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United States v. Watts

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
DONTA WATTS, JR. Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant, Donta Watts, Jr.'s, Motion to Suppress Searches (“Motion to Suppress”). [DE 60]. Plaintiff, the United States of America, filed a timely response to the Motion to Suppress (the “Response”). [DE 63]. A suppression hearing was held on October 3, 2018. [DE 82]. On December 18, 2018, United States Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay issued a Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendation (the “R&R”), recommending that the Motion to Suppress be denied. [DE 93]. Mr. Watts filed timely Objections. [DE 96]. This matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES Defendant's Objections [DE 96], ACCEPTS Magistrate Judge Lindsay's R&R without modification [DE 93], and DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress [DE 60].

         DISCUSSION

         Mr. Watts objects to both the R&R's factual findings and conclusions of law. Mr. Watts objects to the R&R's factual findings by claiming that it exaggerates his criminal history and includes “conclusory testimony that a female passerby raised a concern that evidence might be removed or destroyed.” [DE 96, at 387]. Mr. Watts objects to the conclusions of law, asserting four errors in the R&R. First, Mr. Watts objects to the use of his criminal history as support for reasonable suspicion. [DE 96, at 387]. Second, Mr. Watts objects to the reasonableness of his Terry stop. [DE 96, at 387-88]. Third, Mr. Watts objects to Magistrate Judge Lindsay's conclusion that Mr. Watts ignored the warrant exception for prevention of the imminent destruction of evidence. [DE 96, at 388-89]. Finally, Mr. Watts objects to the Magistrate's conclusion that finding narcotics in two different vehicles that were stopped after departing the Target Apartment creates a nexus to justify a warrant to search the Apartment. [DE 96, at 389].

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 59, a district court may refer a motion to suppress to a magistrate judge for the preparation of a report and recommendation. “The magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings [and] enter on the record a recommendation for disposing of the matter, including any proposed finding of fact.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(1). This Court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). The Court need not review under a de novo or any other standard those aspects of the report and recommendation to which no specific objection is made, and may adopt the findings and rulings of the magistrate judge to which no specific objection is filed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150, 155 (1985).

         B. Objections to the Findings of Fact Contained in the R&R.

         Mr. Watts's first two objections concern the R&R's factual findings. [DE 96, at 367-87]. First, Mr. Watts asserts that his criminal history was exaggerated at the hearing “in an attempt to bolster the [search warrant] affidavit, ” and that exaggeration continued into the R&R. [DE 96, at 386]. Mr. Watts claims that the R&R states that he had “‘convictions for trafficking in cocaine and marijuana;' Whereas, the testimony was that Mr. Watts had ‘a trafficking in cocaine' conviction.” [DE 96, at 386; DE 85, at 233]. During the hearing, Detective Beckham testified that the CourtNet database was used to ascertain Mr. Watts's criminal history. [DE 85, at 230]. Mr. Watts's CourtNet, information, entered as Government Exhibit 3 at the Suppression Hearing, clearly denotes that Mr. Watts had multiple convictions for trafficking in cocaine and marijuana. He was convicted of trafficking in marijuana in 2009 and trafficking in cocaine in 2010. Therefore, Magistrate Judge Lindsay's Findings of Fact included an accurate criminal history.

         Second, Mr. Watts objects to “the finding of fact that a female driver raised a concern regarding the potential destruction of evidence.” [DE 96, at 386]. Mr. Watts objects because there is no contemporaneous record to support the testimony given about this statement. [DE 96, at 386]. Defendant Charles Williams was pulled over for a traffic stop after he left the Malibu Court Apartment. [DE 85, at 204, 206-207, 212, 261]. Williams was found in possession of marijuana and heroin. Id. During the stop, a female passerby was heard saying something like “they have got Charles.” [DE 93, at 372; DN 85, at 204, 262]. The two officers conducting the stop, Detective Farmer and Sergeant Luckett, both testified that they heard this or a similar statement, and that it “made them concerned that someone was being alerted that Williams had been arrested.” [DE 93, at 372; DE 85, at 204-05; 262].

         “The Magistrate Judge, as the fact-finder who sees and hears witnesses, is uniquely situated to assess the credibility of the witnesses. Thus, this Court must ‘accord[] great deference to such credibility determinations.'” United States v. Conway, No. 17-43-DLB-CJS, 2018 WL 3435353, at *5 (E.D. Ky. July 17, 2018); United States v. Crawford, No. 17-34-DLB-CJS, 2018 WL 3388135, at * 10 (E.D. Ky. July 12, 2018). Magistrate Judge Lindsay was able to assess the credibility of Detective Farmer and Sergeant Luckett's testimony and his decision to accept the officer's statements should be give deference.

         Accordingly, the Court overrules Mr. Watts's objections to the findings of fact contained in the R&R. The R&R's factual findings are thus incorporated by reference and relied on as true for purposes of discussing Mr. Watts's objections to Magistrate Judge Lindsay's legal analysis.

         C. Objection to Use of Criminal History as Support for Reasonable Suspicion.

         Mr. Watts objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that his past criminal convictions for drug trafficking were a contributing factor that supported a reasonable suspicion to stop him. [DE 96, at 387]. Mr. Watts states that the remaining facts were insufficient to support reasonable suspicion because his past criminal conviction cannot support reasonable suspicion. Id. Reasonable suspicion does not rise to the level of probable cause and falls short of the preponderance of the evidence standard. United States v. Arvizu,534 U.S. 266, 274 (2002) (citing United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989)). In justifying reasonable suspicion, an officer must rely on more than a hunch and “must be able to point to specific and articulable facts, which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968). “An investigative stop must be justified by some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez,449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981). When determining whether ...


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