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United States v. Penn

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

October 18, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROBERT PENN

          Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          TRAVIS R. McDONOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On March 25, 2019, Defendant Robert Penn filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized by officers during their search of a motel room where he was present and the statement Penn made to law enforcement subsequent to his arrest (Doc. 55). The Government responded in opposition (Doc. 65), and United States Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger held a hearing on the motion on May 8, 2019. (Doc. 71.) On July 11, 2019, Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger filed a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 72) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Steger recommended that Penn's motion to suppress (Doc. 55) be denied. (Doc. 72.) Penn timely objected. (Doc. 76.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT IN PART the report and recommendation (Doc. 72) and will DENY Penn's motion to suppress (Doc. 55).

         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); 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 July 25, 2017, a grand jury indicted Penn on the charge of possessing a firearm while a felon, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g). (Doc. 1.) On February 12, 2018, Penn filed a motion to suppress through his first court-appointed attorney. (Doc. 22.) During the hearing on that motion to suppress, Penn and his counsel saw body-camera video they had not previously seen, leading Penn to move to strike his motion to suppress. (Doc. 32.) Magistrate Judge Steger granted Penn's motion to strike, and the Court accepted his guilty plea on May 30, 2018. (Doc. 38.)

         However, Penn expressed frustration with his attorney when she met with him regarding presentencing issues, and she eventually requested a hearing regarding attorney representation on his behalf a few days before the scheduled sentencing hearing. (Docs. 41-43.) Magistrate Judge Steger relieved Penn's first attorney from further representation and appointed his current attorney on September 24, 2018. (Doc. 45.) The Court then granted Penn's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 53.)

         On March 25, 2019, Penn filed a second motion to suppress all evidence seized by officers during their search of Motel 6, Room 141, and the statement Penn made to law enforcement subsequent to his arrest. (Doc. 55.) Penn argued that: (1) “[t]here is sufficient evidence to show that [he] had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the motel room”; (2) “[t]here is no evidence which establishes that the officers' entry into the motel room was for the purpose of securing their safety”; (3) “[t]he consent to search the motel room which law enforcement eventually obtained from Trevor Casteel was a product of their unlawful entry into the motel room”; (4) “[t]he officers [sic] entry into the motel room was not reasonable despite the fact that Defendant PENN was on probation at the time”; (5) “[t]he application of the exclusionary rule is appropriate in this case”; and (6) “[a]ll of the evidence obtained as the result of the officers' warrantless entry into the motel room must be excluded”-including the pistol and his subsequent statement to law enforcement. (Doc. 56, at 7-20.)

         On May 8, 2019, Magistrate Judge Steger held an evidentiary hearing on Penn's second motion to suppress. (Doc. 71.) At the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Steger explained that he would consider the evidence from the hearing on Penn's first motion to suppress, which included testimony from Officer Lauren Whittenburg of the East Ridge Police Department, ATF Agent Scott Musgrave, and Probation Officer Andrew Gavin. (Doc. 30.) Exhibits included a Tennessee Department of Corrections Probation Order, video footage from a body camera, and video footage from a post-arrest interview with Penn. (Id.) At the second hearing, Magistrate Judge Steger heard additional testimony from Officer Lauren Whittenburg. (Id.)

         Penn did not object to the 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. 76.) After reviewing the record 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. (Doc. 72, at 2-4); 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. Penn's objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation are now ripe for review.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Penn argues that the magistrate judge erred in finding that the search of the hotel room was constitutionally permissible. (Doc. 76, at 7.) Specifically, Penn contends that Magistrate Judge Steger erred in determining that: (1) Penn did not meet his burden of establishing “that he was an overnight guest of the motel which would lead to his having a legitimate expectation of privacy in the hotel room”; (2) the officers' warrantless entry into the motel room was necessary to ensure officer safety; and (3) the officers had consent to search the room. (Id.) The Court will address ...


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