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United States v. Houston

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

July 11, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JERMAINE LEON HOUSTON, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS, SUPPRESSING EVIDENCE, AND ESTABLISHING SCHEDULING ORDER

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge.

         On January 18, 2017, Defendant Jermaine Leon Houston was stopped after two Michigan State Troopers observed him walking on 10th Street in Saginaw, Michigan, instead of walking on the abutting sidewalk, as required by state law. After asking Houston if he could pat him down, the Troopers discovered a magazine on Houston's person, and a pistol on the ground nearby. As a result, on March 22, 2017 the grand jury issued an indictment charging Defendant Houston with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). See ECF No. 18. On April 3, 2017 Defendant Houston moved to suppress evidence of the magazine and gun, as well as statements he made to the Troopers. See Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 18. For the reasons stated below, Houston's motion will be granted, and the evidence will be suppressed.

         I.

         Defendant Jermaine Leon Houston was born on May 23, 1976, and was 40 years old on the date of the relevant events. When in school Houston attended special education classes, and he proceeded only as far as the tenth grade. See Comer Tr. 3. The evidence presented by Defendant demonstrates that Houston has a long history of mental illness, has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, impulse disorder, and unspecified developmental disorders of scholastic skills, and suffers from various substance abuse disorders. In October of 2012 Houston was assessed as having a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) of 50. See ECF No. 25. He received treatment and counseling for these conditions as recently as January 25, 2017. See ECF No. 27. As a result of these conditions, Houston received social security disability income. See Comer Tr. 2. Houston also has a criminal history that includes carrying a concealed weapon and domestic violence. At the time of the events at issue Houston resided with his mother, Dorothy Comer, on Janes Avenue in Saginaw, Michigan.

         A.

         In the early morning hours of January 18, 2017, Michigan State Troopers Tyler Schuiteman and Clint Korpalski were on patrol in a marked car in the City of Saginaw. When traveling down South 10th Street, the Troopers observed a male walking in the roadway where sidewalks were provided. Under Michigan Compiled Law 257.655, “[w]here sidewalks are provided, a pedestrian shall not walk upon the main traveled portion of the highway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians shall, when practicable, walk on the left side of the highway facing traffic which passes nearest.” Mich. Comp. Law 257.655(1). “A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction.” Mich. Comp. Law 257.655(2). At the motion hearing held on May 15, 2017 and continued on May 23, 2017, the Troopers identified the male as Defendant Houston. See Schuiteman Tr. 5-8, Korpalski Tr. 4-5.

         After the Troopers drove towards Defendant Houston, Houston moved onto the sidewalk. See Schuiteman Tr. 6-7, Korpalski Tr. 5. After they followed him for an additional 20 yards or so, Defendant walked up a driveway of a residence on 10th Street. Id. Unbeknownst to the Troopers, Houston was only about a half of a block away from his mother's house. See Comer Tr. 1-2. Also unbeknownst to the Troopers, the residence was inhabited by Defendant's Godmother, Janice Peterson West. See West. Tr. 1.

         Defendant Houston did not attempt to enter the residence. Instead, he walked from the driveway into the backyard. The Troopers responded by shining the spotlight of their patrol car into the backyard of the residence, where they observed Houston standing near a fence on the south side of the residence. See Schuiteman Tr. 7. The Troopers then asked Houston to come out from behind the house so that they could speak with him. See Schuiteman Tr. 10, Korpalski Tr. 6, 18. Houston did as he was asked, and approached the Troopers' vehicle. Id. Trooper Korpalski then exited the vehicle to speak with Houston.

         Upon making contact with Houston, Trooper Korpalski did not ask for identification. Trooper Korpalski testified that he first asked Houston whether he had anything illegal on his person, to which Houston replied that he did not. See Korpalski Tr. 19. Trooper Korpalski then testified that he asked Houston if he could conduct a search of his person, to which Houston allegedly consented. Id. Korpalski did not recall the specific words or phrasing he used in requesting consent for the search. Id. Upon conducting the search, Korpalski discovered a loaded 9-millimeter magazine in Houston's front right jacket pocket. Id. at 8, 21. Trooper Korpalski then handcuffed Houston, detained him, and placed him in the back of the patrol car. Id.

         After Houston was detained, Trooper Schuiteman went into the backyard of the residence to search for any other contraband or weapons. See Schuiteman Tr. 11. After Trooper Schuiteman failed to locate anything, Trooper Korpalski began a search of the backyard. Trooper Korpalski eventually discovered a 9-millimeter pistol on the south side of the residence along the fence line, where Houston had previously been standing. See Korpalski Tr. 9. Trooper Korpalski testified that the gun matched the type of magazine found on Houston's person. Id. Korpalski proceeded to photograph the weapon and secure it in the patrol vehicle. Id.

         The Government has provided the Court with a disk containing audio and visual of the events that took place inside the patrol car as the Troopers drove Houston to the Saginaw County Jail. The video shows that Trooper Schuiteman was in the driver's seat, Trooper Korpalski was in the passenger's seat, and Defendant Houston was in the back of the patrol car. The video also demonstrates that Houston was “very emotional” immediately following his arrest, sobbing and wailing in the back of the car. See Schuiteman Tr. 24. While the audio is difficult to discern, Trooper Korpalski read Houston his Miranda rights at the outset of the encounter. During the hearing both Troopers testified that this was the content of the initial exchange. See Schuiteman Tr. 13, Korpalski Tr. 22. When Korpalski initially asked Houston if he understood his rights, Houston did not respond, but instead continued to wail. Over the next few minutes, Korpalski repeated the question multiple times. Eventually, the Troopers testified that Houston responded by saying “yes”, “all right, ” or “yeah.” See Schuiteman Tr. 24; Korpalski Tr. 12. Again, the audio of this exchange is extremely difficult to discern. During the course of the following conversation Houston calmed down, and acknowledged that he had possessed the gun, explaining that he had recently been robbed and was scared. See Korpalski Tr. 13. He further admitted that the gun belonged to his sister, that he took it without her knowledge, and that he knew he was not supposed to possess any firearms. Id. See also Schuiteman Tr. 22.

         The Troopers then ran a LIEN report, which led to the discovery that there was valid warrant for Houston's arrest for failure to pay child support. See Schuiteman Tr. 22-23. From the record, it seems that this is the time when the Troopers first became aware of the warrant. It is unclear whether any prosecution was pursued related to that warrant. The video ends when the vehicle arrives at the Saginaw County Jail.

         Trooper Schuiteman testified that Houston was primarily placed under arrest for “further investigation for any kind of CCW case or felon in possession of a firearm and whatnot.” See Schuiteman Tr. 22. He testified to his belief that Houston placed the Troopers on notice of the potential violations at the scene of the incident, where Houston informed them that he had just gotten out of prison for some gun cases. Id. at 21. However, ...


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