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United States v. Johnson

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

October 23, 2019




         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Rules of this Court, and the District Court's Order of Referral [Doc. 1098], to address Defendant's Second Motion to Suppress Confession [Doc. 1081], filed on August 27, 2019. Defendant previously filed his first Motion to Suppress Confession [Doc. 981] on April 22, 2019. The Government filed a response in opposition [Doc. 1190] to both Motions to Suppress on September 12, 2019.

         An evidentiary hearing was held on Defendant's Motions to Suppress on September 23, 2019. [Doc. 1249]. Assistant United States J. Gregory Bowman appeared on behalf of the Government. Attorney Jerry J. Fabus, Jr., represented Defendant Johnson, who was also present. After hearing the arguments of counsel, the Court took the motions under advisement.

         Accordingly, after reviewing the parties' briefs and arguments, the evidence and exhibits presented at the hearing, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court recommends that both of Defendant's Motions to Suppress be denied.


         Defendant Johnson is charged [Doc. 3] with conspiring to distribute fifty (50) grams or more of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance (Count 1), knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense (Count 23), and money laundering (Count 30).

         Defendant first seeks [Doc. 981] to suppress his January 2, 2017 confession to Agent John Wilson (“Agent Wilson”) and Special Agent Scott Payne (“SA Payne”), arguing that the Government will refuse to present Detective Joshua Goins (“Detective Goins”) as a witness at trial, and thus the Government would not be able to show probable cause to perform the traffic stop of Defendant and the search of the vehicle he was driving. Therefore, Defendant asserts that his subsequent confession to Investigator Wilson and Special Agent Payne should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree.

         Defendant also seeks [Doc. 1081] to suppress his January 2, 2017 confession, claiming that he was originally interrogated by Detective Goins after he requested to speak to his attorney multiple times and stated his wish to remain silent. However, Defendant asserts that he eventually confessed to owning the seized methamphetamine and firearm in the vehicle after being interrogated by Detective Goins, and then agreed to speak with Agent Wilson and SA Payne. At this point, Defendant admits that he was read his Miranda rights, signed a written waiver of his right to remain silent, and eventually provided a very detailed confession to Agent Wilson and SA Payne. However, Defendant claims that the warning of his rights under Miranda occurred only after he was already interrogated by Detective Goins, had requested to speak with an attorney, and eventually confessed. Therefore, Defendant seeks to have his confession on January 2, 2017 suppressed from the evidence at trial.

         The Government first responds [Doc. 1190] that it intends to call Detective Goins as a witness at trial, and the Court notes that the Government called Detective Goins as a witness at the evidentiary hearing. Further, the Government maintains that while Defendant was in custody, he was not interrogated prior to the arrival of Agent Wilson and SA Payne, as demonstrated by the written waiver of his rights. The Government asserts that Detective Goins did not question or interview Defendant prior to his interrogation by Agent Wilson and SA Payne. Therefore, the Government states that the only statement that it has to offer against Defendant at trial is his confession given to Agent Wilson and SA Payne after he waived his right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney.


         At the September 23 hearing, the Government presented the testimony of Campbell County Sheriff's Office Detective Joshua Goins, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Scott Payne.[1] Defendant testified on his own behalf. The Government also introduced as Exhibit 1 an Investigative Report from the Eighth Judicial District prepared by Detective Goins regarding his investigation of Defendant on January 2, 2017; the Miranda Waiver signed by Defendant as Exhibit 2; and a letter from Defendant to the United States Attorney's Office as Exhibit 3. The Court summarizes the witness's testimony and introduced exhibits as follows.

         The Government first presented the testimony of Detective Goins, who has been a detective with the Campbell County Sheriff's Department for approximately two weeks, and previously was the acting director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force, including on January 2, 2017. [Tr. 5-6]. Detective Goins testified that he received information from a confidential source that Defendant was in possession of a safe containing narcotics and possibly a firearm at a residence in LaFollette, Tennessee. [Tr. 6]. While Detective Goins was unable to recall which confidential source contacted him, he stated that it was someone he had likely dealt with on other cases. [Tr. 6-7]. He further testified that he was not familiar with Defendant at this point. [Id.]. Detective Goins then contacted Agent John Wilson with the Seventh Crime Task Force, who advised him that there was a parole violation for Defendant's arrest, and he pulled Defendant's criminal history, including a photograph, from the Tennessee Criminal Justice Report. [Tr. 7-8].

