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United States v. Parker

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 12, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ROMALIS PARKER, ET AL., SECTION:

ORDER AND REASONS

SUSIE MORGAN, District Judge.

This is criminal action charging twelve defendants with violations of the Racketeer Influenced Corruption Organization Act ("RICO"), [1] the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act ("VICAR"), [2] the Federal Controlled Substances Act ("FCS"), [3] and the Federal Gun Control Act ("FGC").[4] Three defendants-Romalis Parker ("Parker"), Nyson Jones ("Jones"), and Sidney Patterson ("Patterson")-have filed motions to suppress.[5] The questions presented by each motion are whether the challenged evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and, if so, whether the exclusionary rule should apply. Patterson's motion presents the additional question of whether his confession to police should be suppressed. For the following reasons, the Motions are DENIED in their entirety.

BACKGROUND

On September 19, 2013, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana returned a twenty-count indictment.[6] Count 1 charges Patterson and two other defendants (the "RICO Defendants") with membership in a criminal enterprise operating in the Eighth Ward of New Orleans known as "Ride or Die." Count 1 further charges a broad RICO conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and to commit murder, robbery, battery, and assault in furtherance of the conspiracy. These violent acts frequently involved the use of firearms. Count 1 contains 52 overt acts, including the murder of four individuals. Each of the non-RICO Defendants is mentioned at least once in the overt acts section of Count 1.

Count 2 charges all defendants with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine and non-specific quantities of heroin and marijuana. Count 3 charges the defendants with conspiracy to possess and use firearms in furtherance of the crimes charged in Counts 1 and 2. Counts 4 through 20 charge individual defendants with various violations of the FCS, the VICAR, and the FGC.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, "[7] but does not expressly prohibit the use of evidence obtained in violation of its commands.[8] This rule-the so-called "exclusionary rule"-was created by the courts.[9] Its purpose is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations, rather than redress the injury occasioned by an unconstitutional search or seizure.[10] Accordingly, "where suppression fails to yield appreciable deterrence, ' exclusion is clearly... unwarranted.'"[11]

As a general rule, the proponent of a motion to suppress must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence in question was obtained in violation of his or her Fourth Amendment rights.[12] In the case of warrantless search or seizure, the burden shifts to the Government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that its actions were constitutional.[13]

DISCUSSION

Parker, Jones, and Patterson each filed a motion to suppress. The Court held an evidentiary hearing.[14] The Court's findings are below.

I. Parker

Parker moves to suppress an AK47 assault rifle found in his bedroom closet during the execution of a search warrant at 2832 Law Street on March 23, 2010. Aline Parker ("A. Parker"), Parker's mother, cleaned her son's bedroom on the morning of March 23, 2010. She testified the closet door was closed at that time. She did not observe the AK47 assault rifle at any point during her morning cleaning.

At some point after A. Parker finished cleaning, Parker's girlfriend, Ashley Smith ("Smith"), entered Parker's bedroom. Smith remained in the bedroom for an indeterminate amount of time. A. Parker did not reenter the bedroom after Smith exited and before NOPD executed the search warrant.[15]

At approximately 3:25 p.m., Detective Michael Sinegar and Officers Ananie Mitchell and Junious Grady executed a search warrant at 2832 Law Street. The object of the search warrant was a flat-screen television NOPD believed Parker stole from another residence. At this time, the officers also attempted to execute an arrest warrant for Parker in connection with the alleged burglary.

After showing the warrants to A. Parker, officers entered the residence. Parker was not home. Officer Mitchell and Officer Grady entered Parker's bedroom. The closet door was open.[16] The officers observed an AK47 assault rifle in plain sight. Officer Grady yelled "gun!" Detective Sinegar heard this call and entered the bedroom. To his right, Detective Sinegar observed a flat screen television sitting atop the chest of drawers. To his left, Detective Sinegar observed an assault rifle inside the bedroom closet.[17] Officer Grady ran the serial number of the firearm through NOPD's system. The check did not reveal the firearm was stolen. The barrel of the firearm had not been illegally modified. In short, it was not immediately apparent that the firearm was illegal or that it had been used for illicit activity.

Officers subsequently informed A. Parker of the firearm.[18] A. Parker told the officers it did not belong to her and did not belong in the house. A. Parker requested the officers to remove the firearm from the house. Officers left the house with the firearm and the flat-screen television.

On April 19, 2013, NOPD ran a ballistics check on the firearm. The check allegedly revealed the firearm was used to perpetrate a murder. From the time NOPD seized the firearm until the time NOPD ran the ballistics check, neither Parker nor any other party challenged NOPD's possession of the firearm or requested its return.

Parker now moves to suppress the firearm as the product of an illegal search and seizure. The parties spill much ink arguing whether the seizure was justified under the "plain view" exception to the warrant requirement. The Court need not decide this issue today, for even if the search and seizure was "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment, suppression is not warranted.

The Supreme Court has "repeatedly rejected the argument that exclusion is a necessary consequence of a Fourth Amendment violation."[19] This is because the exclusionary rule is not a "personal constitutional right" but is instead a prophylactic rule designed to deter future Fourth Amendment violations.[20] To determine whether exclusion is appropriate, a court should weigh the "deterrence benefits of suppression" against the "heavy costs" of exclusion.[21] As explained more fully below, the Court finds in this situation that any benefits of suppression are significantly outweighed by the costs of exclusion.

It is well established that deterrence benefits "var[y] with the culpability of law enforcement conduct."[22] When officers act with "deliberate, " "reckless, " or "grossly negligent" disregard for Fourth Amendment rights, "the deterrent value of exclusion is strong and tends to outweigh the resulting costs."[23] If, on the other hand, officers exhibit simple negligence or act with an ...


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