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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

July 18, 2019




         Before the Court is the Government's motion to reconsider (Doc. No. 213) the part of the Court's June 20, 2019 Memorandum and Order (Doc. Nos. 192-193) that granted Defendant Johnson's motion to suppress evidence from the February 13, 2017 Wal-Mart traffic stop. The Government asks the Court to reconsider its legal conclusion that Johnson was seized when his car was blocked by the car of the Metro detectives, arguing instead that he was seized several seconds later when the officers made contact with him in his car. The Government further contends that this correction should lead to a finding of reasonable suspicion sufficient to defeat the motion to suppress. Johnson opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 219.) For the following reasons, the motion to reconsider will be granted.

         I. Legal Standard

         Although the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure make no provision for motions to reconsider, “[c]ourts adjudicating motions to reconsider in criminal cases typically evaluate such motions under the same standards applicable to a civil motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 59(e).” United States v. Robinson, 5 F.Supp.3d 933, 936 (S.D. Ohio 2014) (quoting United States v. Titterington, No. CR-2-20165, 2003 WL 23924932, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. May 22, 2003)). Under Rule 59(e), the Sixth Circuit has held motions to alter or amend judgment may be granted if there is a clear error of law, newly discovered evidence, an intervening change in controlling law, or to prevent manifest injustice. Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999)). “A Rule 59(e) motion ‘may not be used to argue a new legal theory.'” Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ'g, LLC, 477 F.3d 383, 395 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting FDIC v. World Univ., Inc., 978 F.2d 10, 16 (1st Cir. 1992)). The motion “is proper only if it contains ‘an argument or controlling authority that was overlooked or disregarded in the original ruling, presents manifest evidence or argument that could not previously have been submitted, or successfully points out a manifest error of fact or law.'” Auday v. Wet Seal Retail, Inc., No. 1:10-CV-260, 2012 WL 124080, at *1 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 17, 2012).

         II. The Court's June 20 Order

         In the June 20 Order, the Court concluded that Metro detectives did not have reasonable suspicion at the time they seized Johnson's vehicle. In doing so, the Court examined the testimony of Detectives Moore and Irwin and concluded that reasonable suspicion did not exist at the time the driver of the red truck exited his vehicle. (Doc. No. 192 at 16-19.) The Court then considered whether subsequent developments tipped the totality of the circumstances in favor of reasonable suspicion. (Id.) The Court held that reasonable suspicion needed to exist by the time the police detectives “engaged their vehicle lights and blocked Johnson's car, not after when they exited the police vehicle and approached his car on foot.” (Doc. No. 192 at 16.)

         The Court concluded that the testimony of Detective Irwin was “neither consistent nor credible.” (Id. at 19.) Detective Moore's testimony did not pose this problem. Moore explained that it was only after he exited the parked police car that he witnessed suspicious behavior between the two individuals in the tan car. (Id.) The Court granted the motion to suppress because the detectives had not articulated reasonable suspicion of criminal activity “when they crossed the aisle, engaged their lights, and blocked Johnson's vehicle.” (Id. at 20.)

         The Court's conclusion regarding the time of the seizure arose, in part, because it did not appear to be a disputed issue. The Government's opposition brief, for example, appeared to focus on the detectives having sufficient facts to conclude that Johnson was engaged in criminal activity prior to blocking his car. (See Doc. No. 73 at 6-7.) This approach continued at the motions hearing, where Government's counsel and its witnesses appeared to agree concerning when Johnson was seized. For example, the Government inquired of Moore: “After you seized Mr. Johnson, or they're not free to leave because your lights are on, what did you do next?” Moore replied, “I exit the vehicle to make contact with the front passenger - front seat occupant Mr. Johnson.” Likewise, the Government had this exchange with Irwin:

Q: Typically, when you cut on your lights on your police car, is someone free to go?
A. No.
Q. So they're seized at that point?
A. Yes. Yes.
Q. So when you cut your lights on in this video, Mr. Lee and Mr. Johnson were ...

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