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United States v. Taylor

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 19, 2017




         On February 22, 2017, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Braxton Taylor with two counts of knowingly possessing a firearm while subject to a domestic violence injunction in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§922(g)(8) and 924(a)(2). Shortly after, the defendant filed two pretrial motions: (1) a motion to suppress evidence, dkt. no. 15, and (2) a motion to dismiss the superseding indictment, dkt. no. 16. Magistrate Judge David E. Jones issued reports and recommendations, recommending that this court deny both motions. Dkt. Nos. 25, 26. The defendant objected to Judge Jones' recommendation that the court deny the motion to dismiss the superseding indictment. The court adopts both recommendations, overrules the objection, and denies the motions.

         I. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         The defendant has asked the court to exclude from evidence a gun found during a traffic stop of a car in which he was a passenger. Judge Jones recommended that the court deny that motion. The defendant has not objected to that recommendation.

         A. Factual Background

         The parties do not dispute the facts relating to the motion to suppress. On June 24, 2016, Milwaukee police officers Erin Tischer and Michael Miller conducted a traffic stop on an SUV for a cracked windshield. Dkt. No. 15 at 1. The officers discovered that both the driver, Austin Sanders, and the passenger (the defendant) had active arrest warrants. Id. While officers took the subjects into custody, the SUV remained illegally parked at a bus stop. Dkt. No. 17 at 2. Instead of towing the SUV, Officer Tischer asked for and received consent to move the vehicle onto a side street. Id. As she got into the SUV, she observed a handgun in the SUV's driver door pocket. Dkt. No. 15 at 1. Officers then searched the SUV and recovered another firearm under the passenger seat. Id. The grand jury charged the defendant with possession of the firearm the officers found under the passenger seat; his motion to suppress challenges the legality of its discovery.

         B. The Parties' Arguments

         In the motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the fact that the officers found a gun in the driver door pocket of the SUV did not give the officers a reason to believe that the SUV contained any other evidence of criminal conduct. Dkt. No. 15 at 2-3. He argued that the totality of the circumstances which led to the defendant's arrest were benign. Officers had pulled Sanders over for a cracked windshield; Sanders and the defendant had been cooperative during the stop; neither had access to the vehicle when the officers searched it (both were handcuffed and locked in the back of a squad car); the defendant had no criminal record at the time and Sanders had only one misdemeanor conviction; and the officers based Sanders' arrest on the concealed nature of the gun, not its illegal possession. Id. The defendant argued that the officers had not articulated why they searched the SUV, or what they thought they'd find by doing so. Id. at 3.

         The government's response was quite brief. The government stated that because the defendant was a passenger in the vehicle, he lacked standing to challenge any search. Dkt. No. 17 at 2 (citing United States v. Walton, 763 F.3d 655, 666 (7th Cir. 2014); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 148 (1978)).

         In his reply, the defendant conceded that he possessed the firearm the officers found under the passenger seat.[1] Dkt. No. 22 at 3. He also told the court that he was not just a passenger in the SUV-he was a close personal friend of the driver. Id. The defendant contended that his ownership of the gun, combined with his close personal relationship with the driver, gave him the reasonable expectation of privacy necessary to assert his Fourth Amendment rights. Id.

         C. Judge Jones' Decision

         Magistrate Judge Jones disagreed. Judge Jones began by discussing the Supreme Court decision on which the government relied for its standing position, Rakas v. Illinois. Dkt. No. 25 at 2. Judge Jones found that the Rakas Court had rejected the “target” theory of Fourth Amendment standing that the defendant advanced. Dkt. No. 25 at 2. He noted that Rakas expressly stated that someone whose property was seized had no “‘legitimate expectation of privacy' protected by the Fourth Amendment ‘in the glove compartment or area under the seat of the car in which they were merely passengers. Like the trunk of an automobile, these are areas in which a passenger qua passenger simply would not normally have a legitimate expectation of privacy.'” Id. at 2-3 (quoting Rakas, 439 U.S. at 148-49).

         Judge Jones focused on the fact that, while the defendant had asserted a possessory interest in the gun, he had not asserted a possessory interest in the vehicle. Dkt. No. 25 at 3. Judge Jones reasoned:

[S]howing an interest in the property seized is not enough. The Supreme Court has held that ownership of seized property is insufficient to give the owner an expectation of privacy requisite to challenge its seizure. The owner must also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place in which the personal property is located. See Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 105-06 (1980); see also United States v. Lisk, 522 F.2d 228, 230-31 (7th Cir. 1975) (in denying motion to suppress a defendant's bomb that was seized from the trunk of another party's [Mr. Hunt] car, stating that “[t]he invasion of Hunt's privacy was a violation of Hunt's Fourth Amendment rights, but this violation is clearly not available to the defendant as a basis for suppressing evidence acquired thereby”).

Dkt. No. 25 at 3.

         Because the defendant was a passenger in Sanders' vehicle, Judge Jones concluded that the defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place searched. Id. at 4. He recommended that this court deny the motion to suppress. Id.

         D. Analysis

         In Rakas v. Illinois, the Supreme Court considered whether the petitioners-who had been passengers in the vehicle at the time officers stopped it-had standing under the Fourth Amendment to move to suppress evidence seized from the car. Rakas, 439 U.S. at 133-34. The petitioners conceded that they were “simply passengers; the owner of the car had been the driver of the vehicle at the time of the search[, ]” and did not assert an ownership interest in the evidence they sought to suppress (a rifle and shells). Id. at 130. They advocated broadening the Fourth Amendment standing rule, “so that any criminal defendant at whom a search was ‘directed' would have standing to contest the legality of that search and object to the admission at trial of evidence obtained as a result of the search.” Id. (citing Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257 (1960)).

         The Court rejected this “target” theory, and re-affirmed that “‘Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights which, like some other constitutional rights, may not be vicariously asserted.'” Id. at 133-34 (quoting Brown v. United States, 411 U.S. 223, 230 (1973)). The Court reasoned:

[a] person who is aggrieved by an illegal search and seizure only through the introduction of damaging evidence secured by a search of a third person's premises or property has not had any of his Fourth Amendment rights infringed. Alderman, supra, 394 U.S. at 174, 89 S.Ct. at 966. And since the exclusionary rule is an attempt to effectuate the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment, United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 347, 94 S.Ct. 613, 619, 38 L.Ed.2d 561 (1974), it is proper ...

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