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United States v. Richardson

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 12, 2019




         Defendant Jermaine David Richardson (“Richardson”) is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. (Doc. 1.) On October 26, 2018, Richardson moved to suppress evidence obtained by police in a search of his residence. (Doc. 24.) U.S. District Court Judge Susan P. Watters referred Richardson's Motion to Suppress to the undersigned for purposes of conducting a hearing and issuing findings and recommendations. (Doc. 28.) On December 26, 2018, this Court recommended that Judge Watters grant Richardson's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. 40.)

         The government objected to this Court's findings and recommendations, and argued the evidence should not be suppressed based on the independent source exception to the exclusionary rule. (Doc. 44.) The government did not previously argue the application of the independent source exception. Therefore, Judge Watters referred the motion back to the undersigned to conduct an independent source exception analysis. (Doc. 47.)

         Since this issue was not raised previously, the Court provided Richardson with an opportunity to respond to the government's argument. (Doc. 48.) On January 15, 2019, Richardson filed a response. (Doc. 49.) Having considered the parties' arguments and submissions, the Court RECOMMENDS that Richardson's Motion to Suppress be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court has previously addressed the factual background in this matter. (See Doc. 40.) Only the facts relevant to the Court's independent source analysis are provided.

         On November 21, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Richardson's motion. The Court heard testimony from Billings Police Department Sergeant Riley Finnegan (“Sergeant Finnegan”) and Detective Steve Hallam (“Detective Hallam”). The following facts are taken from the hearing testimony and the parties' briefing.

         On June 21, 2018, Richardson was living in a trailer home in Billings, Montana. On that date, Billings Police Officer Kramer observed a suspected stolen vehicle outside of Richardson's residence. (Doc. 25 at 2, Doc. 35 at 2.) Officer Kramer ran the vehicle's license plates, and learned the stolen vehicle was associated with a female juvenile who was reported missing. (Doc. 35 at 2.) Officer Kramer reported the stolen vehicle, and Sergeant Finnegan and Detective Hallam responded to the residence. (Tr. 6.) The officers knew Richardson lived in the trailer, and that he was currently being investigated by the Billings Police Department's Street Crimes Unit for possible narcotics and prostitution-related offenses. (Tr. 7, 27.)

         Officer Kramer, Sergeant Finnegan, and Detective Hallam discussed the situation and decided to contact the occupants. (Tr. 10.) Officer Kramer and Sergeant Finnegan approached the front door of the trailer, while Detective Hallam positioned himself to watch the back door. (Tr. 10-11, 45.)

         After Officer Kramer knocked on the front door, Richardson opened the door and Sergeant Finnegan smelled the odor of marijuana coming from inside the trailer. (Tr. 10.) Detective Hallam also testified that he smelled marijuana permeating from the back of the trailer. (Tr. 46.) Sergeant Finnegan did not see anyone else in the trailer at that time, but Richardson confirmed the missing female juvenile was inside and was going to come out. (Tr. 10-11.)

         During Richardson's exchange with Sergeant Finnegan and Officer Kramer, Detective Hallam observed two males exit the back of the residence. (Tr. 46.) He noticed one of the individuals had a backpack. Detective Hallam yelled “stop, police, ” but both individuals ran. Id. Detective Hallam chased the two individuals, eventually catching “A.M., ” a juvenile. (Tr. 47.) Detective Hallam detained A.M. and walked him back to the trailer. (Tr. 47.) A.M. was known to the officers. (Tr. 51.) During a previous traffic stop, A.M. was a passenger in a vehicle where a large quantity of marijuana and a stolen firearm were located. (Tr. 8, 51.)

         After turning A.M. over to other officers, Detective Hallam retraced the route he took to chase the two individuals, looking for anything that was dropped or discarded. Id. He found a backpack in a garbage can along the route, matching the backpack he saw in the possession of one of the fleeing individuals. (Tr. 48.) Detective Hallam testified the backpack was three-quarters unzipped, and he observed a medium-sized Mason jar containing a green leafy substance consistent with marijuana in plain view. Id. He confiscated the backpack and returned to the trailer. (Tr. 49.)

         In the meantime, the missing juvenile female had exited the trailer, and Richardson had closed the front door. (Tr. 12.) Three additional officers also arrived on the scene. (Tr. 12.) The officers then gathered outside of the front of the residence to discuss their next course of action. (Tr. 28, 68.) Sergeant Finnegan ultimately decided to again contact the occupants to secure the residence pending a search warrant application. (Tr. 13.) He testified that he felt probable cause existed to apply for a search warrant, and he “wouldn't have secured the residence pending a search warrant application . . . had I not had that information at that point in time.” (Tr. 13.)

         When the officers returned to the front door they instructed the occupants to exit Richardson's residence, and the officers handcuffed them as they did so. (Tr. 15.) After removing Richardson and the other occupants, Officer Kramer, Sergeant Finnegan, and Detective Hallam entered the residence to perform what they considered to be a “protective sweep.” (Tr. 17, 34.) During the sweep, Detective Hallam observed a semi-automatic black handgun on the top shelf of a ...

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