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United States v. Couch

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 20, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DELBERT COUCH, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram's recommended disposition [R. 30] of the motions to suppress evidence [R. 14] and statements [R. 15] filed by Delbert Couch. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court deny in part Couch's motion to suppress evidence and deny the motion to suppress statements. Couch objects to the recommendation. [R. 31.] This objection triggers this Court's obligation to conduct a de novo review on all issues raised in Couch's objection. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(c). The Court has satisfied that duty, reviewing the entire record, including the parties' arguments, relevant case law and statutory authority, as well as applicable procedural rules. For the reasons set forth below, Couch's objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommended disposition are OVERRULED.

I

The Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on the issues of Couch's motion [R. 30] and accurately sets out the factual and procedural background of the case in his recommended disposition. [R. 59 at 1-3]. Couch contests the Magistrate Judge's legal conclusions but does not object to his recitation of the facts. Therefore, the Court incorporates his discussion of the record into this order. A summarized recitation of the those facts follow:

Kentucky State Trooper Jesse Armstrong, along with other members of the Governor's Marijuana Eradication Detail, conducted a knock and talk at the residence of Defendant Couch. D.E. 25 (Transcript) at 8... Trooper Armstrong asked Defendant for consent to search his residence, which Defendant refused. Id. at 13. Trooper Armstrong noted the scent of smoked marijuana coming from Defendant's residence. Id. ... [Officers walked around the Defendants house and found some Marijuana plants growing in proximity to the Defendants property.]... After viewing these plants, Trooper Lunsford began working on a search warrant application. Trooper Armstrong informed Defendant that they saw a plant, and Defendant again refused to give consent to search his home without a warrant. Id. at 21. Because they were working to secure a search warrant, the officers asked Defendant to stay outside of his home, and due to the heat, the officers "pulled a chair into the shade and let him sit there" while waiting for the warrant. Id. Defendant was not handcuffed or placed under arrest at that time. Id. at 23.
During this time, Trooper Armstrong asked Defendant whether he used marijuana, and Defendant responded in the affirmative. Id. at 24. Trooper Armstrong also asked questions about Defendant's job and the trailers located "adjacent to the residence." Id. At some point, Defendant alerted the officers to a heart condition, and Defendant received a bottle of water and was escorted into his home to obtain his medicine. Id. at 25. Defendant then received a second bottle of water, and the officers called an ambulance to further evaluate his health. Id. Per the ambulance service, Defendant was a "little dehydrated, " but he did not have to leave the residence with the medical personnel. Id. Ultimately, the officers "let [Defendant] sit in a vehicle that was running with the air on so he could cool down." Id. at 26.
Approximately two hours later, the officers returned with a search warrant authorizing a search of Defendant's residence, property, and vehicle. Id. at 26; D.E. 14-2 (Search Warrant).... A search of the residence, the adjacent trailers, Defendant's property, and the forested area behind Defendant's property uncovered nineteen marijuana plants, 168 grams of processed marijuana, nine firearms, various calibers of ammunition, a set of scales, two boxes of sandwich bags, a baggie with marijuana residue, various bottles and baggies containing marijuana seeds, and three coffee cans containing $81, 074 in cash. D.E. 14-2 (Search Warrant) at 2.

[R. 30 at 2-5.] Couch filed motions seeking to suppress evidence [14] and statements [15]. The Magistrate Judge issued his recommended disposition [R. 30] on June 28, 2013 and Couch objected [R. 31], triggering this review.

II

A

1

Couch first objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that evidence seized from his home should not be suppressed because the executing officers were operating in good faith. [R. 31 at 2.] The Court's analysis necessarily begins with the Fourth Amendment. It provides that "the right of 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 particularity describing the place to be searched and persons or things to be seized." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. These words "draw a firm line at the entrance of the house, " such that searches and seizures inside a residence without a warrant are "presumptively unreasonable." United States v. Sangineto-Miranda, 859 F.2d 1501, 1511 (6th Cir. 1988) (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75 (1971)).

The Supreme Court has recognized exceptions to this general warrant requirement. Most prominently, the good faith exception, as espoused in U.S. v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 918-921 (1984). This exception provides that "the exclusionary rule should not bar the government's introduction of evidence obtained by police officers acting in objectively reasonable reliance on a search warrant that is subsequently invalidated." United States v. Laughton, 409 F.3d 744, 748 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Leon, 468 U.S. at 918-921. The Supreme Court has articulated four circumstances, however, where the good faith exception does not apply:

(1) when the warrant is issued on the basis of an affidavit that the affiant knows (or is reckless in not knowing) contains false information; (2) when the issuing magistrate abandons his neutral and detached role and serves as a rubber stamp for police activities; (3) when the affidavit is so lacking in indicia of probable cause that a belief in its existence is objectively unreasonable; ...

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