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United States v. Sheckles

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

April 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
DWAYNE SHECKLES Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Dwayne Sheckles's Motion to Suppress Evidence. [DE 90]. Briefing is complete, and the Motion is ripe. [See DE 95; DE 101]. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Sheckles's Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Louisville District Office (“LDO”) and Louisville Metro Narcotics (“Metro Narcotics”) began investigating potential drug trafficking activities allegedly involving Sheckles. [DE 1, Compl. at 3]. Law enforcement obtained a tracking warrant that “pinged” the location of Sheckles's mobile phone, eventually leading them to Crescent Centre Apartments (“Crescent Centre”), located at 644 South 3rd Street in Louisville, Kentucky. [DE 56, Tr. Supp. Hearing Vol. I at 193:16-19].

         On July 11, 2017, Detectives Evans and Bowling observed Sheckles's rented Ford Expedition parked in Crescent Centre's secure parking garage. [DE 1, Compl. at 3]. Detectives Evans and Bowling physically entered the parking garage on that date. [DE 56, Tr. Supp. Hearing Vol. I at 221:16-18].

         On July 12th, Detective Evans spoke with Crescent Centre management, which informed him of an anonymous complaint that drugs were being sold from Apartment 234. [Id. at 194:18- 25, 195:1-4]. Detective Evans reviewed surveillance footage of the parking garage and observed Sheckles exiting his vehicle in Apartment 234's designated space. [Id. at 195:7-19]. Crescent Centre management then brought Detective Evans to view a nearby vacant apartment, where Detective Evans “smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from 234.” [Id. at 280:18-23].

         Later, LDO and Metro Narcotics observed Sheckles leaving Crescent Centre and conducted an investigative stop. [DE 1 at 3]. DEA Agent Sanders and members of Metro Narcotics smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle. [Id.]. K-9 handler Detective Brett Hankison received a positive indication from K-9 Franklin on the vehicle. [Id.]. Upon search of the vehicle, Detective Hankison recovered a handgun from the center console. [Id.].

         On July 13th, Officer Evans applied for and received a warrant to search Apartment 234 based on probable cause established prior to the July 12th stop. [Id. at 3-4]. During the search, LDO seized approximately 1, 565 grams of suspected heroin and 144 grams of crystal methamphetamine. [Id. at 4]. LDO also seized two handguns and an AR 15 rifle. [Id.]. Later that day, the United States filed a criminal complaint against Sheckles on charges related to drug possession and trafficking, and gun possession. [DE 1; DE 22; DE 98].

         On January 16, 2018, Sheckles moved to suppress, among other things, the Crescent Centre search. [DE 33 at 117-20]. Then, on August 31, 2018, Sheckles moved to suppress cell phones seized during a separate incident in March 2017. [DE 68]. The Court referred the motions to Magistrate Judge Lindsay who, after a two-day evidentiary hearing, recommended in a Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (“R&R”) that the Court deny both motions in their entirety. [DE 78]. Sheckles filed timely objections to the R&R. [DE 79]. The Court overruled Sheckles's objections and adopted the R&R without modification. [DE 80].

         On April 2, 2019, Sheckles filed a second Motion to Suppress Evidence related to the Crescent Centre search warrant. [DE 90]. The United States filed a timely response [DE 95], and Sheckles filed a timely reply [DE 101].

         DISCUSSION

         Sheckles argues that fruits of the Crescent Centre search warrant should be suppressed because Detectives Evans and Bowling unlawfully entered the Crescent Centre parking garage on July 11th. [DE 90 at 465]. Sheckles asserts that the detectives' observation of Sheckles's vehicle parked in Apartment 234's designated space formed a critical part of the probable cause supporting the search warrant. [Id.]. Specifically, Sheckles claims that “the only alleged probable cause to search the apartment came from the unlawful access into the locked parking garage, which led to Evans[] discovering Sheckles'[s] vehicle parked in a spot for a particular apartment number, which led to questioning management about that apartment, which led to learning of the complaint about drug use in that apartment.” [Id. at 466-67]. Thus, according to Sheckles, any evidence originating from the unlawful parking-garage search, including the traffic stop and search warrant, must be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. [Id. at 467].

         The United States opposes Sheckles's motion in its entirety and argues that “the earlier two-day evidentiary hearing on suppression offers ample evidence of the sufficiency of the probable cause supporting the search warrant for the Crescent Centre apartment, ” and thus law enforcement had independent sources of information to support the warrant. [DE 95 at 492-93].[1]

         “The independent[-]source rule holds that evidence will be admitted if the government shows that it was discovered through sources ‘wholly independent of any constitutional violation.'” United States v. Jenkins,396 F.3d 751, 757 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Leake, 95 F.3d 409, 412 (6th Cir. 1996)). In deciding whether the independent-source rule allows the admission of evidence that would otherwise be excluded, courts “should keep in mind the underlying question: ‘whether, granting establishment of the primary illegality, [the evidence has] been come at by the exploitation of the illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.'” Leake, 95 F.3d at 412 (quoting Wong Sun v. United States,371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963)). “If the application for a warrant contains probable cause apart from the improper information, then the warrant is lawful and the independent[-]source doctrine applies, providing that the officers were not prompted to obtain the warrant by what they observed during the initial entry.” Jenkins, 396 F.3d at 758 ...


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