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United States v. Sylvester

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MAURICE SYLVESTER (03)

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Police officers arrested Defendant Maurice Sylvester on November 5, 2018, when they executed a search warrant at a suspected drug house in South Bend, Indiana. Following Sylvester's arrest, officers transported him to a local police station, where a search of his person turned up $1, 200 in drug money. Investigators proceeded to interview him based on his alleged connection to the house and the activities conducted there.

         Sylvester faces one count of possession with conspiracy to distribute over 500 grams of methamphetamine and one count of distribution of over 50 grams of methamphetamine. [DE 17][1] He now moves to suppress the evidence obtained following his arrest, including specifically the drug money and the statements he made to police during his interview. [DE 41] He also asks the Court to suppress his entire recorded interview based on various alleged violations of his Fifth Amendment rights. [DE 42] The Court held an evidentiary hearing on these motions on March 6, 2019. [DE 75] For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Sylvester limited relief.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Police officers working together as part of the LaPorte County Drug Task Force investigated a suspected drug distribution operation based out of a house at 601 South Illinois Street in South Bend, Indiana. Members of this task force included Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) agents, Michigan City Police Department detectives, and Indiana State Police. As part of their investigation, the officers conducted multiple controlled drug buys in late October and early November 2018. During these buys, officers performed surveillance on the house and observed Sylvester's codefendants taking part in the staged transactions. At no point did officers observe Sylvester participating in these buys.

         Based on their surveillance, the officers obtained a warrant to search the house. On November 5, 2018, no more than a few minutes after consummating another drug buy with Sylvester's codefendants, the officers executed that warrant. Officers knocked on the back door, announced their presence, waited, and breached the entrance with weapons drawn. After the officers secured the kitchen and living room, three individuals emerged from the nearest bedroom with their hands raised: Kenneth Sanders (one of Sylvester's codefendants); Walter Spears; and Sylvester. The officers knew who Sanders was-they had previously seen him exit the house to hand off suspected drug packages during several of the controlled buys. The officers did not know Spears, although according to the government, Spears later informed them that his family owned the house and that he was in the process of selling it to Sanders and Sylvester. [DE 50-1 at 18] None of the officers present had identified Sylvester prior to that moment. The officers secured all three men in handcuffs.

         Before even beginning their search of the house, officers noticed large quantities of drugs and drug paraphernalia throughout the house and in the open. Based on this observation, ATF Special Agent Ryan Johnson (who directed the operation) decided that Sylvester should be arrested for visiting a common nuisance. Officers then escorted Sylvester outside where a uniformed South Bend Police Department officer patted him down, placed him in a marked car, and drove him to a local police station.

         Once at the station, South Bend police conducted a more thorough body search of Sylvester and found $1, 200 in controlled buy money in his underwear. Shortly thereafter, Detective John Dupont of the Indiana State Police and an unnamed ATF agent[2] interviewed Sylvester, during which they asked him about basic biographical information, advised him of his Miranda rights, and then proceeded to question him regarding his suspected involvement in the drug distribution ring. In total, the interview lasted just over twelve minutes.

         DISCUSSION

         As stated at the outset, Sylvester now seeks to suppress the drug money found on his person, as well as his statements made to investigators during the interview. He advances two main legal arguments: first, that the officers arrested him without probable cause; and second, that the interviewing investigators violated his Fifth Amendment rights. As explained below, however, only one subset of this second argument will succeed because the interviewing officers impermissibly continued to question Sylvester after he invoked his right to remain silent. The remainder of Sylvester's arguments will not prevail.

         A. Probable Cause to Arrest

          Sylvester first challenges whether the officers had probable cause to arrest him after executing their search warrant. He claims they did not, and so he seeks to suppress the $1, 200 in drug money subsequently found in his underwear as fruit of an unlawful arrest. See United States v. Chagoya-Morales, 859 F.3d 411, 417 (7th Cir. 2017) (“The exclusionary rule, which permits trial courts to exclude unlawfully seized evidence, encompasses both the ‘primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure' and ‘evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality,' the so-called ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.'”) (quoting Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 804 (1984)). But because ample probable cause supported Sylvester's arrest, his request will be denied.

         A police officer has probable cause for an arrest if, at the time of the arrest, the “facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge … are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.” Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979); Gonzalez v. City of Elgin, 578 F.3d 526, 537 (7th Cir. 2009). “‘[A] finding of probable cause does not require evidence sufficient to support a conviction, nor even evidence demonstrating that it is more likely than not that the suspect committed a crime.'” United States v. Williams, 627 F.3d 247, 252 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Funches, 327 F.3d 582, 587 (7th Cir. 2003)). “Probable cause … ‘is a fluid concept that relies on the common-sense judgment of the officers based on the totality of the circumstances.'” Jones v. City of Elkhart, 737 F.3d 1107, 1114 (7th Cir. 2013); Thayer v. Chiczewski, 705 F.3d 237, 246 (2012) (quoting United States v. Reed, 443 F.3d 600, 603 (7th Cir. 2006)). In determining whether probable cause exists, a court does not evaluate “the facts as an omniscient observer would perceive them, ” but rather “as they would have appeared to a reasonable person in the position of the arresting officer.” Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2006); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 686 (7th Cir. 2008).

