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United States of America v. Randy Travis Cunnagin

September 13, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RANDY TRAVIS CUNNAGIN, DEFENDANT. )



MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

The defendant, Randy Travis Cunnagin, asserts that searches of his vehicle and garage violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Cunnagin seeks to suppress all evidence seized, alleging that the searches began before officers obtained a valid search warrant and without his consent. The evidence, however, demonstrates otherwise; his motion to suppress is denied.

BACKGROUND

The Court held a suppression hearing and heard testimony from Task Force Officer Richard Dalrymple and Special Agent Jody Hughes. See R. 50. On February 19, 2010, law enforcement officers visited Randy Travis Cunnagin's residence to perform a "knock and talk" regarding a theft of firearms. Through several cooperating witnesses, authorities learned that a suspect, Larry Vaughn, was living with Cunnagin when the firearms were stolen and may have taken them to Cunnagin's residence. The residence consists of a home and garage with the whole property enclosed by a chain-link fence. The garage is a separate, two-story building that stands ten feet away from the home. The top floor is an apartment and the government alleges that the ground floor was a meth lab.

Officer Dalrymple and at least three other officers arrived at the residence in three separate vehicles. As the officers approached the residence, Cunnagin was coming out of his driveway but drove his vehicle back in when the officers arrived. Officer Dalrymple approached Cunnagin first and conducted a pat-down after a brief introduction. He then asked for Cunnagin's consent to search the vehicle. Cunnagin stated that he did not own the vehicle, but that he had permission to use it and consented to the search. In the vehicle, Officer Dalrymple found numerous rounds of ammunition and used syringes.

While this was occurring, the other officers performed a sweep of the area. Agent Hughes approached the garage and noticed various shell casings from spent ammunition rounds on the ground. He observed that several appeared recently discharged. Agent Hughes approached the door to the first floor of the garage and knocked. The door was ajar giving Agent Hughes a partial view of the garage's interior, where he saw items consistent with the manufacture of methamphetamine. No one answered the door and Agent Hughes continued to the second floor by way of a staircase on the side of the garage. On the way to the staircase, Agent Hughes observed more shell casings on the ground. Agent Hughes ascended the staircase and knocked on the door to the second floor apartment. Again, no one answered.

Around this time, Officer Dalrymple completed the vehicle search and was following Cunnagin into the house. According to Cunnagin, Vaughn left a shotgun behind, which Cunnagin and Officer Dalrymple were going inside the home to retrieve. On the way, Cunnagin noted that the door to the first floor of the garage was open and told Officer Dalrymple that either the officers had kicked the door open or that someone broke in. Officer Dalrymple relayed this statement to Agent Hughes, who was on the second floor of the garage. Officer Dalrymple and Cunnagin continued into the house, but Agents Hughes and Vince Kersey performed a protective sweep of the first floor of the garage. Inside the garage, Agent Hughes observed, in plain view, numerous items consistent with the manufacture of meth including cans of propane fuel, a plastic gas can, a pitcher of coffee filters, and a bag of ammonia nitrate.

Inside the house, Officer Dalrymple and Cunnagin retrieved a twelve-gauge shotgun that Vaughn allegedly left behind. Afterwards, Agent Hughes informed Officer Dalrymple of the contents of the garage. Officer Dalrymple asked Cunnagin if he had access to the garage, and Cunnagin replied that only his landlord had access. Officer Dalrymple then decided to obtain a search warrant rather than ask Cunnagin for consent to search the garage. The affidavit Officer Dalrymple used to obtain a search warrant was based partly Agent Hughes' observations. But it also contained a mistake, listing Cunnagin's address as "43 Jaw Road" when the correct address is "42 Jaw Road." Once Officer Dalrymple obtained a search warrant for the home and garage, the officers executed the search and seized items believed to be used to manufacture meth as well as ammunition, gun cases, rifle magazines, and other gun paraphernalia. Officer Dalrymple later confirmed with Cunnagin's landlord that Cunnagin had control over all property within the chain-link fence, including the garage. Cunnagin now challenges the validity of the search of his vehicle and garage. R. 44.

DISCUSSION

Cunnagin asserts that the officers did not obtain his consent to search the vehicle, id. at 3, and illegally entered his garage, id. at 1. Officers obtained a search warrant to seize items in the garage, but the search warrant affidavit was based on observations from the initial entry. Cunnagin asserts that as a result all evidence seized should be suppressed.

It is a "basic principle of Fourth Amendment law" that warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). In this case, the officers did not have a search warrant when they searched the vehicle or first entered the garage. Thus, the burden is on the government to justify these searches with some ...


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