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United States v. Gibson

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester

June 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SHAUN EARL GIBSON

          Susan K. Lee Magistrate Judge.

          ORDER

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Shaun Earl Gibson's motion to suppress. (Doc. 13.) Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee held an evidentiary hearing on the motion and filed a report and recommendation, recommending that the Court deny Defendant's motion to suppress. (Doc. 29.) Defendant timely objected to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 30.) The Government did not file a response to Defendant's objections. The Court has conducted a de novo review of the record as it relates to Defendant's objections, and for the reasons stated hereafter, will: (1) ADOPT BY REFERENCE the facts set out in the report and recommendation; (2) SUSTAIN Defendant's objections to the report and recommendation; (3) REJECT the legal conclusions in the report and recommendation; and (4) GRANT Defendant's motion to suppress.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). De novo review does not, however, require the district court to rehear witnesses whose testimony has been evaluated by the magistrate judge. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980). The magistrate judge, as the factfinder, has the opportunity to observe and to hear the witnesses and to assess their demeanor, putting her in the best position to determine credibility. Moss v. Hofbauer, 286 F.3d 851, 868 (6th Cir. 2002); United States v. Hill, 195 F.3d 258, 264-65 (6th Cir. 1999). A magistrate judge's assessment of witnesses' testimony is therefore entitled to deference. United States v. Irorere, 69 F. App'x 231, 236 (6th Cir. 2003); see also United States v. Navarro-Camacho, 186 F.3d 701, 705 (6th Cir. 1999).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On September 27, 2016, a grand jury returned a one-count indictment that charged Defendant with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1). On December 13, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to suppress seeking suppression of two firearms seized from the home of Stephanie Cuff on March 24, 2016, and statements Defendant made to law enforcement officers about these firearms after law enforcement seized them. (Doc. 13.) In his motion, Defendant argues that law enforcement's search and its subsequent seizure of the firearms violated his rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Id.)

         On February 24, 2017, Magistrate Judge Lee held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress. (See Doc. 22.) At the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Lee heard testimony from John Cooke and Jeff Goodrich, patrol officers for the Shelbyville Police Department. Defendant did not present any witnesses at the suppression hearing. The parties also submitted post-hearing briefing regarding Defendant's motion. (Docs. 25-28.)

         On April 10, 2017, Magistrate Judge Lee entered her report and recommendation, recommending that the Court deny Defendant's motion to suppress. (Doc. 29.) On April 24, 2017, Defendant filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 30.) Defendant did not object to the basic facts outlined in Magistrate Judge Lee's report and recommendation, but did object to the findings and legal conclusions related to those facts. The Government did not file a response to Defendant's objections. After reviewing the record before the Court and finding the facts to be consistent with Magistrate Judge Lee's report and recommendation, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts set out in the report and recommendation. (Doc. 29, at 2-4); see, e.g., United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d 289, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2013). Defendant's objections to Magistrate Judge Lee's report and recommendation are now ripe for review.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Expectation of Privacy

         In her report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Lee found that Defendant failed to meet his burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had a meaningful connection to Cuff's residence such that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a closed, but unlocked, metal box that Cuff identified as belonging to Defendant. Defendant objects to this finding, arguing that Officer Cooke's testimony at the suppression hearing demonstrates that Defendant was an overnight guest and, thus, possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the unopened metal box.

         As to the circumstances surrounding Defendant's presence at Cuff's residence, Magistrate Judge Lee found that Cuff's recorded statements taken by an audio recorder on Cooke's belt at the time of the underlying incident conflicted with Cooke's testimony at the suppression hearing regarding his recollection of their conversation. (See Doc. 29, at 12-14.) Although Cooke testified that Cuff told him Defendant had been at the residence for “a couple of days, ” including nights, Magistrate Judge Lee noted that the recorded conversation between Cooke and Cuff at the time of the underlying incident suggested that Defendant may have arrived at Cuff's residence that day. (Id.) Accordingly, Magistrate Judge Lee concluded that Cooke's testimony at the suppression hearing “falls short of” proving that Defendant was an overnight guest “by a preponderance of the evidence.” (Id. at 14.)

         The Court disagrees with Magistrate Judge Lee's conclusion that Defendant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was an overnight guest who possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the item or area searched. Although Cooke testified that he could not recall how long Cuff said Defendant had been at her residence, he also testified that Cuff told him Defendant had been there a couple of days, including nights:

Q: You indicated that Ms. Cuff told you Mr. Gibson had been there for a few days?
A: A couple or a few days, something along those lines.
Q: All right. And that would include nights, too. Right?
A: Yes.

(Doc. 24, at 52.) Cooke also testified that Cuff told him Defendant “got here a few days ago”:

Q: And did you continue speaking with Ms. Cuff until your back-up arrived or - A: Yes. Me and Ms. Cuff just sort of - she didn't want Mr. Gibson to hear, so she was being quiet and sort of glancing over at the door. She was telling me that he just got here a few days ago, a little while ago, I don't recall how long and that she, that she just wants him gone.

(Id. at 15 (emphasis added).)

         Cooke's testimony that Cuff told him Defendant had been at her residence for “a couple of days” does not necessarily conflict with his other testimony at the suppression hearing or with Cuff's recorded statements taken by an audio recorder on Cooke's belt at the time of the underlying incident. Cooke's testimony that Cuff told him that Defendant did not live there and that Defendant “just showed up” is reconcilable with Defendant being present at Cuff's residence for a couple of days. (See Id. at 49-50.) Similarly, Cuff's recorded statements that Defendant “just kind of showed up here and flipped out, ” that she and Defendant “haven't been together for awhile, ” and that Defendant “had been gone for two months” are not inconsistent with Defendant being at her residence “for a couple of days.” (Id. at 50, 52; Doc. 27, at 1, 4.) Having no reason to discredit Cooke's testimony that Cuff told him Defendant had been at her residence for “a couple of days, ” including nights, the Court finds that Defendant has met his burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was an overnight guest at Cuff's residence. As such, Defendant possessed both an actual and objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the unopened metal box he left there.[1]Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 96-97 (1990) (a person's ‚Äústatus as an ...


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