United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 47). The Indictment charges Defendant, a convicted felon, with knowing possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Defendant moves to suppress all evidence obtained by law enforcement officers as a result of his detention, seizure, and arrest at his home on November 27, 2013. Defendant argues the evidence should be suppressed because the officers unlawfully entered his home in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court has carefully reviewed the cases and suggestions submitted by the parties, including those submitted by Defendant in his pro se filings. Upon consideration, the Court hereby DENIES Defendant's motion.
On November 27, 2013, a Newton County Dispatcher received a frantic 911 call from a woman requesting assistance at 200 Hillcrest Drive in Neosho, Missouri. The caller identified herself as Dushawnne Hoyt and reported a domestic dispute involving her boyfriend. She exclaimed during that call that "I will be... dead before you get all this information... he got a butcher knife to my... neck and he got a gun." The dispatcher relayed the information regarding an armed domestic disturbance at 200 Hillcrest Drive to the Neosho Police Department. Officer Gold arrived on the scene shortly thereafter.
According to Officer Gold, when he arrived at the residence, Ms. Hoyt was standing near the roadside next to her car. After he spoke with Ms. Hoyt for approximately thirty seconds he went to speak to Defendant, who was standing near the front door to his residence. Officer Fohey, who had arrived on the scene moments after Officer Gold, remained with Ms. Hoyt. Officer Gold saw no firearms or weapons in Defendant's hands and approached Defendant in a normal manner. The officer testified that he asked Defendant what was going on and why he was called out to the residence. Officer Gold testified that when he was roughly five feet away from Defendant, who was standing just inside the doorway to the residence, he asked if they could speak inside the residence and Defendant responded "sure" and allowed Officer Gold into the residence. Once inside, Defendant explained that he and Ms. Hoyt were in an ongoing civil dispute and that Ms. Hoyt grabbed a knife so he was forced to defend himself. Defendant and Officer Gold conversed for approximately two minutes before Officer Fienan entered the residence.
Officer Fienan entered the residence after he spoke briefly with Ms. Hoyt, learned from Officer Fohey that Defendant was inside the residence with Officer Gold, and observed Defendant and Officer Gold through the screen door. Upon entering, Officer Fienan joined Defendant and Officer Gold in the kitchen. At some point during the ensuing conversation, Officer Fienen asked Defendant whether there was a gun in the residence as Ms. Hoyt reported. Defendant pointed to a green duffle bag on the ground and stated the only gun he had was "in there." Officer Fienen opened the duffle bag and secured the gun. He then asked Defendant whether there were any other guns in the residence because this gun did not match the one described by Ms. Hoyt. Defendant admitted there was another gun in his bedroom. Defendant showed the officers the location of the second gun and the officers secured that gun. Officer Fienen explained to Defendant that he is a felon and should not be in possession of a firearm. Defendant indicated he understood and realized he should not be in possession of the firearms.
Defendant moves to suppress all evidence including statements and physical evidence obtained by the officers after they entered Defendant's home. Defendant argues the officers' entry into his residence violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers lacked a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances. He argues the evidence acquired after the allegedly illegal entry constitutes "fruit of the poisonous tree." The Government counters that the officers lawfully entered Defendant's home based on consent and/or exigent circumstances. The Court agrees with the Government that Defendant voluntarily consented to the officers' entry; therefore, suppression is inappropriate.
"Generally, to search a private place, person, or effect, law enforcement must obtain from a judicial officer a search warrant supported by probable cause." United States v. Williams, 346 F.3d 796, 798 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)). "Where a person having authority over the premises voluntarily consents to a search, however, law enforcement may conduct a warrantless search without running afoul of the Fourth Amendment." Id. Consent may be reasonably implied from behavior. Id. at 799. "The precise question is not whether [the defendant] consented subjectively, but whether his conduct would have caused a reasonable person to believe that he consented." United States v. Williams, 521 F.3d 902, 906-07 (8th Cir. 2008). In addition to showing actual or implied consent, the government must also prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's consent was voluntary based on the totality of the circumstances. Williams, 346 F.3d at 799; see generally United States v. Esquivias, 416 F.3d 696, 700 (8th Cir. 2005) (discussing factors to consider in assessing voluntary consent).
Here, the evidence shows Defendant expressly or impliedly manifested consent for the officers to enter his residence. When Officer Gold asked Defendant if they could go inside to talk about the events that had transpired, Defendant replied "sure" and allowed Officer Gold to enter the residence. Defendant never asked the officers to leave or exhibited behavior limiting or withdrawing his initial consent. In fact, the record shows Defendant ushered the officers around his house to show where the events in question took place and where his guns were located. Under the circumstances presented here, Defendant's words and actions manifested consent for the officers enter his home. See United States v. Williams, 346 F.3d 796 (8th Cir. 2003) (consent where officers asked to enter and wife opened door further, stepped back, and uttered "okay"); Rollen v. City of Bowling Green, No. 2:08CV34 JCH, 2009 WL 5030779, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 15, 2009) (consent where officers asked mother whether defendant was present and she opened door to the residence and stepped back out of the way); see also United States v. Castellanos, 518 F.3d 965, 970 (8th Cir. 2008) (reasonable belief that defendant consented to entry where defendant allowed officers to follow him into residence with no objection). Although Defendant testified that the officers never asked for consent and he never provided consent, the Court finds Defendant's testimony not credible.
Moreover, the totality of the circumstances show Defendant's consent was voluntarily given. Officer Gold approached Defendant in a relaxed manner with no guns or weapons drawn, in his normal uniform, and he never raised his voice towards Defendant. Officer Gold was roughly five feet away from Defendant when he asked for consent to enter. Both officers testified that Defendant appeared coherent at the time of the encounter and answered questions appropriately and respectfully. Defendant was not under arrest or in custody at the time of consent, nor was he placed in handcuffs or restraints before or after entry into the home; rather, the officers were investigating the alleged armed domestic dispute. The evidence further shows Defendant is a 55-year-old man with at least average intelligence and a criminal history, suggesting Defendant is aware of the rights afforded to criminal suspects, including the right to remain silent and the right to refuse consent. The evidence shows Defendant had previous contact with Officer Gold and complained to the Neosho police chief on multiple occasions regarding conduct of the Neosho police officers, suggesting Defendant is not intimidated by or around law enforcement personnel. The only evidence that may question the voluntariness of Defendant's consent is Defendant's own testimony, which the Court finds vague, equivocal, not credible, and not persuasive. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds Defendant's consent was voluntary.
Because the Court finds the officers lawfully entered Defendant's home based on the consent exception to the warrant requirement, it is unnecessary to address the issue of exigency.
Based on the foregoing discussion, the Court hereby DENIES Defendant's motion to suppress (Doc. 47). The Court also denies Defendant's various pro se motions as they have been previously addressed by the Court (Doc. 21) or constitute pro se ...