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United States v. Byers

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

November 15, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES BYERS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Damon R. Leichty Judge

         Mr. Charles Byers filed a motion to suppress evidence collected during his November 19, 2018 encounter with Fort Wayne law enforcement, Officers Rae Jackson and Ryan Nystuen. Mr. Byers argues that the evidence from this encounter was procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         The court now adopts the well-supported recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. ECF 35.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 28, 2018, Mr. Byers was charged in a three-count indictment with unlawfully possessing a firearm, possessing with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(c); 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Mr. Byers pleaded not guilty to the charges.

         Mr. Byers filed a motion to suppress evidence on March 12, 2019. The government opposed the motion, and the matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). An evidentiary hearing on the motion was held on May 14, 2019. On October 3, the Magistrate Judge entered her recommendation denying the motion (ECF 35), to which Mr. Byers objected on October 11 (ECF 36). The objection is now ripe for decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)-(B), a magistrate judge may not issue a final order on a motion to suppress evidence in a criminal case. Instead, the magistrate judge submits proposed findings of fact and recommendations to the district court. If a party files a timely objection to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, § 636(b)(1) provides that:

A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

De novo review does not require a new evidentiary hearing, even when witness credibility is at issue. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673-76 (1980). Neither party has requested such a hearing, and the court finds the record appropriately developed for its de novo review.

         DISCUSSION

         In his objection, Mr. Byers maintains that his encounter with Officer Jackson was a seizure, not a consensual encounter. He argues that Officer Jackson did not have reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop or for officers to search his vehicle after his arrest. Specifically, Mr. Byers argues that the Magistrate Judge incorrectly applied Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 351 (2009); United States v. Packer, 15 F.3d 654 (7th Cir. 1994); and United States v. Lechuga, 925 F.2d 1035 (7th Cir. 1991). Today, Fourth Amendment precedents guide the court to deny the motion to suppress.

         The court turns first to the issue of seizure. A law enforcement encounter may be a seizure if, “taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.” United States v. Packer, 15 F.3d 654, 657 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991)). Factors relevant to this determination include:

(1) whether the encounter occurred in a public place; (2) whether the suspect consented to speak with the officers; (3) whether the officers informed the individual that he was not under arrest and was free to leave; (4) whether the individuals were moved to another area; (5) whether there was a threatening presence of several officers and a display of weapons or physical force; (6) whether the officers deprived the defendant of documents she needed to continue ...

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