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United States v. Spurlock

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 27, 2019

UNITED STATES
v.
TERRY D. SPURLOCK

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Terry D. Spurlock's (“Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss Counts 1, 2, and 3 of the Indictment (Doc. 22) and Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Regarding Prior Arrests and Opposition to United States Notice of Intent to Introduce Rule 404(b) Evidence Against Terry Spurlock (Doc. 20). The United States filed a reply to both of Defendant's motions on January 11, 2019. (Docs. 23, 24). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on this matter on January 16, 2019 and February 19, 2019. No. further oral argument is required. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts 1, 2, and 3 of the Indictment (Doc. 22) is DENIED. Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Regarding Prior Arrests and Opposition to United States Notice of Intent to Introduce Rule 404(b) Evidence Against Terry Spurlock (Doc. 20) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Defendant was arrested at an apartment located at 8521 Rush Avenue, apartment C, Baton Rouge, Louisiana on June 7, 2018. (Doc. 22-1). The report provided by the Baton Rouge Police Department (“BRPD”) sets forth that Detective Dennis Smith (“Smith”) was working as an interdiction officer while stationed at a Federal Express (“FedEx”) location on Coursey Boulevard where he observed a package that appeared to him to be “suspect.” (Id. at p. 1). The report also indicates that the package appeared suspicious to him because it was a new box, it originated from California, and the shipment was paid for in cash. (Id.). Smith could not reach the sender by telephone and, after a brief examination, allowed the package to continue on its course. (Id.). Smith later notified a BRPD narcotics agent of the suspicious package and its expected time of delivery. (Id.).

         BRPD Narcotics Division set up surveillance at the building to which the package was ultimately delivered. (Id. at p. 2). After the package was delivered, the officers knocked on the door to the apartment, and Defendant answered. (Id.). The officers identified themselves, and took Defendant into custody. (Id.). Defendant made statements concerning firearms and drugs on the premises and signed a consent form allowing the officers to search the property. (Id.). Police located the suspect package, but did not open it until obtaining a search warrant. (Id.). After receiving the warrant, the officers opened the package and found marijuana. (Id.).

         B. Motion in Limine

         The United States filed a Notice of Intent to Produce 404(b) Evidence (“NOI”) on December 19, 2018. (Doc. 19). The United States intends to introduce evidence of three prior arrests, two of which resulted in guilty pleas: a June 10, 2015 arrest resulting in a guilty plea for illegal carrying of a weapon, a February 17, 2015 incident report concerning an arrest for possession with intent to distribute 17.2 grams of marijuana, and a March 31, 2009 arrest that resulted in a guilty plea for attempted carrying of an illegal firearm. (Doc. 20-1 at p. 2).

         II. ARGUMENT AND ANALYSIS

         A. Claims 1, 2, and 3 of the Indictment will not be Dismissed nor Shall Evidence Gained from Examining the Package be Suppressed

         As a threshold matter, at the evidentiary hearing on January 16, 2019, the Court questioned defense counsel concerning whether Defendant's motion to dismiss would be more appropriately styled as a motion to suppress evidence. Defense counsel conceded that as he was challenging the allegedly illegal “seizure” of the package by Smith on the FedEx conveyor belt when Smith stopped and photographed the package, that his claim would more appropriately be considered a motion to suppress evidence. However, defense counsel did not withdraw his motion to dismiss at that time. Therefore, the Court shall consider Defendant's motion as both a motion to suppress evidence seeking to strike the allegedly illegal seizure, and in the alternative, a motion to dismiss counts 1, 2, and 3 of the indictment for failure to establish probable cause for officers to arrest Defendant.

         1. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         At the evidentiary hearing Defendant argued that Smith unlawfully seized the package when he stopped it and took a photo of it for the purpose of conducting a further investigation. Defendant claims that such an act violated his right to privacy in his mail.

         Law enforcement authorities must possess a reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts that a package contains contraband before they may detain the package for investigation. United States v. Van Leeuwen, 397 U.S. 249, 252-53. Reasonable suspicion exists when, based on the totality of the circumstances, an officer possesses a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that ...


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