         Detective Goins testified that he conducted surveillance on the “Long residence” where Defendant was reportedly located. [Tr. 8]. Detective Goins was already familiar with the location from his interactions with the Long family. [Id.]. Additionally, Detective Goins stated that the confidential source indicated that Defendant would be driving a white Lexus, which was his attorney's car. [Id.]. Detective Goins began surveilling the Long residence, saw a white Lexus parked at the location, and after a short period of time, saw an individual get into the white Lexus. [Tr. 9]. At this point, Detective Goins testified that the white Lexus “did not stop for a stop sign at the bottom of the drive, ” and he followed the vehicle to “17th and West Avenue, ” where it again rolled through the stop sign. [Id.]. Detective Goins continued to maintain surveillance until marked units could conduct a traffic stop on the vehicle. [Id.].

         A traffic stop was then conducted on the vehicle. [Tr. 10]. Detective Goins testified that prior to the stop, he was unable to tell who was driving the vehicle, but as he approached the vehicle after the stop, he observed that Defendant was the driver. [Id.]. Detective Goins indicated to Defendant that he had been stopped for performing a rolling stop at the stop sign, and he, along with local law enforcement, ordered Defendant to go to the rear of his vehicle. [Tr. 10-11]. Defendant then complied and exited the vehicle. [Tr. 11]. Detective Goins testified that after learning that Defendant had a parole violation, he contacted his parole officer, and was instructed by the parole officer to have Defendant searched when stopped due to his parole contract. [Tr. 11-12].

         Detective Goins first sought to obtain Defendant's consent to search the vehicle, despite the fact that there was a search condition in Defendant's parole contract, and Defendant refused to consent to the search. [Tr. 12]. Detective Goins and local law enforcement then searched the vehicle, and found a locked, black safe inside of the vehicle. [Id.]. Detective Goins stated that he asked Defendant if he could try the keys in the ignition to open the safe, and Defendant responded “Yes, if you can find it.” [Id.]. Detective Goins then opened the safe by using a key on the vehicle key chain. [Tr. 13]. Detective Goins testified that law enforcement found a firearm, a Social Security card in Defendant's name, a substance believed to be methamphetamine, and other narcotics inside of the safe. [Id.].

         At this time, Defendant was at the rear of the vehicle, and had already been placed under arrest due to the parole violation warrant. [Id.]. Following a search of Defendant pursuant to the arrest, law enforcement found approximately $3, 000 in a pair of shorts under Defendant's pants. [Tr. 15]. When asked about Defendant's claim that he at one point conducted an interrogation, Detective Goins stated:

At any point in time I - if I find something, I would document it in my report, and I never at any one point interviewed Mr. Johnson other than on the side of the roadway while we were conducting our investigation. He requested to talk to somebody - how he put it to me was above my pay grade, or above my head, talking about the FBI. From there, I contacted Agent Wilson from the CTF in Henderson County, contacted the FBI to speak to him.

         [Tr. 14]. Detective Goins stated that he prepared a report of his contact with Defendant on January 2, 2017, and the report does not indicate that he interrogated Defendant. [Id.]. Next, Defendant was transported to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office to be held due to his arrest and parole violation. [Tr. 16]. Detective Goins testified that he did not transport Defendant to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office, as he was driving an unmarked vehicle. [Tr. 18].

         Detective Goins stated that Agent Wilson and SA Payne came to speak with Defendant, but that he did not take part in any interrogation, debrief, or questioning of Defendant after he was taken to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. [Tr. 16]. The only statements by Defendant that Detective Goins noted in his report was Defendant's comment, “If you can find it, ” referring to the keys. [Tr. 17]. Further, Detective Goins stated that the stop took place in the early evening, and estimated that it took approximately an hour and fifteen minutes from the time when Defendant's vehicle was stopped until he arrived at the Campbell ...

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