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United States v. Wigmore

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

October 10, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant Jerome Lawrence Wigmore's motion to suppress evidence seized inside his hotel room. (Doc. 28). A hearing was held on October 5, 2018. The Court heard testimony from Deputy United States Marshal David Wollschlager, Deputy United States Marshal Patrick Schally, Montana Probation Officer Laura McKee, Montana Probation Officer Jayson Baxter, and Gigi Guzman. After considering the facts and relevant law, the Court denies the motion.

         I. Facts

         In August 2011, in Rosebud County, Wigmore was convicted and sentenced to prison for assaulting someone with a weapon. (Doc. 31-1 at 1-9). Due to the nature of his offense, Wigmore was required to register as a violent offender. (Doc. 31-1 at 7). Upon his release from prison in 2015, Wigmore began serving a term of probation. (Doc. 33-3 at 6). As a condition of probation, Wigmore was subject to the following provision:

Search of Person or Property: Upon reasonable suspicion, as ascertained by a Probation/Parole Officer, my person, vehicle, and/or residence may be searched at any time, day or night, including my place of employment, without a warrant by a Probation/Parole Officer, ISP Officer or Law Enforcement Officer (at the direction of the Probation/Parole, ISP Officer). Any illegal property or contraband will be seized and may be destroyed.

(Doc. 33-2 at 1). On June 6, 2017, the Rosebud County Attorney filed a petition to revoke Wigmore's suspended suspense. (Doc. 33-3). The petition was based on his probation officer's report, which stated Wigmore (1) was arrested for driving without a license and fleeing from police after a traffic stop, (2) was being investigated for theft of a motor bike and possession and distribution of dangerous drugs, (3) tested positive for methamphetamine use, (4) failed to attend substance abuse treatment, (5) failed to attend mental health treatment, and (6) failed to take medication as prescribed. (Doc. 33-3 at 6-8). Wigmore subsequently stopped reporting to his probation officer and was placed on absconder status.

         On November 13, 2017, Wigmore failed to appear for his hearing on the petition to revoke his probation. (Doc. 33-4 at 1). A bench warrant was issued for Wigmore's arrest. (Doc. 33-4 at 1). A few days later, Wigmore was charged with bail jumping and another arrest warrant was issued. Due to Wigmore's violent conviction, the warrants were referred to Montana's Violent Offender Task Force, which is comprised of United States Marshals, local law enforcement, and probation officers.

         Deputy United States Marshal David Wollschlager was assigned Wigmore's case. On January 3, 2018, Wollschlager received information through a tip line that Wigmore was residing in Billings, Montana, at the Big 5 Motel in Unit 103 G with his girlfriend, Gigi Guzman, who managed the motel. The tipster stated Wigmore possessed firearms and installed a surveillance system around the outside of Unit 103 G with a live feed inside the room. The tipster revealed herself to be the daughter of Guzman and provided contact information. She did not state how she knew the information.

         Later on January 3, 2018, Wollschlager called the daughter. The daughter reiterated what she said in the initial tip. Wollschlager then called Guzman's other daughter. Guzman's other daughter corroborated what her sister said, but added that she had personally observed firearms in Unit 103 G.

         On January 4, 2018, Wollschlager and his team conducted surveillance of the Big 5 Motel. Wollschlager observed Wigmore entering and exiting Unit 103 G. Because he'd been informed Wigmore may be armed and the unit may have surveillance cameras around it, Wollschlager thought it best to arrest Wigmore outside of the unit. Wollschlager and his team approached Wigmore while he was near a staircase, but before they could reach him, Wigmore entered Unit 103 G and closed the door behind him. Wollschlager did not know if Wigmore had seen him or not. Wollschlager and his team approached Unit 103 G, knocked on the door, and stated "police with a warrant." Wollschlager spent about a minute knocking on the door.

         Wollschlager observed a hidden surveillance camera pointed at his location and determined the team needed to breach the door quickly for safety purposes. The team tried repeatedly to breach the door with a battering ram but were unsuccessful because the door was fortified. Shortly thereafter, Wigmore could be heard yelling he was coming out. Wigmore exited Unit 103 G through a side door connected to the lobby, wearing only his underwear and a t-shirt. Wigmore was immediately handcuffed. Because it was winter, Wollschlager entered Unit 103 G to retrieve pants, shoes, and a jacket for Wigmore. Wollschlager conducted a protective sweep of the residence before locating Wigmore's clothes. Wollschlager did not observe any contraband during the protective sweep.

         When Wollschlager emerged from Unit 103 G, Montana probation officer Jayson Baxter authorized a probation search of the unit. During the probation search, the team located two firearms inside a black case hidden from sight.

         II. Legal standard

         Warrantless searches inside a home are presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York,445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). An exception to the warrant requirement exists in cases involving a probationer subject to a search condition. A warrantless search of a probationer's home does not violate the Fourth Amendment if, after evaluating the circumstances of the particular case, the Court determines the search was "reasonable." United States v. Lara,815 F.3d 605, 610 (9th Cir. 2016). In doing so, the Court balances, "on the one hand, the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual's privacy, and, on the other, the degree to which [the search] is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests." United States v. King,736 F.3d 805, 808 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 119 (2001)). The probation search condition is "a salient circumstance" in the balancing of interests. King, 736 F.3d at 808 (citing Knights, 534 ...

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