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United States v. Chol

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

August 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MAJOK CHOL

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          ELI RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Majok Chol's Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 27, “the Motion”). Via the Motion, Defendant seeks to suppress all evidence obtained from his person and vehicle by Nashville Metropolitan Police Department officers on July 23, 2018. (Id. at 1). Defendant contends the evidence was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. (Id.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         An officer may conduct an investigatory stop that does not violate the Fourth Amendment “if he has reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.” United States v. Johnson, 620 F.3d 685, 692 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Reasonable suspicion “must be based on specific, objective facts, and requires that ‘the detaining officers have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.'” Id. (citation omitted). A court must consider the “totality of circumstances” when determining whether reasonable suspicion existed. Id.; see also United States v. Witty, No. 16-CR-218 (MKB), 2017 WL 3208528, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. July 26, 2017) (holding that officers lawfully stopped the defendant where “the officers had sufficient facts to support probable cause that [the defendant] had committed a violation of the Parks Code” when the defendant was in a closed public park).

         “Reasonable suspicion, a standard which is less burdensome than the probable cause standard, may later blossom into probable cause if additional facts come to the attention of the detaining officer.” United States v. Tarango-Hinojos, 791 F.2d 1174, 1175-76 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 881-82 (1975)). A warrantless arrest that is supported by probable cause does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152 (2004). “Probable cause exists where the facts, at the time of the arrest, were sufficient to lead a prudent person to believe that a crime had been committed or was in the process of being committed.” United States v. Jimenez, 654 Fed.Appx. 815, 819 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Klein v. Long, 275 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir. 2001)). Whether probable cause exists “depends on the reasonable conclusions ‘drawn from the facts known to the arresting officer at the time of the arrest.'” Id. (citing Devenpeck, 543 U.S. at 152).

         The search incident to lawful arrest doctrine authorizes the warrantless search of an arrestee's person and the area within his immediate control. See United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 235 (1973) (holding that after “a lawful custodial arrest a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a ‘reasonable' search under that Amendment”); see also United States v. Campbell, 486 F.3d 949, 955 (6th Cir. 2007) (stating that “[o]nce a lawful arrest has been made, the police officer is permitted to search the individual”). The area “within a person's immediate control” includes “the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” Northrop v. Trippett, 265 F.3d 372, 379 (6th Cir. 2001). The officers “may seize both contraband and any instrumentalities, fruits, or evidence of a crime that they discover in the course of the search.” United States v. Stewart, 315 Fed.Appx. 554, 559 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Edwards, 415 U.S. 800, 802-05 (1974)).

         “The inevitable discovery doctrine, an exception to the exclusionary rule, allows unlawfully obtained evidence to be admitted at trial if the government can prove by a preponderance that the evidence inevitably would have been acquired through lawful means.” United States v. Kennedy, 61 F.3d 494, 497 (6th Cir. 1995). An inventory search is a recognized exception to the warrant requirement that allows law enforcement officers to search vehicles, as well as contents of closed containers therein, when they do so pursuant to standardized procedures. See Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371-72 (1987).

This exception recognizes that in addition to investigating crime, officers have an established caretaking role vis-à-vis the public. Inventory searches further legitimate goals of protecting property from theft or damage, preventing property disputes between the owner and police, and mitigating safety risks inherent in taking possession of unknown items. But officers must conduct a permissible inventory search in good faith, not as a pretext for criminal investigation. In conducting an inventory search, officers do not enjoy their accustomed discretion; they simply follow the applicable policy.

United States v. Tackett, 486 F.3d 230, 232 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). Tennessee law provides that “[a] police department may take into custody any motor vehicle found abandoned, immobile, or unattended on public or private property.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-6-104.

         On June 13, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion to Suppress. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court made a tentative ruling from the bench on the Motion based upon the above-described principles of law. The Court found that on the night of July 23, 2018, the officers had reasonable suspicion to approach Defendant based on a suspected violation of Tennessee's criminal trespassing statute (Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-14-405). (Doc. No. 40 at 107:11-21). During the course of the investigatory detention, the officers confirmed Defendant's identity, and confirmed that Defendant was the owner of the car parked in the J. Piercy Priest Park parking lot. (Id. at 107:22-108:7). These facts gave rise to probable cause that Defendant committed criminal trespass in violation of Tennessee law, and the officers thereafter lawfully arrested Defendant.[1] (Id.). As officers did so, Defendant resisted arrest within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-16-602, as that statute has been broadly interpreted by Tennessee courts; thus, probable cause also existed to arrest him for a violation of that statute. (Id. at 109:22-110:25).

         As for the search of the vehicle, the Court did not find Officer Dixon's testimony regarding his observations of marijuana in the vehicle to be credible; therefore, the Court found that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement did not justify the officers' entrance into the vehicle, contrary to the Government's argument. (Id. at 111:1-17). Nevertheless, the Court found that the inevitable discovery doctrine justified the seizure of the evidence from Defendant's vehicle because it is the Metro Nashville Police Department's standard procedure to tow, and subsequently search, any car that is abandoned by way of the owner being arrested and kept in custody. (Id. at 111:18-112:6). For all of these reasons, the Court tentatively concluded the seizure of the evidence from Defendant's person and vehicle was lawful under the Fourth Amendment. (Id. at 112:4-6).

         Prior to issuing its final ruling, however, the Court offered Defendant the opportunity to submit a post-hearing brief on two issues, which the Court noted potentially could affect the Court's previously summarized initial findings. Those issues were: (1) whether Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers have jurisdiction on the federal land at issue (i.e., at J. Percy Priest Lake) to lawfully arrest Defendant for violations of state law and, if not, the resulting effect of that answer on the suppression issues raised via the Motion; and (2) whether the “must cite” statute, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-7-118, prohibited officers from attempting to handcuff Defendant under the circumstances in which they attempted to handcuff him according to the testimony at the suppression hearing and, if so, whether the violation of such prohibition renders Defendant's subsequent arrest for resisting arrest “fruit of the poisonous tree” for Fourth Amendment purposes.[2] (Doc. No. 36).

         On July 10, 2019, Defendant filed his post-hearing brief (Doc. No. 29). In the brief, Defendant addresses only the second issue in which the Court invited further briefing on; thus, the Court will not address the first issue and considers any argument as to that issue to be waived. On July 29, 2019, the Government filed its response (Doc. No. 43).[3] Accordingly, the issue is now ripe for review.

         I. The effect of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-7-118 on the lawfulness of Defendant's arrest

         Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-7-118, also known as Tennessee's “must cite” statute, provides that an officer “who has arrested the person for the commission of a misdemeanor committed in the . . . officer's presence . . . shall issue a citation to the arrested person to appear in court in lieu of the continued custody and the taking of the arrested person before a magistrate.” Tenn. Code Ann. § ...


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