         At the hearing, Special Agent Johnson testified that he determined Sylvester should be placed under arrest because the officers had probable cause to believe that he was committing the Indiana state crime of visiting a common nuisance. In Indiana, a person who knowingly or intentionally visits a building, structure, or other place used for the manufacture, storage, sale, delivery, or use of a controlled substance commits visiting a common nuisance, a Class B misdemeanor. Ind. Code. §§ 35-45-1-5(a)(3), (b)(1)(C). According to Special Agent Johnson, he made the decision to arrest based on the fact that the officers saw drug paraphernalia and “pounds” of methamphetamine in the open immediately upon entering the house. That evidence, coupled with the officers' previous observations of traffic patterns at the house during the staged drug buys, led them to believe that the house was a source of drug supply-in essence, a drug house. Furthermore, Sylvester could not have been in the house without knowing that it was indeed used for the supply, sale, storage, etc. of controlled substances given the conspicuousness of the drugs, baggies, and scales. The bag of methamphetamine was situated directly to the left of the house's front door, and the drug paraphernalia was found only a few steps from the house's back door (in the kitchen). Given the location of these items near the two external doorways and the house's small size, anyone entering or occupying the house could not have ignored them. Therefore, the Court agrees that the officers had probable cause to arrest Sylvester for visiting a common nuisance. See United States v. Bullock, 632 F.3d 1004, 1021-23 (7th Cir. 2011) (holding officers had probable cause to arrest defendant for visiting a common nuisance under Indiana law after defendant exited a suspected drug house; subsequent search of house revealed marijuana in plain view on dining room table, such that anyone walking through the house could not have overlooked its presence).

         But regardless of Special Agent Johnson's stated basis for arrest, probable cause likewise existed for him to arrest Sylvester for possession of methamphetamine-a felony in Indiana. Indeed, “[a]n arrest is constitutional if it is made with probable cause for an offense, even if the arresting officer's stated or subjective reason for the arrest was for a different offense.” Muhammad v. Pearson, 900 F.3d 898, 908 (7th Cir. 2018) (emphasis added and citing Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153 (2004)). In other words, Special Agent Johnson's subjective reason for arresting Sylvester “need not be the criminal offense as to which the known facts provide probable cause.” Devenpeck, 543 U.S. at 143.

         Under Indiana law, “[a] person who, without a valid prescription or order of a practitioner acting in the course of the practitioner's professional practice, knowingly or intentionally possesses methamphetamine (pure or adulterated) commits possession of methamphetamine.” Ind. Code § 35-48-4-6.1(a). A conviction for possession of methamphetamine may be supported by proof of actual or constructive possession. Goliday v. State, 708 N.E.2d 4, 6 (Ind. 1999). Constructive possession hinges on a showing that a defendant “has both (1) the intent to maintain dominion and control and (2) the capability to maintain dominion and control over the contraband.” Id. “The State must demonstrate the defendant's knowledge of the presence of the [methamphetamine] to prove the intent element.” Armour v. State, 762 N.E.2d 208, 216 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002) (citing id.). Where, as here, the defendant does not have exclusive dominion and control over the premises that contains the contraband, this knowledge may be inferred from additional circumstances, such as: (1) incriminating statements by the defendant; (2) attempted flight or furtive gestures; (3) a drug manufacturing setting; (4) proximity of the defendant to the drugs; (5) drugs in plain view; and (6) location of the drugs in close proximity to items owned by the defendant. Mack v. State, 23 N.E.3d 742, 759 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014) (citations omitted). The second element (capability to control) requires a showing that the defendant “is able to reduce the controlled substance to his personal possession.” Armour, 762 N.E.2d at 216 (citation omitted).

         In Armour, the Indiana appellate court determined that officers had probable cause to arrest the defendant for constructive possession of cocaine. See generally, id. In that case, the defendant and two other individuals occupied a hotel room. Even though the defendant was not the registered guest assigned to the room, the arresting officer nonetheless had probable cause to arrest him after observing in plain view a crack pipe lying on the bed, a black bag with test tubes in it, plastic baggies, a white/yellow residue on the table, and a bag containing what appeared to be marijuana. Id. at 215. The court determined that, given the defendant's close proximity to the drugs in plain view, “he was clearly aware that the cocaine was in the room and could have reduced the cocaine to his personal possession.” Id. at 216.

         Upon entering the house here, as mentioned above, the officers were confronted by a clear, open shopping bag containing a large quantity of methamphetamine.[3] The bag was sitting on the living room couch. Next to this bag, also on the couch, was a small digital scale. In the adjacent kitchen, officers observed drug paraphernalia resting in the open atop a black microwave, including another digital scale, a measuring cup, and plastic baggies. These items, as well as the surface of the microwave, were covered in a white powdery residue. Sylvester came out of a bedroom with his hands up; the bedroom was located adjacent to the living room, mere feet from both the methamphetamine and paraphernalia. Special Agent Johnson testified that the officers observed a bag of marijuana in the open as well.

         Plainly, these circumstances provided the officers with probable cause to arrest Sylvester not only for visiting a common nuisance, but also for possessing methamphetamine. Although Sylvester did not have exclusive control over the premises, the officers could infer his knowledge of and intent to control the methamphetamine based on his close proximity to the drugs, the drugs being in plain view, and the fact that the officers had discovered a drug manufacturing setting. See Mack, 23 N.E.3d at 759. And, as in Armour, Sylvester's close proximity to methamphetamine in plain view supports a finding that he could have reduced it to his ...


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