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United States v. Townsel

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

December 6, 2016




         Before the Court is Defendant Joshua Townsel's Motion to Suppress Evidence, filed on July 20, 2016. (Mot. to Suppress Evidence and Incorporated Mem. in Supp., ECF No. 21 (“Mot. to Suppress”).) The United States (the “Government”) responded in opposition on August 3, 2016. (U.S. Resp. to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 26 (“Resp. to Mot. to Suppress”).) On September 8, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Diane K. Vescovo issued her Report and Recommendation on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 32 (“Report”)), recommending that the Motion to Suppress be granted.

         On September 22, 2016, the Government filed objections to the Report. (Gov't Objs. to the R. & R. of the Magistrate, ECF No. 43 (“Gov't Objs.”).) Townsel filed a response to the Government's objections on October 20, 2016. (Def.'s Resp. to Gov't Objs. to R. & R., ECF No. 47 (“Resp. to Gov't Objs.”).) The Government filed a reply in support of its objections on November 4, 2016. (Gov't's Reply to the Def.'s Resp. to the Gov't's Objs. to the R. & R. of the Magistrate, ECF No. 51 (“Reply ISO Gov't Objs.”).)

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is ADOPTED, and the Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 7, 2016, two Memphis Police Department (“MPD”) officers, Eric Jones (“Jones”) and Tony Brown (“Brown”) conducted a traffic stop of Townsel. (See, e.g., August 29, 2016 Hr'g Tr. 9, 15 (“Hr'g Tr.”).) The officers based the stop on a purported seatbelt-law violation. (See, e.g., Id. at 11- 15.) The stop culminated in Jones's finding a Glock 10mm pistol under the driver's seat of Townsel's vehicle. (See, e.g., Id. at 26-28.)

         On April 27, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against Townsel. (Indictment, ECF No. 1.) Count 1 charged Townsel, a convicted felon, with possessing the Glock pistol on or about January 7, 2016, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Id.)

         On July 20, 2016, Townsel filed the Motion to Suppress. Townsel argues that the Court should suppress all evidence of the firearm found during the traffic stop. (See generally Mot. to Suppress.) On July 20, 2016, the Court referred the Motion to Suppress to Magistrate Judge Vescovo for a report and recommendation. (Order of Reference, ECF No. 22.) On August 3, 2016, the Government filed its Response to Motion to Suppress. (ECF No. 26.)

         The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress on August 29, 2016. (See generally August 29, 2016 Hr'g Tr. (“Hr'g Tr.”).) At the hearing, the Government presented two witnesses: Jones and Brown. (See, e.g., Id. at 8, 77.) Townsel presented one witness: Michael Pryor (“Pryor”), an investigator for the Office of the Federal Public Defender. (Id. at 104.) The Report summarizes the hearing testimony. (Report 4-8 (Jones's testimony); Id. at 8-10 (Brown's testimony); Id. at 10 (Pryor's testimony).)[1] The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court grant the Motion to Suppress. (Report 24.)


         Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 636 to relieve the burden on the federal judiciary by permitting the assignment of district-court duties to magistrate judges. See United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 602 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Gomez v. United States, 490 U.S. 858, 869-70 (1989)); see also Baker v. Peterson, 67 F. App'x 308, 310 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Curtis, 237 F.3d at 602). “The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). After reviewing the evidence, the court is free to accept, reject, or modify the magistrate judge's proposed findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The district court need not review, under a de novo or any other standard, those aspects of the report and recommendation to which no objection is made. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150-52 (1985). The district court should adopt the magistrate judge's findings and rulings to which no specific objection is filed. Id.

         Certain of the Government's objections to the Report address the Magistrate Judge's credibility determinations. When a magistrate judge's findings and recommendations rest on evaluations of witness credibility, the district court need not rehear the testimony to conduct a de novo determination of the issues. United States v. Johnson, No. 10-20176, 2011 WL 3844194 at *2 (W.D. Tenn. Aug. 30, 2011) (quoting United States v. Bermudez, Case No. 99-6097, 2000 WL 1871676, at *3 (6th Cir. Dec. 11, 2000)). “‘When reviewing a magistrate judge's credibility determinations on a motion to suppress, the district court may accept or reject the magistrate judge's determinations, while recognizing a magistrate judge is in the better position to assess the credibility of witnesses [she] sees and hears.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Robinson, No. 1:07-CR-01, 2007 WL 2138635, at *1 (E.D. Tenn. July 23, 2007)). “‘Credibility determinations of the magistrate judge who personally listened to the testimony of a witness should be accepted by a district judge unless in his de novo review of the record he finds a reason to question the magistrate judge's assessment.'” Id. (quoting Robinson, 2007 WL 2138635, at *1).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Government objects to several findings of the Report. First, it “objects to the finding that . . . Jones did not have probable cause to conduct the traffic stop of Townsel's car for a seatbelt violation.” (Gov't Objs. 2.) Second, it “objects to the finding that the officers did not conduct a lawful inventory of Townsel's car.” (Id. at 6.) Third, the Government “objects to the finding that the officers did not have probable cause to search Townsel's car under the automobile exception.” (Id. at 8.) The Government also argues that, “[e]ven if this Court finds that the automobile exception does not apply, since the inventory of Townsel's car was lawful, . . . the [MPD] officers would have inevitably discovered the Glock 10mm after Townsel's car had been towed and inventoried.” (Id. at 9 (citing United States v. Bah, 794 F.3d 617, 624-25 (6th Cir. 2015).)

         A. Reasonable Suspicion for Traffic Stop

         The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. A traffic stop is a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes. See, e.g., Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996) (citing cases); United States v. Dean, __ F. App'x __, 2016 WL 5219879, at *2 (6th Cir. ...

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