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United States v. North

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

September 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JEFF NORTH, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER.

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Jeff North's (“North”) Objections [67] (“Obj.”) to Magistrate Judge Janet F. King's Final Report and Recommendation [63] (“R&R”) on North's Motions to Suppress Evidence and Statements [20] [21] (“Motions to Suppress”). The Magistrate Judge found that (i) North did not have an expectation of privacy in the van that he was driving and in which a firearm was found and (ii) that statements made by North after he was arrested are not required to be suppressed. The Magistrate Judge recommends that North's Motions to Suppress be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         On March 22, 2015, Johnny Dansby (“Dansby”) drove to a gas station on Hollowell Parkway to show Defendant North a van that he was selling. (Transcript of May 18, 2017, Evidentiary Hearing [57] (“May 18th Tr.”) at 9-13; Def. Exh. 5). North said he was interesting in buying the van but did not have sufficient cash for the purchase. (May 18th Tr. at 13-15). After making several phone calls, North told Dansby that North's uncle could help with the funds required. (Id. at 14-15). About an hour later, North said that he and Dansby should go to North's uncle's to get the remainder of the purchase price. (Id.). Dansby drove with North in the van, following directions given by North, arriving ultimately at a building that Dansby described as a “little bunkhouse thing, ” where rooms were rented to people. North's uncle did not reside at the bunkhouse. (Id. at 14-15, 19-21).

         North and Dansby stayed at the bunkhouse for two to three hours but North was unable to get the funds needed for the car purchase. (Id. at 16-19). North told Dansby it was time to leave and, as they did, North went over to an old car and “did something.” (Id. at 19). North asked if he could test drive the van to North's uncle's house. (Id. at 21-22). Believing that North intended to purchase the vehicle, Dansby decided to let North drive. (Id. at 20-22). North drove the van to an apartment building with boarded up windows that appeared mostly to be abandoned. (Id. at 21-22). North went inside one of the apartments. (Id. at 22). He came back out and told Dansby that a guy wanted him to come inside for the money. (Id.). Dansby refused and demanded that the keys to the van be returned to him. (Id. at 22, 26-27). North then demanded that Dansby turn over his wallet, repeating the demand at least once more before pulling a firearm and telling Dansby, “[n]ow get out the van.” (Id. at 22, 27).

         Dansby tried to explain that North needed a power of attorney for the vehicle. (Id. at 22, 24-26). North responded “[I] don't give a f[ ] about you, ” and then shot Dansby. (Id. at 22-23, 28). Dansby got out of the van and circled around in front of it to avoid getting shot again. North fired another shot at Dansby. (Id.). Dansby, ducking behind the vehicle, ran to the apartment complex exit. (Id. at 23, 29-30). North followed Dansby in the van and then North turned right onto Joseph E. Boone Boulevard (“Boone”), at the apartment complex exit. (Id. at 29-30).

         Atlanta Police Officer Willie Williams was patrolling in his marked police car in the area and saw a black van westbound on Boone and, at the same time, saw Dansby in a bloody white t-shirt, waving him down. (Transcript of January 12, 2017, Evidentiary Hearing [60] (“January 12th Tr.”) at 5-7, 15; May 18th Tr. at 23, 30). Dansby pointed to his van driving off-the same van Officer Williams had just seen-and Dansby told Officer Williams that the man who shot him was driving the van that he had taken from Dansby. (January 12th Tr. at 7, 16-17). The van was about 1, 000 feet away, and the van was the only vehicle on the road. (Id. at 7-8).

         Officer Williams called Grady EMS to assist Dansby and then immediately followed the van. (Id. at 8, 17-18; May 18th Tr. at 31). Officer Williams activated his blue lights and siren. (Id.) North stopped the van. (January 12th Tr. at 8, 18). Officer Williams got out of his car and, aware of the prior shooting, had his gun in his hand in a low ready position. (Id. at 8-9, 19, 21). Officer Williams told North to lie on the ground, to which North responded: “What the f[ ] did you pull me over for? I did not do anything.” (Id. at 9, 19; May 18th Tr. at 6). Officer Williams repeated his instruction and this time North complied, and was restrained. (January 12th Tr. 9, 20; May 18th Tr. at 6).

         Officer Williams told North that he was being detained as a suspect in a crime. (January 12th Tr. at 21). North did not make any further statements and did not claim that the van belonged to him. (Id. at 10, 21-22). Officer Williams took North to where he had left Dansby, but, by that time, Dansby had been transported to the hospital. (Id. at 10). Officer Williams and North returned to where the van had been pulled over. Officer Williams searched the van for evidence of the shooting, while North remained in the car. (Id. at 11-12). Officer Williams found in the van a loaded .22 caliber firearm and two spent shell casings. (Id.). Officer Williams also found Dansby's wallet with his identification in it. (Id. at 12-13, 22-23).

         B. Procedural History

         North moved to suppress the stop, and search, of the van, the seizure of the gun and shell casings, and the statement he made to Officer Williams when he was ordered to get out of the vehicle and get on the ground. North contends that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the van when it was stopped, detained, and the interior of it searched. North also contends Officer Williams lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the van, that the warrantless search of it was unlawful, and that any statements he made are inadmissible fruits of an illegal stop and detention, or were involuntary because he was not read his Miranda rights. (R&R at 1-2).

         After conducting an evidentiary hearing on North's Motions to Suppress on January 12, 2017, and May 18, 2017, the Magistrate Judge found that North lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the van that he had stolen from Dansby. Even if North had grounds to challenge the stop of the van or his detention and search of the van, the Magistrate Judge found that Officer Williams had reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop, to detain North, and to conduct a warrantless search of the van for the gun involved in the shooting, because Dansby told Officer Williams that he was shot by North in the van and that the van was stolen from him. Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that the statement that North made when he was stopped was not made during a custodial interrogation, but a statement made spontaneously and offered voluntarily.

         North asserts four objections to the R&R. First, North objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the van he was driving. (Obj. at 1). Second, North objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Officer Williams had reasonable suspicion to stop the van. (Obj. at 2). Third, North objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Officer Williams' decision to conduct a search of the van was supported by evidence because the evidence does not support there was a sufficient basis for a warrantless search. (Id.). ...


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