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United States v. Gibson

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 19, 2018




         After events that transpired late in the evening on December 13 and into the morning of December 14, 2016, the Defendant, Shon Gibson, was arrested and charged with possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine and with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had already been investigating the Defendant for dealing methamphetamine, agents had not anticipated arresting the Defendant that evening. The Defendant's interaction with local police on December 13, as well as information the Defendant's wife had provided earlier that same day regarding contraband inside their residence, prompted law enforcement to obtain a search warrant for the residence. The Defendant seeks to prevent the Government from introducing incriminating evidence discovered during the execution of the search warrant, as well as the information that was provided as grounds for obtaining the warrant, arguing that none of it would have been obtained but for an unlawful stop that took place earlier in the evening of December 13.


         On January 17, 2017, the Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, to Suppress Evidence [ECF No. 20]. The Defendant requested that the Court “dismiss the indictment against him or, in the alternative, to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the search of Gibson's home on December 13, 2016, and any subsequent custodial interrogation.” (Def.'s Mot. 1.) His first challenge was to the decision of a Wolcottville police officer to stop the Defendant and his companion as they walked near a residential area. He argued that the stop was made in the absence of reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity was afoot. Although no evidence was seized during the stop, and the Defendant was allowed to leave, the officer subsequently found a glass pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamine laying on the ground underneath the officer's squad car. Seeking to further investigate the Defendant's possible connection to the pipe, police conducted a traffic stop of the Defendant in his vehicle later that night. The Defendant complained that the stop was made after the Defendant had already pulled his vehicle onto the curtilage of his property. Therefore, when officers used a drug detection dog to search his vehicle, it was in direct violation of Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013). The dog signaled to the presence of a controlled substance inside of the vehicle, [1] and, according to the Defendant's Motion, the police used this information and the meth pipe to obtain a search warrant for the residence.[2]

         The search uncovered several pieces of incriminating evidence, including drugs, drug paraphernalia, currency, and AK-47 rifles. The Defendant was arrested. On December 16, 2016, a grand jury returned a two count indictment against him. The Defendant argues that the evidence seized at his home, and any contemporaneous and subsequent statements by anyone at the home, were the direct result of an illegal stop, search, and arrest.

         Upon referral from this Court, Magistrate Judge Susan L. Collins held an evidentiary hearing on February 28, 2017. Believing that the Defendant was challenging the legality of the initial stop and the traffic stop, including the dog sniff, the hearing testimony was limited to those events. However, the parties also acknowledged that, after the traffic stop, a search warrant had been obtained for the Defendant's residence. The Government noted that the Defendant had not challenged the search warrant affidavit, and that probable cause with regard to the affidavit was not relevant to the evidentiary hearing because there had been no showing for a Franks hearing. The parties agreed that the correct analysis of the affidavit was within its four corners. The search warrant affidavit was not presented as an exhibit during the hearing, but it was agreed that it could be presented as an exhibit with the post-hearing briefing.

         In the Defendant's post-hearing brief [ECF No. 28], he analyzed the lawfulness of the initial stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and subsequent case law. Arguing that the stop was illegal under the Fourth Amendment, the Defendant asserted that “the entirety of the evidence against [him] must be suppressed.” (Def.'s Br. 10) Relying on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, he maintained that the initial “illegal stop . . . provided the sole grounds for the traffic stop, ” and that this “provided the sole grounds to detain [the Defendant] for an extended period of time on his own property, ” which then “gave rise to the series of events that would culminate in [the Defendant]'s wife emerging from her own home, allegedly providing the sole basis for the resulting search warrant.” (Id.)

         The Government's Response Brief [ECF No. 35] defended the initial stop of the Defendant, which also included a pat down for weapons, as being supported by reasonable suspicion. With respect to the traffic stop, the Government argued that it was supported by probable cause that the Defendant committed a traffic violation. Thus, regardless of whether it was problematic to investigate the abandoned methamphetamine pipe, the stop was justified. The Government further noted that the edge of the driveway, where the Defendant stopped his vehicle, was not within the curtilage of the home. Regarding the Defendant's argument that the scope and duration of the traffic stop exceeded permissible bounds for a routine traffic stop, and that this purported violation caused the Defendant's wife to exit the house and provide information for the search warrant, the Government noted that it was a new argument. The Government submitted that Mrs. Gibson's voluntary statements were sufficiently attenuated as to dissipate the taint of any illegality that may have existed. The Government noted that the Defendant had not addressed attentuation, but simply assumed that “but for” causation was sufficient to suppress evidence. Because the Defendant had not mentioned the scope and duration of the traffic stop, or argued that it led to the Defendant's wife providing information for the search warrant, the Government requested a supplementary hearing to present additional evidence.

         The Defendant's Reply Brief [ECF No. 36] took issue with the Government's portrayal of the level of suspicion that existed before the initial stop. The Defendant continued to maintain that all evidence obtained on the night of December 13, 2016, therefore, was unlawfully obtained. He alleged that the purported traffic violation was made up after the fact, as evidence by the fact that the officer did not mention it to the Defendant as the basis for the stop. The Defendant did not agree that a supplemental hearing was necessary, and argued that the Court could determine that attenuation did not apply based on the existing record.

