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United States v. Brice

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

August 25, 2017




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on defendant's Motion to Suppress. Defendant is charged by way of a one count Bill of Indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm, to wit, a Taurus .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol. Defendant seeks to suppress his statement, in which he told the officer where to find the gun was and that it was his, and to suppress the subsequent discovery of the firearm in the car. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that defendant's statement is subject to suppression as it was involuntarily made under Miranda, but that the firearm is not subject to suppression under the inevitable discovery doctrine.


         I. Background

         An evidentiary hearing was held on the Motion to Suppress August 23, 2017, in Charlotte. At the hearing, Patrol Officer David Batson testified that he and another officer encountered defendant during a patrol of the North Tryon neighborhood of Charlotte on December 13, 2016. The neighborhood was being patrolled due to recent robberies. According to the testimony, the officers were patrolling the neighborhood to deter robberies by being a presence and by looking for cars that did not belong.

         While on patrol, the officers came across a vehicle that was being operated by defendant and another person. The vehicle drew the officer's attention as it was parked against the flow of traffic in front of a home and the vehicle appeared to be running. As the officers passed in their marked patrol car, they wrote down what they believed to be the car's license plate number and ran the tag, which came back to a different make and model of vehicle. At that point, the officers turned around to investigate further, but by the time they got back to the car, the vehicle had been turned around so as to prevent the officers from seeing the license tag. Officer Batson testified that such movement of the car was, based on his training and experience, also suspicious.

         Without activating their blue lights, the officers parked their patrol vehicle some two to three car lengths behind the car being operated by defendant. Without prompting, defendant exited the drivers side of the vehicle and the passenger also exited. Defendant then approached the officers who were in their vehicle with arms out stretched and fists clinched, obviously angered by the police presence. Officer Batson then attempted to talk with defendant, who then went into the home in front of which the vehicle was parked. Officer Batson then approached th vehicle which defendant had just left and smells the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle and sees an open container of alcohol between the seats. Unlike the defendant, the passenger is cooperative and talks with the officers.

         Now having an unobstructed view of the license plates, the officers discover that the plate they ran was off by one digit and run the correct plate. However, that tag also came back as belonging to a vehicle other than the one being operated by defendant.

         With defendant being in the home at this point, Officer Batson talks with the homeowner, who is friends with defendant, who he describes as an elderly woman. He tells the homeowner to let the defendant know that he wants to talk with him and that he has probable cause to tow and search the vehicle. The officer then asks the defendant to retrieve his identification from the car based on the open container violation. The officer testified that defendant then went back to the car, retrieved his ID while “shielding” the officer's view as he opened the door, and then locked the car. After giving the ID to the officer, defendant was placed in handcuffs and Officer Batson asked defendant about “marijuana and needles.”

         At some point, perhaps when defendant initially went into the home, the keys to the car were either left in the home or given to the homeowner. Apparently, defendant did not need the keys to retrieve his ID or lock the car. In any event, the keys to the car were eventually turned over by the homeowner after Officer Batson told her that the car was going to be searched based on probable cause and that without the keys the officer would have to break the window. Inasmuch as the car belonged to defendant's girlfriend, the homeowner used defendant's cellphone to call the girlfriend to ask what to do with the keys, and the homeowner then gave the keys to the officer.

         Immediately prior to the search of the vehicle, and while defendant was in handcuffs and having now been given any Miranda warning, Officer Batson told defendant:[1]

“If you don't talk to us, we can go sign out warrants for your arrest for the marijuana in your car.”
“I'm detaining you for the open container, the false plates, and the odor of marijuana coming from your car. I'm going to search it. Now is the time to tell us. I'm going to cut you a citation if there is nothing else.”
“The more you tell me now, the better it's going to be for you.” After these statements were made to the defendant and the officer indicated he was getting ready to search the vehicle, defendant called Officer Batson over and tells him that he has gun in the vehicle and that he knows he is not supposed to have a gun. Officer Batson then searches the vehicle and discovers the hand gun in the driver's side door compartment.

         II. Discussion

         A. ...

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