Defendant Metcalf contends that the subject search of his residence was conducted by police without his consent. After considering the evidence offered at the evidentiary hearing and the arguments of counsel, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court has determined that said Motion will be GRANTED.


An evidentiary hearing was held before the undersigned on Friday, May 18, 2007. Defendant was represented by Assistant Federal Defender Mary Ellen Coleman. Assistant United States Attorney James Brooks represented the Government. Testifying for the Government was Investigator Rodney Callahan of the Lincoln County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Department. Testifying for the Defendant was Mr. Edward Todd Noblitt. A summary of the relevant testimony follows.

Rodney Callahan

Rodney Callahan has been employed as an Investigator for the Lincoln County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Department for approximately ten years. Prior to such employment, he worked for four years for the United States Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (or its predecessor agency) in Atlanta, Georgia.

On September 9, 2006, Officer Callahan received a telephone call from a game warden for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency ("TWRA"). The TWRA agent told Officer Callahan that he had spotted a red pick-up truck leaving a field near Howell, Tennessee-where the TWRA was holding a juvenile dove hunt-and had observed marijuana plants nearby. The TWRA agent had recorded the license tag number of the truck and passed it along to Officer Callahan, who ran it through the state's vehicle registration database. Those records reflected that the truck was registered to the Defendant, and indicated Defendant's address as being on Booneville Road in Lincoln County. Officer Callahan was familiar with the vicinity, and decided to go to Defendant's residence.

Officer Callahan described the area where Defendant's residence is located as being "out in the woods." Upon arriving at the residence, Officer Callahan observed two individuals (who were later identified as the Defendant and Edward Todd Noblitt) inside the residence, running through the house. Officer Callahan made this observation by peering through windows without curtains which were located on each side of the front door. Officer Callahan knocked on the front door and Mr. Noblitt appeared.*fn1 Officer Callahan asked if Mr. Metcalf was at home, and Mr. Noblitt responded that he was inside. Officer Callahan asked if he could speak to him. The Defendant came to the door and, at Officer Callahan's request, came outside the residence. Officer Callahan told the Defendant that he needed to speak with him about an incident that had occurred earlier in the day.

When Officer Callahan asked the Defendant why he and Mr. Noblitt had been running around inside the residence, the Defendant replied that they had been smoking a "joint." Based on his experience, Officer Callahan knew that this meant that the Defendant had been in possession of marijuana, which was against the law. When Officer Callahan asked the Defendant if he had any more marijuana, he stated that he had a joint in his pocket. When Officer Callahan asked to see it, however, the Defendant was unable to produce it. Instead, the Defendant stated that he must have left the joint inside the residence on the kitchen table. At this point, Officer Callahan asked the Defendant if he minded if Officer Callahan accompanied the Defendant inside the residence to get the marijuana off the table. Officer Callahan testified that Defendant responded that he did not mind. Officer Callahan and the Defendant then went inside the residence, while Mr. Noblitt remained standing outside.

Once he went inside the residence, Officer Callahan observed the marijuana on a table in plain view. He then asked the Defendant if there was any more marijuana in the residence, and Defendant responded that he had some in a bedroom chest drawer. Officer Callahan asked the Defendant if he would go retrieve the marijuana from the bedroom, and he did. As Officer Callahan took the marijuana from the Defendant, the Defendant ran over to the kitchen sink and began to pour out a white substance which had been sitting nearby in a glass container. When Officer Callahan asked the Defendant what he was pouring into the sink, after an initial hesitation the Defendant stated that he had been "cooking speed for a fishing trip." Officer Callahan knew, based on prior experience, that "speed" is a slang term for methamphetamine. Officer Callahan testified that his prior law enforcement experience included investigating cases involving methamphetamine, that he had previously been in houses that contained methamphetamine labs, and that he had received law enforcement training regarding methamphetamine. He was aware of the dangers associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Officer Callahan testified that, after receiving this information, he observed other precursor products associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine in the residence, including Heet, coffee filters, and a hot plate. Officer Callahan then told the Defendant that they needed to go outside and talk, and the Defendant followed Officer Callahan outside. Once outside, Officer Callahan told the Defendant that, because the residence had been used to manufacture methamphetamine, it would be necessary to evacuate the residence. Officer Callahan also informed the Defendant that he intended to contact other law enforcement agencies for assistance in processing the methamphetamine lab. Once he had finished this explanation, Officer Callahan advised the Defendant of his Miranda rights,*fn2 and asked the Defendant to sign a consent to search form so that he and other law enforcement officers could re-enter the residence. Officer Callahan testified that the Defendant responded by stating that he and Mr. Noblitt were about to go on a fishing trip and that they were cooking the methamphetamine for personal use on the trip. According to Officer Callahan, the Defendant nevertheless signed the consent to search form, which was introduced into evidence as Government's Exhibit No. 1.

On cross-examination, Officer Callahan testified that on the date in question, he and Marty Mathis, also of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department, arrived at the Defendant's residence in the early evening at approximately 6:00 p.m. He stated that, after knocking on the door, the individuals inside continued running around and that approximately ten minutes elapsed before Mr. Noblitt opened the door. Officer Callahan testified that because the front door was somewhat above ground level, and because he did not walk up the makeshift concrete steps, it was necessary for him to knock on the bottom of the door. Officer Callahan stated that Officer Mathis was standing with him as he had his initial conversation with the Defendant and never left the scene during the course of the relevant events.

Officer Callahan also testified that after observing the meth lab inside the residence and going outside, due to the lack of cell phone coverage in the rural area, he was unsuccessful at contacting further law enforcement for back-up until approximately thirty minutes later. Officer Callahan stated that the Defendant and Mr. Noblitt remained with him and Officer Mathis outside the ...

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