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United States v. Booth

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

June 5, 2019



          Dana L. Christensen, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Monwell Dwight Booth's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 19). Booth is charged with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Doc. 1 at 1.) Booth seeks to suppress evidence of the firearms and ammunition that provide the basis for his indictment on the grounds that the police officers who recovered the evidence lacked justification to perform the search without a warrant. (Doc. 20 at 4-6.) The Government opposes this Motion. (Doc. 24.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

         Factual Background

         On November 10, 2018 at approximately 4:11 p.m., the Billings Police Department received an emergency phone call reporting a burglary at Booth's residence. Upon contact, dispatch was told that someone had "broken into my neighbor's home and no one is there, they kicked the door right in." Booth's neighbor, Scott Byykkonen, had been informed by an unknown individual that someone had been seen breaking into Booth's home. Byykkonen informed dispatch that the individual claimed to have seen the burglary occur but stated that he was not "sticking around" and drove away from the scene. Byykkonen called 911 after confirming that someone had broken in through Booth's back door, sticking his head inside, and yelling "hello." Byykkonen told dispatchers that no one was around. Byykkonen also informed dispatch that he did not know whether the individual was responsible for the burglary. Billings Police Officers Stovall and Adams reported to the scene, At the scene, the officers met Byykkonen, who led them to the rear door of Booth's residence which had been left open with a panel missing and glass broken around it. Byykkonen told the officers that he was "unsure if there was anyone else inside the residence." (Doc. 20-2 at 2.) The officers announced themselves and entered the home to see if anyone was hiding inside. The officers began on the first floor and proceeded upstairs after finding that it was clear. While clearing an upper-story bedroom, Officer Stovall reported seeing "two Glock pistols and [an] AR-15 rifle sitting on a shelf in the closet. There were also several AR-15 magazines sitting halfway out of a safe next to the firearms." (Id.) Officer Adams also reported observing "multiple one[-]dollar bills in a dresser drawer and [on the] floor of the bed room." (Doc. 20-3 at 2.)

         After establishing that no one was in the home, the officers successfully made phone contact with Booth, who was "not... very concerned" about the burglary and not interested in pursuing any charges. (Docs. 20-2 at 2; 20-3 at 2.) Outside, the officers met Sarnie Nava, Booth's friend, who stated that she was going to watch Booth's house until he could come home. Nava confirmed that the officers had checked to make sure no one was in the home before going inside herself. (Doc. 20-2 at 2.)

         Officer Adams found Booth's reactions odd, so he checked into Booth and discovered that he was on state supervision for a violent felony. Based on this information, Officer Stovall contacted Probation and Parole Officer Baxter, who was supervising Booth and advised that he was a prohibited person. Officer Baxter requested that the firearms be confiscated and that the officers perform a search of the residence. During the search, the officers found illegal substances, drug paraphernalia, ammunition, and several holsters. In total, the officers confiscated the following firearms and ammunition;

[A] Glock, model 22, .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, ... a Glock, model 19, 9mm caliber semi-automatic pistol, ... a Ruger, model AR556, 5.56 caliber semi-automatic rifle, .. . magazines for each firearm. . . . 850 rounds of .223 caliber [ammunition], 49 rounds of .40 caliber [ammunition, ] and 50 rounds of 9mm caliber [ammunition].

(Doc. 20-4 at 3.)


         Booth asserts that all evidence of firearms and ammunition must be suppressed because Officers Stovall and Adams entered and searched his home without a warrant and without the necessary probable cause and exigent circumstances to justify doing so. Additionally, Booth claims that, once in his home, the officers went beyond the scope of any permissible search when they looked inside the upstairs closet.

         Warrantless searches "are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357(1967). Accordingly, "the government bears the burden of showing that a warrantless search . . . falls within an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement." United States v. Cervantes, 703 F.3d 1135, 1141 (9th Cir. 2012). The government must meet its burden by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 178 n.14 (1974).

         One such exception is for the existence of exigent circumstances. When, as here, the government relies upon the exigent circumstances exception, it "must satisfy two requirements: first, the government must prove that the officer had probable cause to search the house; and second, the government must prove that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless intrusion." Hopkins v. Bonvicino, 573 F.3d 752, 766-67 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court addresses these requirements in turn.

         I. Probable Cause

         A search is supported by probable cause when "the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found." Id., at 767 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "An action is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer's state of mind, as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify the action." Brigham City, ...

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