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United States v. Seymour

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 28, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Terrance Deshun Seymour, Defendant.

          Thomas Calhoun‐Lopez, Assistant United States Attorney, Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Douglas Olson, Assistant Federal Defender, Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. DAVIS United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge dated January 10, 2017 in which she recommends the Court deny Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of search and seizure and Defendant’s motion to suppress statements, admissions and answers.

         Pursuant to statute, the Court has conducted a de novo review of the record. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.2(b). Based on that review, the Court finds that the initial search of the Defendant’s residence was not a permissible search under the community caretaker exception to the warrant requirement. Accordingly, the Court will not adopt the Report and Recommendation and will grant Defendant’s motions to suppress evidence and statements.

         ANALYSIS

         One exception to the requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant based on probable cause prior to searching a residence is “the need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury. ‘The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an exigency.’” Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (quoting Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978)). “Accordingly, law enforcement officers may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.” Id.

         The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly recognized that a “‘community caretaker’ classification may justify noninvestigatory searches and seizures in certain limited situations.” United States v. Smith, 820 F.3d 356, 360 (8th Cir. 2016). “A police officer may enter a residence without a warrant as a community caretaker where the officer has a reasonable belief that an emergency exists requiring his or her attention.” Id. (quoting United States v. Quezada, 448 F.3d 1005, 1007 (8th Cir. 2006)). “When police must make a split‐second decision in the face of an emergency to either stand idly by, permitting a dangerous situation to continue uninterrupted, or act, addressing the potential danger to protect the public, we have reasoned that officers are expected to act.” United States v. Harris, 747 F.3d 1013, 1018 (8th Cir. 2014).

         While the reasonable belief standard applied in these situations is less exacting than probable cause, such belief must be based on specific and articulable facts that outweigh the defendant’s interests in freedom from government intrusion. Id. An action may be deemed reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the officer’s subjective state of mind, if “the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify [the] action.” Id. (quoting Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138 (1978)).

         Based on the evidence presented at the motions hearing, Minneapolis Officers Anderson and Moua were on routine patrol in the Fourth Precinct on February 5, 2015. At approximately 9:00 p.m., they received a call from dispatch concerning a 911 call. The information provided to the police was that a caller called 911 and said “there’s two men that came inside the house with guns.”(Transcript at 9.) The police were also given the address of the subject house. (Id.) Based on the testimony of Officer Anderson, that is the only information they received from dispatch.[1]

         Officer Anderson testified that they drove to the house in question, and parked a few houses away. (T. at 11.) The officers got out of their squad car and approached the house on foot. (Id.) When they first approached the house, the officers did not detect any signs of stress or yelling coming from inside the house. (Id.) The officers then looked in the windows and saw no one or anything of concern. (Id. at 12.) The officers then knocked on the door, which was quickly answered by a male, later identified as Dominic Peace, who let the officers into the home. (Id. at 12, 28.) Upon entering, the police officers immediately detained Peace and searched him for weapons. (Id. at 14.) Peace did not have a weapon on him. (Id. at 29.) At this time, additional officers arrived at the scene. (Id. at 14.) Thereafter, the officers conducted a sweep of the house to make sure it was safe for the officers and to make sure that no one inside the house posed a threat. (Id. at 15.) The officers did not encounter any other individual in the home after completing the sweep. (Id.) One officer did observe a short barreled shotgun on a rack in a closet in one of the bedrooms. (Id. at 16.)

         After the house was cleared, the officers observed that a white vehicle was driving back and forth in the alley behind the home. (Id. at 19.) Eventually, the car parked in the driveway. (Id.) The officers questioned the occupants of the car and learned that the female, identified as Bree Majeski, lived at the house. (Id.) Ms. Majeski told officers that Mr. Peace was a friend of Terrance. (Id. at 22.) In response to the officer’s questions, Ms. Majeski indicated that Terrance also lived at the house, and that his bedroom was the one in which the shotgun was found in the closet. (Id. at 23.)

         At about that time, the Defendant ‐ Terrance Seymour ‐ approached the home from the alley. (Id. at 22.) When they learned his identity, officers arrested the Defendant because of the discovery of the short barreled shotgun in his bedroom. (Id. at 24.) The Defendant was then taken to the Hennepin County Jail, where he was subjected to a search. (Id. at 40.) After a small amount of marijuana was found in his front pocket, the deputy obtained permission to conduct a strip search. The deputy found two bags of a white powdery substance between the Defendant’s buttocks. (Id. at 42.) The Defendant was later indicted on the charge of possession of an unregistered firearm in violation of 26 U.S.C. 5841 and 5871.

         To determine whether the search was reasonable in this case, the Court must focus on those objective facts known to the officers before the search was conducted. In this case, the officers were notified of a 911 call in which the caller reported that two men entered a house with guns. Clearly, in and of itself, entering a home with guns is not illegal. Once they arrived at the house, the officers did not see or hear anything that would suggest someone was in danger. When the officers knocked on the door, the knock was ...


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