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United States v. Vance

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

July 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JON CHARLES VANCE and DERRICK KITCHENS

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On February 4, 2019, Defendant Jon Charles Vance filed a motion to suppress (Doc. 100)[1] all evidence obtained pursuant to the seizure and subsequent warranted search of a pickup truck parked in the Walmart parking lot where Vance was arrested for shoplifting. (See Doc. 176, at 1.) The Government responded (Doc. 119), and United States Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger held a hearing on the motion on March 8, 2019. (Doc. 126.) On July 1, 2019, Magistrate Judge Steger entered a report and recommendation recommending that the Court deny the motion to suppress. (Doc. 176.) Vance timely objected. (Doc. 185.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT IN PART the report and recommendation (Doc. 176) and will DENY Vance's motion to suppress (Doc. 100).

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This 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 him 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 Fed.Appx. 231, 236 (6th Cir. 2003); see also United States v. Navarro-Camacho, 186 F.3d 701, 705 (6th Cir. 1999).

         Although the Court is required to engage in a de novo review of specific objections, if the objections merely restate the arguments asserted in a defendant's earlier motion, which were addressed by the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court may deem those objections waived. See VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937 (E.D. Mich. 2004). “An ‘objection' that does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an ‘objection' as that term is used in this context.” Id.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On August 8, 2018, a grand jury returned a twenty-count indictment against Vance and six co-defendants, charging Vance with: Count One, conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine (actual) and 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846 and 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A); Count Nineteen, possessing and aiding and abetting co-defendants in possessing with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine (actual), a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2, and Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); and Count Twenty, possessing and aiding and abetting a co-defendant in possessing with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine (actual), a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2, and Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). (Doc. 3.) On February 4, 2019, Vance filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized as the result of his March 29, 2018 arrest in Collegedale, Tennessee, including the methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia found in the truck. (Doc. 100, at 1.) Vance argued that: (1) officers lacked probable cause for a warrantless seizure of the truck; and, alternatively, (2) even if the initial vehicle seizure was lawful, the drugs officers seized after obtaining a warrant should be suppressed because the warrant lacked a nexus to the shoplifting crime the officers were investigating. (See Id. at 4-8.)

         On March 8, 2018, Magistrate Judge Steger held an evidentiary hearing on Vance's motion to suppress. (See Doc. 126.) At the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Steger heard testimony from Corporal David Holloway of the Collegedale Police Department. (See Doc. 127.) Additionally, the Court received the following exhibits into evidence: (1) the search warrant; (2) photographs; (3) the police incident report. (See id.)

         Vance did not object to the basic facts outlined in Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation, but he did object to the findings and legal conclusions related to those facts. (See generally Doc. 185.) After reviewing the record before the Court and finding the facts to be consistent with Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts as set out in the report and recommendation.[2] (Doc. 176, at 1-5); see, e.g., United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d 289, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2013). The Court will refer to the facts only as necessary to analyze the issues raised on objection. Vance's objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation are now ripe for review.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Vance argues in his objections that the magistrate judge erred in determining that: (1) the officers had probable cause to seize and search the vehicle; and (2) Vance lacked an expectation of privacy in the truck. (See Doc. 185.) Both issues relate only to the initial seizure and impoundment of the truck, before officers obtained a warrant to search it. (See Doc. 176, at 1.)

         First, Vance argues that the magistrate judge erred in determining that officers had probable cause. As Magistrate Judge Steger noted, probable cause exists when there is a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). In finding there was a “fair probability” evidence of a crime would be found in the truck, Magistrate Judge Steger relied upon security footage the police reviewed before the arrest, which showed Vance and a co-defendant leave the store, walk out to the truck, and return to the store before they were caught shoplifting the second time they exited the store. (Doc. 185, at 3-4; see Doc. 176, at 6.) From that sequence of events, Magistrate Judge Steger concluded that there was, “at a bare minimum, a ‘fair probability' that shoplifted goods or evidence of shoplifting were located in the pick-up truck at the time officers seized it.” (Doc. 176, at 6.)

         Vance objects to Magistrate Judge Steger's conclusion, arguing that “[t]here was nothing to connect the GMC to shoplifting . . . .” (Doc. 185, at 5.) According to Vance, the presence of “extensive video footage of both the inside and outside of the store” leads to the inference that, “[h]ad Vance and [his co-defendant] shoplifted the first time they were in the store, . . . video footage would have captured those thefts, and they would have been detained earlier.” (Id.) But the police officers were not required to have actual evidence that Vance and his co-defendant shoplifted when they left the store the first time. The police officers only needed to reasonably infer a “fair probability” that the truck contained shoplifted items. Gates, 462 U.S. at 238. They inferred that two people engaged in shoplifting may have also shoplifted items when they left the store the first time, placed them in the truck that they walked to after exiting the store, then returned to the store to continue their shoplifting activities. And that inference was ...


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