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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

February 16, 2018




         This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Pending before the undersigned is Defendant Rasheik Amond Harris' Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements (Doc. 25) obtained after he was approached by an officer for driving without a license. Harris argues that he was unlawfully arrested after parking in a driveway. (Doc. 40 at 2-3.) He further argues that his statements were made under duress. Id. at 3. Specifically, Harris claims that he confessed to possessing drugs so that his girlfriend would be released from jail.

         Harris also filed a Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Doc. 57) claiming that the “Indictment is vague, . . ., and does not contain a plain, . . .written statement of the essential facts constituting the alleged offense. . .” Id. at 1. More particularly, Harris complains that the evidence presented to the Grand Jury was inadequate, it was inconsistent with information in police reports, and it was secured in reliance on hearsay and evidence that should be suppressed. See generally Doc. 42. The Government filed pleadings in Opposition. (Docs. 47, 62.)

         An evidentiary hearing was held (Doc. 30) during which three Sikeston Department of Public Safety Officers testified-Captain Andrew Cooper, Officer Benjamin Quick, and Detective Bobby Penrod. The officers were cross-examined extensively by defense counsel.

         The parties filed post-hearing memoranda (Docs. 40, 41, and 47), after which the matter was taken under submission. Based on the testimony and evidence adduced and having had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, the undersigned recommends that the following findings of fact and conclusions of law be adopted, and that the Defendant's Motions be denied.

         Additional Background related to Pretrial Motions

         In an earlier scheduling Order (Doc. 63), the undersigned mistakenly referred to the “Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements” (Doc. 40) as having been filed by the Defendant, pro se. The Defendant was originally represented by the Federal Public Defender. Following the suppression hearing, the Defendant filed pro se pleadings that resulted in the scheduling of a status hearing (Doc. 48) to determine whether additional evidence needed to be submitted to the Court. As a consequence of the hearing, the undersigned found that there had “been a complete breakdown in the attorney client relationship” (Doc. 50 at 2), which resulted in the appointment of new counsel to represent the Defendant. In a separate Order, the undersigned addressed various correspondence (Doc. 42) the Defendant filed pro se, including: a Motion to Withdraw earlier Motion to Suppress, id. at 5-6, a Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements and Memorandum in Support, id. at 7-10, as well as a Memorandum of Points and Authorities, id. at 11-14. The Court noted that:

the Defendant also filed a pro se Motion to Quash and Dismiss Grand Jury Indictment (Doc. 35) on August 21, 2017. In regard to the Defendant's filing of pro se motions, he is reminded that he is represented by counsel and clearly stated on the record that he does not want to represent himself. As a threshold matter, “[t]here is no constitutional right to simultaneously proceed pro se and with benefit of counsel.” United States v. Agofsky, 20 F.3d 866, 872 (8th Cir. 1994) (emphasis added). The Defendant is advised that any future motions or requests must be filed by his appointed attorney. See Abdullah v. United States, 240 F.3d 683, 686 (8th Cir. 2001) (“A district court has no obligation to entertain pro se motions filed by a represented party.”).

         The Defendant's second attorney adopted the Federal Public Defender's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 25) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 40). He also filed a Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Doc. 51) wherein he incorporated the Defendant's pro se correspondence (Doc. 42) related to pretrial motions.

         I. Findings of Fact

         Harris is charged with possession of more than fifty grams of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. (Doc. 2.) Harris has four prior felony convictions-two related to trafficking controlled substances, one for Second Degree Burglary, and one for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. Id.

         On March 9, 2017, Sikeston Department of Public Safety (DPS) Captain Andrew Cooper was on duty and approaching an intersection, shortly after two in the afternoon, when he observed the Defendant drive through the intersection in a Chevy Tahoe. Captain Cooper had known the Defendant for more than a decade. He knew the Defendant as “Rocky” Harris and that the Defendant's first name was Rasheik. Harris caught Captain Cooper's attention at the intersection, in part, because Cooper knew Harris had been arrested for driving while suspended just two months earlier in the exact same vehicle. Captain Cooper decided to follow Harris and called Dispatch to verify the status of Harris' license. If Cooper was able to confirm that Harris' driving privileges were suspended, he intended to arrest Harris.

         Captain Cooper followed the Tahoe and watched the vehicle park in a driveway two blocks away from the intersection where he initially saw the Tahoe. As the Tahoe stopped on its own, Captain Cooper simply parked on the street near the driveway, not blocking the vehicle, and walked up to the Tahoe to speak with Harris. Cooper asked if Harris had a license and Harris replied he did not. Harris was in the driver's seat, his girlfriend was in the front passenger seat, and a second male was in the backseat.

         Detective Mario Whitney arrived to assist Captain Cooper with the interaction. Within a couple minutes, Dispatch reported that Harris' license was in fact suspended. Detective Whitney opened the driver's door and told Harris to step out because he was under arrest. When the driver's door was opened, Detective Whitney saw a firearm inside the driver's door compartment; he instructed Harris to not reach for the gun. Harris complied and he was handcuffed. Harris was in possession of approximately $1, 700.

         Another officer, Benjamin Quick, was standing on the passenger side of the Tahoe. When the gun was found, Harris' girlfriend told Officer Quick that she did not know there was a gun in the car. She was the registered owner of the Tahoe. Officer Quick asked the girlfriend if there was anything else in the car that was illegal or might be harmful to the officers. The girlfriend said there wasn't anything else in the vehicle. As the registered owner of the vehicle, the officers asked her for consent to search the Tahoe. The girlfriend consented to a search of her vehicle.

         Detective Bobby Penrod searched the Tahoe. A Crown Royal bag was observed in plain view on the center hump of the floor board between the driver and passenger. Several bags of suspected controlled substances were found, some of which were located in the Crown Royal bag. Detective Penrod believed the substances were methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Lab tests later reflected that the substances included methamphetamine, heroin, and a non-controlled substance.

         The rear passenger had a warrant out for his arrest and he was arrested. All the occupants were taken to the police station. Harris agreed to participate in an interview. The Sikeston DPS “Miranda” form provided:

1. You have the right to remain silent.
2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
3. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him/her present with you while you are being questioned.
4. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish.
5. You can decide at any time to exercise[] these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.

(Gov't. Ex. #1.) Harris placed his initials below the warning acknowledging that he understood the rights that had just been read to him. Next, he placed his initials beside the yes in response to the question, “Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?” Harris then signed his first and last ...

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