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United States v. Lawrence

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

April 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
SEDARIOUS LAWRENCE, Defendant.

          FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Catherine M. Salinas, United States Magistrate Judge.

         On April 11, 2017, a grand jury sitting in the Northern District of Georgia returned a one-count indictment against Defendant Sedarious Lawrence for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(e). [Doc. 1]. Presently before the Court are two motions to suppress: a Motion to Suppress Evidence [Doc. 17] and a Motion to Suppress Statements [Doc. 16].

         I. THE PENDING MOTIONS

         A. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         In the Motion to Suppress Evidence, Defendant asserts that on February 16, 2017, he was driving a rented black Range Rover when he was stopped for a traffic and equipment violation. [Doc. 17 at 1]. He asserts that he was removed from the car, detained, and placed in handcuffs. [Id.]. The officers then searched the Range Rover and found on the floor of the back seat the firearm that serves as the basis for the one-count indictment in this case. [Id. at 1-2]. Through his Motion to Suppress Evidence, Defendant seeks to suppress all fruits obtained from that search and seizure, including the firearm, any other physical evidence taken as a result of that search and seizure, and any statements he may have made after he was stopped. [Id. at 2].

         B. Motion to Suppress Statements

         Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements is brought pursuant to Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 376-77 (1964). [Doc. 16 at 1]. Defendant argues that the Government must show that any custodial statements were made voluntarily and not in violation of Miranda. On July 17, 2017, the Government clarified that although Defendant apparently made a number of statements, the only statements it intends to use at trial are those made during the traffic stop on the side of the road. [Doc. 42 at 2-3].

         II. FACTS PRESENTED AT THE EVIDENTIARY HEARING

         I held an evidentiary hearing on the two motions to suppress over the course of two days, July 17, 2017 [Doc. 42] and August 7, 2017 [Doc. 54].

         The Government's first witness was Caleb Munson, an officer with the City of Atlanta Police Department (“APD”). [Doc. 42 at 6-36]. Officer Munson testified that on the evening of February 16, 2017, he was working in a marked patrol car with another APD officer, Jacob Fletcher, in the Fulton Industrial area of Atlanta. [Id. at 7-10]. Officer Munson testified that he had received a “BOLO”- be on the lookout-message for a black Range Rover, which he located around 9 p.m. at the Airway Motel, an establishment known for drug-related activity and prostitution. [Id. at 8]. Upon noticing the Range Rover parked at the Airway Motel, Officer Munson crossed the street and parked. [Id. at 9]. He then observed the Range Rover leave the motel parking lot and pull onto Fulton Industrial Boulevard at a high rate of speed and without any lights on. [Id. at 10-11]. Officer Munson followed the Range Rover, and when he caught up to it, the Range Rover's lights came on, at which point Officer Munson activated his lights and sirens. [Id. at 11]. The Range Rover did not immediately pull over, and Officer Munson then shined the spotlight that was mounted on his patrol car into the back of the Range Rover. [Id. at 12, 31-32]. While the spotlight was activated, Officer Munson saw “a large object” being thrown to the back of the vehicle. [Id. at 11-12]. At that point, the Range Rover stopped. [Id. at 12].

         Officer Munson testified that he exited his patrol vehicle and then approached the driver's side of the Range Rover while Officer Fletcher went to the passenger side. [Doc. 42 at 12]. Defendant was the driver, and he rolled down his window and provided Officer Munson with his driver's license. [Id. at 12-13]. Officer Munson testified that he smelled marijuana coming from the Range Rover. [Id. at 12]. Offer Munson asked Defendant to get out of the car, which Defendant did, and then Officer Munson detained Defendant and placed him in handcuffs “because of the odor of marijuana in the vehicle to conduct a search on the vehicle.” [Id. at 12-13]. Once Defendant was in handcuffs, Officer Munson passed him off to Officer Fletcher and then conducted a search of the Range Rover. [Id. at 13]. Officer Munson testified that he saw, in plain view, a short-barreled rifle in the back floorboard, located “halfway sticking out from a half-torn shoe box and black bag.” [Id. at 15]. The gun was loaded, with a round in the chamber. [Id.]. During the traffic stop, another officer ran a check on Defendant and determined that Defendant was a felon; the officers then arrested Defendant for being a felon in possession of a firearm. [Id. at 19]. Officer Munson was shown a photograph of the gun, which he positively identified. [Doc. 41-1 at 1 (Gov't Ex. 1)].

         The Government's next witness was APD Officer Jacob Fletcher. [Doc. 42 at 38-70]. Officer Fletcher testified that on the evening in question, he was riding with Officer Munson when he became aware of the black Range Rover parked at the Airway Motel. [Id. at 39-40, 53]. He testified that when the Range Rover pulled out of the parking lot, it did so at a “high rate of speed” and did not have its headlights on, even though it was dark outside. [Id. at 40-41, 53]. It took the officers “a minute” to catch up with the Range Rover, but once they did, they turned on the blue lights and could see “furtive movements” from the driver. [Id. at 41]. The officers then called for backup, which Officer Fletcher said was not unusual, given that his unit (the Apex unit) works in a team setting and that the Fulton Industrial area is a “very violent and high crime area.” [Id. at 41-42]. After the officers turned on the blue lights, the Range Rover did not immediately stop: “It took him not a long time to pull over, but he didn't pull directly over once the blue lights were initiated, but he didn't take off either. It was just like a slow pace like he's pulling over, but it did take him a minute to come to a complete stop.” [Id. at 42].

         Eventually, the Range Rover pulled over and came to a stop. [Doc. 42 at 42-43]. Officer Fletcher first encountered Defendant as Officer Munson was bringing him to the rear of the Range Rover. [Id. at 43, 59]. At that point, Officer Fletcher took Defendant to the rear passenger side of the patrol car and started talking to Defendant. [Id.]. Officer Fletcher testified that he smelled marijuana while he was talking to Defendant. [Id.]. Officer Fletcher testified that at that time, he read Defendant his Miranda warnings from a card that he carries with him, and a copy of that card was admitted into evidence. [Id. at 44; Doc. 41-1 at 11-12 (Gov't Ex. 5)]. After Defendant was read his rights, Officer Munson pulled a large weapon out of the back of the Range Rover. When Defendant saw it, he stated “oh that's my sister's gun.” [Doc. 42 at 46]. According to Officer Fletcher, Defendant got “a little anxious or whatever and kept kind of overtalking about it.” [Id.]. Then Defendant stated “that's my sister's gun, I was calling her right now, I was about to take her the gun back.” [Id.]. According to Officer Fletcher, Defendant stated that “he did observe the gun in the back seat, and he moved it because he didn't want to be anywhere near it. So he was calling his sister to take the gun back to her because he said he wasn't supposed to be around a weapon.” [Id. at 47]. Officer Fletcher testified that Defendant stated that he had just dropped his sister off in the area around Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and that he had been trying to get her on the phone to arrange for him to return the gun to her.[1] [Id. at 48, 64-65].

         At the close of the Government's evidence, the Government moved into evidence, over Defendant's objection, the disposition of a traffic charge from Fulton County Superior Court showing that Defendant pleaded no contest to the charge ...


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