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United States v. Golden

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 30, 2019






         Defendant Cornett Golden is charged with two counts of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). This matter is before the Court on Golden's objection to Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau's August 29, 2019 Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). Judge Rau recommends denying Golden's motions to (1) suppress evidence obtained as a result of the allegedly unlawful seizure and search of his person [ECF No. 23]; (2) suppress statements that he made during a custodial interrogation [ECF No. 24]; and (3) suppress witness identifications that were made at the scene of his arrest [ECF No. 25].

         The Court has conducted a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). Based on that review, the Court adopts the R&R to the extent that it is consistent with this order and denies Golden's motions to suppress.

         A. Background

         Golden is charged with robbing Firefly Credit Union on March 22, 2019, and TCF Bank on March 27, 2019. ECF No. 1. Shortly after the second robbery, police stopped a city bus on which Golden was a passenger, handcuffed him, and removed him from the bus. A subsequent search of Golden yielded cash containing a GPS tracker. Although there is no record evidence concerning any witness identifications, the parties agree that, after Golden's arrest, the police brought three witnesses from TCF Bank to view Golden at the scene of his arrest, and the witnesses made statements tending to identify him as the robber. Golden was then transported to the police station where, after being given Miranda warnings, he incriminated himself with respect to both robberies. According to the timestamps on the video exhibits of these events, all of this took place within the space of a few hours: The robbery of the TCF Bank occurred shortly after 3:30 pm, police arrested Golden at about 4:15 pm, and the interrogation began at about 5:30 pm and lasted about an hour and ten minutes.

         B. Analysis

         Before addressing the merits of Golden's suppression motions, the Court must address several threshold issues that have arisen because the government chose to devote its efforts in this case to arguing about how much work the government must do to defeat a suppression motion rather than to litigating the merits of the suppression motions pending before the Court. The government sharply (at times almost disrespectfully) argued to Judge Rau that Golden's motions should be summarily denied because, according to the government, Golden failed to identify specific constitutional violations and failed to cite specific evidence showing that there are genuine factual issues. At a minimum, the government argued, Golden was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. The Court regards these arguments as forfeited, as the government did not timely object to Judge Rau's rejection of them. The Court further regards the latter argument as moot, as Judge Rau held an evidentiary hearing (although neither party opted to call any witnesses).

         That said, the Court is entirely in agreement with Judge Rau and rejects the government's position that a suppression motion must be summarily denied whenever a defendant fails to offer or cite evidence to support it. In this case, for example, Golden contends that police officers seized and searched him in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Because the officers lacked a warrant, the government bears the burden of establishing that the seizure and search were lawful. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 97 (1964) ("when the constitutional validity of that [warrantless] arrest was challenged, it was incumbent upon the prosecution to show with considerably more specificity than was shown in this case what the informer actually said, and why the officer thought the information was credible"); United States v. Andrews, 454 F.3d 919, 922 (8th Cir. 2006) ("The lack of such evidence [of a traffic violation] would mean that the government had failed in its burden to prove that Deputy Brown had probable cause to stop Mr. Andrews's car, and the court would be obliged to grant Mr. Andrews's motion to suppress."); United States v. Kennedy, 427 F.3d 1136, 1140 (8th Cir. 2005) ("In the case of a warrantless search, the government bears the burden of establishing an exception to the warrant requirement.").

         In this case, the facts that place the burden on the government-a warrantless seizure of Golden and a warrantless search of his person-are undisputed. Golden therefore need not present any evidence to avoid summary denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the seizure and search of his person. To the contrary, in the absence of any other evidence, the Court would be obligated to grant Golden's motion and suppress the evidence. Andrews, 454 F.3d at 922.

         In arguing to the contrary, the government relies on cases that are plainly distinguishable. For example, the government relies heavily on United States v. Williams, 690 F.Supp.2d 829 (D. Minn.), ajfd, 397 Fed.Appx. 264 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). But the district court in Williams did not summarily deny the defendant's motions. To the contrary, the court held an evidentiary hearing at which the government presented witnesses and submitted exhibits. Id. at 837 & n.l. The court's comments concerning the defendant's initial burden of production related to only one of the suppression motions, which sought disclosure of "any incidences of illegal surveillance to which the Defendant may have been subjected" and suppression of "all such evidence as being illegally obtained" Williams, No. 09-CR-0298 (MJD/FLN), ECF No. 283 (motion filed Dec. 1, 2009); see Williams, 690 F.Supp.2d at 848-49 (citing ECF No. 283).