         The Magistrate Judge acknowledged the parties' arguments regarding a supplemental hearing, and found that the Defendant's original motion did not sufficiently raise the issue of the scope and duration of the traffic stop. Neither had it adequately pointed to Mrs. Gibson's pre-search statements as problematic. Rather, the Defendant's discussion of the traffic stop had focused on the officers' warrantless use of a drug detection dog to search his vehicle while it was on the curtilage of his residential property. The Defendant had argued that the search warrant for his home was obtained on the basis of the drug dog's search. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge conducted a second evidentiary hearing on September 14, 2017.

         Two DEA task force agents testified at the hearing. The agents testified that they had been receiving information from Mrs. Gibson on a weekly basis since October 31, 2016. They also testified that Mrs. Gibson had met with them on December 13, told them about methamphetamine inside the house, and showed them pictures on her phone. When the traffic stop occurred later that same day, Mrs. Gibson called one of the agents about ten minutes into the traffic stop upset because the agents had told her they were not going to arrest the Defendant that night, or in a manner that would reveal her cooperation. The agents came to the scene to talk to Mrs. Gibson, assuring her that the traffic stop was not initiated by their investigation. The investigating agents then discarded their previous plan for how the investigation would proceed, and law enforcement relied on the same information Mrs. Gibson had provided to the agents earlier in the day to apply for a search warrant.

         The Defendant submitted his Brief Following the Continued Motion to Suppress Hearing [ECF No. 42] to address the testimony of the two DEA task force agents. The Defendant questioned why, if it was the Government's position that Mrs. Gibson's statements were admissible regardless of any prior illegal search or seizure, the Government had “called two witnesses at the initial hearing, and forced all parties to brief matters that it now claims are completely irrelevant.” (Def.'s Br. 5.) The Defendant further alleged that the testimony from the supplemental hearing was incompatible with the testimony from the initial hearing, particularly the testimony involving the traffic stop. The Defendant asked the Court to view the Government's justification as “an acknowledgement [sic] that the various stops and arrests of [the Defendant] were illegal, followed by a desperate, evidentiarly-unsupported attempt to salvage the evidence obtained as a result.” (Id. 6-7.)

         The Government, in its Supplemental Response Brief [ECF No. 46], argued that both stops were lawful and that, even if the second stop lasted too long, the statements of the Defendant's wife were voluntarily made and were not derived from the traffic stop outside her residence. The Government countered the Defendant's argument about the initial hearing and briefs by noting that the Government still maintained that both stops were lawful throughout, and that the methamphetamine pipe is incriminating evidence that it intends to use against the Defendant. Beyond that, the Government asserted that the officers were justified in keeping the Defendant from entering his residence while they obtained a search warrant. The Government's brief also emphasized that live witness testimony was less susceptible to exclusion as fruit of the poisonous tree than other types of evidence.

         In his final brief [ECF No. 47], the Defendant called the Government's reference to live witness testimony a “strawman” because Mrs. Gibson did not testify at either evidentiary hearing. He submitted that Mrs. Gibson's prior cooperation, which the Government pointed to in support of the voluntariness of her statements, is not relevant to the determination of probable cause because it is not in the four corners of the search warrant affidavit.[3] Finally, the Defendant reiterated that the testimony of different witnesses regarding the traffic stop was not compatible. He argued:

The Government essentially asks this Court to pick from one of two mutually antagonistic scenarios, both of which were advanced by the Government depending on which hearing transcript one reads. In the first, Gibson is a known drug dealer whose arrest is the natural consequence of his wife's long cooperation with law enforcement. In the other, the Government knows almost nothing about Gibson's history, and the search of his home and subsequent arrest come only after Gibson is illegally detained twice, and after he continues to be detained after two searches of his vehicle fail to uncover any contraband. Because Gibson takes the Government at its initial presentation, he asks this Court to grant his Motion to Suppress, to dismiss the indictment against him, and for all other just and proper relief in the premises.

(Def.'s Supp'l Reply 4.)

         On January 29, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 48], recommending that the Court deny the Defendant's Motion to Suppress. The Magistrate Judge concluded that the initial encounter between Officer Brandon Garrison and the Defendant on the public roadway was consensual, and only turned into a seizure when Officer Garrison handcuffed the Defendant. Further, this seizure was supported by reasonable suspicion. The Magistrate Judge concluded that even if a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, the only incriminating evidence that was found-the meth pipe under the squad car after the Defendant was permitted to go on his way-was admissible under the plain view doctrine. The Report and Recommendation then turned to the traffic stop, finding that it was supported by probable cause that the Defendant had committed a traffic violation, and that officers were justified in investigating the discovery of the meth pipe. The Magistrate Judge recognized that two distinct chains of evidence existed, but found that the collective knowledge doctrine allowed officers to rely on both the events of the evening and the DEA's ongoing drug investigation to extend the duration of the traffic stop. The Magistrate Judge thus concluded that the duration and scope of the stop was reasonable, and that Mrs. Gibson's statement were also admissible. What is more, Mrs. Gibson's statements were sufficiently attenuated from any Fourth Amendment violation so that exclusion of her statements would not be warranted or appropriate.

         On February 6, 2018, the Defendant filed his Objection to Magistrate's Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 49], objecting to several of the Report's conclusions. First, the Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the Defendant's initial encounter with Officer Garrison began as a consensual one. He also objects to the conclusion that reasonable suspicion supported the seizure that occurred when the Defendant was placed in handcuffs later in the stop. He disagrees with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the use of handcuffs was reasonable. Finally, the Defendant maintains that the plain view doctrine does not apply. Based on these objections, all of which concern the initial encounter with police on December 13, 2016, the Defendant submits that his motion ...

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