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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

March 26, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES NICHOLAS SMITH, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          James Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge

         James Smith was arrested for providing false information to the police. During a search incident to arrest, police officers found cash, a gun, drugs, and scales. Defendant has filed a motion to suppress, arguing that these items were discovered and seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Dkt. [29]. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. Facts

         Six Terre Haute police officers went to a Motel 6 in connection with an investigation of an individual named Evan Sapp, who was reported to be armed and dangerous. Dkt. 29-2; dkt. 36-1 ¶ 4. One of the officers, Sergeant Lockard, saw Sapp standing next to Defendant, James Smith, outside the Motel 6. Dkt. 29-2. Sergeant Lockard observed Defendant walking back and forth, looking over his shoulder, and frequently changing his direction of travel. Id. Sergeant Lockard notified the other officers by radio of Defendant's odd behavior. Dkt. 36-1 ¶ 6.

         Detective LaFave heard the report from Sergeant Lockard, saw Defendant, and also concluded that Defendant was acting suspiciously. Id.; dkt. 29-2. Detective LaFave, with his gun holstered and his badge visible, approached Defendant outside of the Motel 6 shortly after Defendant exited the building. Dkt. 29-2; dkt. 36-1 ¶ 7. He asked Defendant if he could talk to him, and Defendant agreed. Dkt. 36-1 ¶ 8.

         Detective LaFave asked Defendant for his name, and Defendant replied, “Nick Smith.” Id.; dkt. 29-2. Detective LaFave thought he recognized Defendant from an investigation of an individual named James Smith. Dkt. 29-2; dkt. 36-1 ¶ 8. Detective LaFave pulled up a picture of James Smith on his phone and recognized him as the man he was speaking with who had just identified himself as Nick Smith. Dkt. 36-1 ¶ 8. Detective LaFave also noticed a unique tattoo on Defendant that matched one of James Smith's tattoos. Id. ¶ 9; dkt. 29-2.

         Detective LaFave told Defendant he did not believe his name was Nick Smith and continued to ask him his name. Dkt. 29-2; dkt. 36-1 ¶ 10. Defendant, starting to sweat and looking nervous, insisted that his name was Nick Smith. Dkt. 29-2; dkt. 36-1 ¶¶ 9, 10. Defendant also claimed that he did not have a middle name. Dkt. 36-1 ¶ 10. Detective LaFave then asked Defendant to show him the tattoo again, but Defendant refused. Dkt. 29-2. Convinced that Defendant was trying to mislead him, Detective LaFave arrested Defendant for False Informing. Dkt. 36-1 ¶ 12.

         During a search incident to arrest, officers recovered $1, 064 in U.S. currency from Defendant's pockets and a gun, methamphetamine, marijuana, digital scales, two cell phones, and two hotel room keys from his backpack. Dkt. 29-2.

         Defendant was indicted for possession with intent to distribute, carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm. Dkt. 1. Defendant filed a motion to suppress, seeking to exclude the evidence obtained from the search. Dkt. 29.

         II. Discussion

         The Fourth Amendment protects citizens “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. The principal remedy for a violation of this right is the exclusionary rule, which “requires trial courts to exclude unlawfully seized evidence in a criminal trial.” Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 2061 (2016). Here, Defendant argues that the exclusionary rule applies because he was subjected to an unlawful investigatory stop and thereafter unlawfully searched. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Detective LaFave's conversation with Defendant

         Defendant contends he was subjected to an unlawful investigatory stop, also known as a Terry stop, when Detective LaFave asked if he would speak with him. But “law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place . . . .”, Fla. v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991) (quoting Fla. v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497 (1983)), and “a seizure does not occur merely because a police officer approaches an individual and asks him or her questions, ” United States v. Smith, 794 F.3d 681, 684 (7th Cir. 2015). No. justification is needed for consensual encounters because participation is voluntary and a “reasonable person would feel free to disregard the police and go about his or her business.” Id.[1] So long as the police-citizen encounter is consensual, there is no Fourth Amendment scrutiny.

         To determine whether an encounter between police and a citizen in a public place is consensual, the “crucial test” is whether a reasonable person would believe that he or she was not free to ignore the police and leave. Bostick, 501 U.S. at 437. A court considers all facts and circumstances, such as: (1) “the threatening presence of several officers, ” (2) whether the police officers display their weapons, (3) any “physical touching of the private citizen, ” (4) the “use of forceful language or tone of voice, ” (5) the location of the encounter, (6) “whether police made statements to the citizen intimating that he or she was a suspect of a crime, ” (7) “whether the citizen's freedom of movement was intruded upon in some way, ” and (8) “whether the officers informed the ...


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