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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

December 9, 2019



          LOUISE W. FLANGAN United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion to suppress (DE 21). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 59(b), United States Magistrate Judge James E. Gates, entered memorandum and recommendation (“M&R”), wherein it is recommended that defendant's motion be denied. Defendant filed objections to the M&R and the government responded. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion to suppress is denied.


         On October 3, 2018, defendant was indicted on three counts: 1) possession with the intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base (crack) and a quantity of cocaine and heroin, 2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and 3) possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. Defendant filed the instant motion to suppress on December 28, 2018, seeking suppression of all evidence seized as a result of a search of defendant's residence in February 2018. The government responded in opposition, and the magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on April 17, 2019. At hearing, the government introduced testimony of officers Michael Sawyer (“Sawyer”), Nick Fiedler (“Fiedler”), Christopher Drake (“Drake”), and John Rainer (“Rainer”), with the Craven County Sheriff's Office. The court also admitted exhibits offered by the government comprising photographs of defendant's residence and items found in the residence, as well as a disc containing video from a security camera system at the residence. In addition, the court admitted exhibits offered by defendant comprising additional photographs of defendant's residence, the vicinity thereof, and photographs of the feed from the security camera system at the residence.

         The magistrate judge entered M&R on August 30, 2019. Defendant filed objections on October 16, 2019, and the government responded on November 29, 2019.


         The court incorporates herein by reference the magistrate judge's findings of fact (see M&R (DE 35) at 3-14), where such findings are supported by the testimony and evidence received at evidentiary hearing. The court addresses in the analysis herein specific objections raised by defendant to factual findings in the M&R.


         A. Standard of Review

         The district court reviews de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's M&R to which specific objections are filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The court does not perform a de novo review where a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). Absent a specific and timely filed objection, the court reviews only for “clear error, ” and need not give any explanation for adopting the M&R. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983). Upon careful review of the record, “the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         B. Analysis

         “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. “[S]earches conducted outside the judicial process . . . 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).

         One such exception applies where “the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011). The types of exigent circumstances that justify a warrantless seizure include, among other things, the “imminent destruction of evidence, ” United States v. Brown, 701 F.3d 120, 126 (4th Cir. 2012), and “risk of danger to the police or to other persons inside or outside the dwelling.” United States v. Moses, 540 F.3d 263, 270 (4th Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted).

         To determine whether such “exigent circumstances” justify a warrantless seizure, courts weight the following non-exclusive list of factors: 1) “the degree of urgency involved and the amount of time necessary to obtain a warrant”; 2) “the officer's reasonable belief that the contraband is about to be removed or destroyed”; 3) “information indicating the possessors of the contraband are aware that the police are on their ...

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