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United States v. Sakapala

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

March 28, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ABUBAKAR SAKAPALA and ALICK BANDA, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Timothy C. Batten, Sr. United States District Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard's Final Report and Recommendation (the “R&R”) [64] which recommends denying Defendant Abubakar Sakapala's motions [33, 36] to suppress evidence and denying Defendant Alick Banda's similar motions [34, 35]. Sakapala has filed objections [69] to the R&R, as has Banda [71].

         Sakapala and Banda are charged in a two-count indictment with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A) and 846, and possessing with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Defendants seek to suppress evidence and statements obtained following a stop of the tractor-trailer in which they were traveling on March 13, 2018. The facts of the case are not disputed, and the Court adopts the facts as set forth in the R&R. Defendants object to certain conclusions reached in the R&R, which the Court will review.

         I. Legal Standard on Review of a Magistrate Judge's R&R

         A district judge has a duty to conduct a “careful and complete” review of a magistrate judge's R&R. Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982)). This review may take different forms, however, depending on whether there are objections to the R&R. A district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the [R&R] to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990) (A judge must “give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party.”). Those portions of the R&R to which no objection is made need only be reviewed for clear error. Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 Fed.Appx. 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (quoting Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005)).[1]

         “Parties filing objections must specifically identify those findings objected to. Frivolous, conclusive or general objections need not be considered by the district court.” Nettles, 677 F.2d at 410 n.8. “This rule facilitates the opportunity for district judges to spend more time on matters actually contested and produces a result compatible with the purposes of the Magistrates Act.” Id. at 410.

         The district judge also has discretion to decline to consider arguments that were not raised before the magistrate judge. Williams v. McNeil, 557 F.3d 1287, 1292 (11th Cir. 2009). Indeed, a contrary rule “would effectively nullify the magistrate judge's consideration of the matter and would not help to relieve the workload of the district court.” Id. (quoting United States v. Howell, 231 F.3d 615, 622 (9th Cir. 2000)).

         After conducting a complete and careful review of the R&R, the district judge “may accept, reject, or modify” the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Williams, 681 F.2d at 732. The district judge “may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         II. Sakapala's Objections to the R&R

         Sakapala objects to the conclusion that the information provided by the confidential informant supported reasonable articulable suspicion. As such, the Court will consider this issue de novo.

         As set out in detail in the R&R, the facts at the evidentiary hearing established that the DEA obtained information from a confidential informant that an individual known as “Andrew” was involved in drug trafficking.

         In particular, Sakapala argues that there is no evidence of the confidential informant's reliability, such as testimony that the informant has been reliable in the past or that the information is current. He argues that, for information from an informer to be the sole basis for probable cause, it must be revealed how the informer obtained his information and why the police believed the informer was credible and reliable. See Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 114 (1964).

         However, Sakapala's objection is based on an archaic standard. “To avoid ‘rigid' legal rules, [Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), ] changed the ‘two-pronged test' of Aguilar v. Texas into a totality-of-the-circumstances test.” United States v. Laughlin, No. 1:10-cr-113-TWT/AJB, 2012 WL 3065404, at *27 (N.D.Ga. July 6, 2012). “Under the Gates totality-of-the-circumstances test, the ‘veracity' and ‘basis of knowledge' prongs of Aguilar-for assessing the usefulness of an informant's tips-are not independent.” Id. “They are better understood as relevant considerations in the totality of the circumstances analysis that traditionally has guided probable cause determinations: a deficiency in one may be compensated for by a strong showing as to the other.” Gates, 462 U.S. at 233.

         The Gates approach applies in the reasonable suspicion context but requires a lesser showing than probable cause. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 328-30 (1990) (‚ÄúReasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause . . . also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise ...


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