         The government also relies on United States v. Edwards, 563 F.Supp.2d 977 (D. Minn. 2008), ajfd sub nom. United States v. Bowie, 618 F.3d 802 (8th Cir. 2010). As in Williams, however, the Edwards court did not summarily deny the defendant's motions, but instead held an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 986. And like the comments of the court in Williams, the Edwards court's comments concerning the defendant's initial burden were in response to generic and conclusory motions that "[left] the Government and the Court to guess at the possible bases for more than half of his motions." Id. at 994.

         Golden's motions are nothing like the barebones motions in Williams and Edwards. Golden did not simply float the possibility of hypothetical constitutional violations or contend that evidence was illegally acquired without explaining why. Instead, he identified specific conduct that he contended was unconstitutional (the warrantless seizure and search of his person) and explained the basis for this claim (that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment because they lacked probable cause to arrest him). Neither the Court nor the government was left to "guess" at anything.

         The government also relies on an 80-year-old Supreme Court case-Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338 (1939)-in which the defendants established that the government had illegally intercepted their wire communications. The issue in Nardone was whether the exclusionary rule should apply to more than just "the exact words heard through forbidden interceptions." Id. at 340. In holding that the lower courts had erred by applying the exclusionary rule so narrowly, the Court noted in passing that "[t]he burden is, of course, on the accused in the first instance to prove to the trial court's satisfaction that wire-tapping was unlawfully employed." Id. at 341.

         The government reads too much into this passing comment. To begin with, the comment was dicta, as the defendants had already proved that the interceptions were illegal, and the issue of who had the burden on that issue was not before the Court. Setting that aside, the context of Nardone is quite different from the context of this case. The defendants in Nardone succeeded in suppressing the interceptions because those interceptions violated federal statutory law.[1] Id. at 339. That the Court in Nardone imposed a burden on the defendants to establish a federal statutory violation has little relevance to this case, in which the government unquestionably bears the burden of showing that the seizure and search of Golden did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

         The other cases on which the government relies are also distinguishable or simply fail to support the government's position. See, e.g., United States v. Coleman, 923 F.3d 450, 455 (6th Cir. 2019) (imposing burden on the defendant to show that the area where his vehicle was parked was part of his home's curtilage; district-court docket indicates an evidentiary hearing was held, see Coleman, 17-CR-0136 (PLM), ECF No. 48 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 31, 2017)), petition for cert, filed (U.S. July 31, 2019) (No. 19-5445); United States v. Shrum, 908 F.3d 1219, 1229 (10th Cir. 2018) (reversing denial of suppression motion and explaining that, after the defendant meets his initial burden of showing a warrantless seizure, the government bears the burden of proving the validity of the seizure); United States v. Touset, 890 F.3d 1227, 1231-37 (11th Cir. 2018) (affirming denial, after an evidentiary hearing, of motion to suppress and holding that border searches of electronic devices do not require any suspicion); United States v. Young, 835 F.3d 13, 14-15 (1st Cir. 2016) (reversing denial of suppression motion on which an evidentiary hearing was held).

         Again, Golden identified specific alleged constitutional violations and provided a basic summary of his arguments. The government nitpicks at minor factual discrepancies between Golden's initial account of his seizure and the facts as shown in the bus video. The fact remains, however, that Golden clearly alleged that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest or search him and, as noted, it is undisputed that the officers did not have a warrant. In the context of this relatively simple case, this was sufficient to place the burden on the government to come forward with evidence that the seizure and search were lawful.

         The Court also rejects the government's argument that Golden was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Because Golden made sufficiently specific claims of constitutional violations on which the government bears the burden of proof, an evidentiary hearing was warranted in order to give Golden the opportunity to counter the government's evidence-at least in this case, in which the government's evidentiary ...

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