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United States v. Avant

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

April 6, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
D-1 MONROE AVANT, JR. and D-2 TODD SELMA, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (DOC. #23)

GEORGE CARAM STEEH, District Judge.

On March 18, 2014, a joint task force of police agencies executed a federal narcotics search warrant at 3909 Spruce in Inkster, Michigan. There was heavy police presence including the use of a helicopter, armored vehicles and Canine officers. When the raid crew arrived at the location in two armored vehicles, defendant Monroe Avant, Jr. exited the driver's side of a white Buick parked on the driveway. Seeing the armored vehicles, Avant immediately put his hands in the air and complied with officers' commands to get down on the ground. Surveillance from a pole-cam shows defendant Todd Selma exiting the passenger side of the white Buick and entering the subject home prior to the armored vehicles arriving on the scene. Avant was placed in handcuffs and questioned on the scene by Lieutenant Kyle Dawley of the Westland Police Department ("Westland PD") for approximately thirty minutes. During this time, Selma had fled the home and was apprehended a block away.

Sergeant Paul White of the Westland PD was part of the team that entered the home. He spent approximately ten-to-fifteen minutes inside the home before coming back outside. When he came back outside, Sergeant White passed the white Buick, which he had noticed on his way into the home, and smelled an odor of burned marijuana coming from the vehicle. He walked to the driver's side window noticing that no one was in the vehicle, and that the vehicle was not running. Peering through the driver's side window, Officer White noticed a firearm in plain view. Smelling the marijuana and seeing the firearm, Officer White proceeded to search the vehicle. His search uncovered a container of marijuana, packets of heroin and an AR-15 assault rifle.

Defendants were charged in a one-count indictment with being felons in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g)(1). Now before the court is defendants' motion to suppress evidence (Doc. #23). The motion was filed by Avant, and, subsequently, Selma filed a notice of joinder and concurrence in the motion (Doc. #32). Defendants seek to suppress as evidence the firearm and drugs seized from the white Buick. The court held an evidentiary hearing spanning the course of two days. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Admissibility of evidence is determined by the court as a matter of law. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964). "Where a motion to suppress evidence has been made, the burden of establishing that the evidence was secured by an unlawful search is on the moving party." United States v. Coleman, 628 F.2d 961, 965 (6th Cir. 1980) (citation omitted). The government bears the ultimate burden in establishing admissibility of the evidence by a preponderance. Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477 (1972).

II. DISCUSSION/ANALYSIS

Defendants argue that the evidence obtained from the search of the white Buick must be suppressed because probable cause to search the vehicle was lacking. Defendants deny that the vehicle smelled like marijuana or that the AR-15 firearm was in plain view. Therefore, defendants aver that a warrant was required prior to searching the vehicle. The court disagrees.

A. Fourth Amendment Standard

The Fourth Amendment provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Const. amend IV. "Evidence that has been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment may be subject to exclusion at trial." United States v. Fisher, 745 F.3d 200, 203 (6th Cir. 2014). "[W]here a search is undertaken by law enforcement officials to discover evidence of criminal wrongdoing, ... reasonableness generally requires the obtaining of a judicial warrant.'" Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2482 (2014) (citation omitted). A search is reasonable in the absence of a warrant "only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement." Id. (citing Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856-1857 (2011)).

B. Justifications For The Warrantless Search

Based on the testimony at the suppression hearing, two exceptions to the warrant requirement, which will be explained below, render the search of the vehicle reasonable. But first a brief mention about the testimony at the suppression hearing. Certainly, defendants established some inconsistences in the testimony. However, as it relates to the testimony about the smell of marijuana emanating from the white Buick, and the AR-15 in plain view, the testimony was generally consistent among all of the officers. ...


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