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United States v. Burnside

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

April 20, 2018



          Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge

         This matter is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R) in which the Honorable Judge C.J. Williams, United States Chief Magistrate Judge, recommends that I deny defendant's motion (Doc. No. 19) to suppress evidence. See Doc. No. 27. Defendant has filed an objection (Doc. No. 40) to the R&R and plaintiff (the Government) has filed a partial objection (Doc. No. 41).


         A district judge must review a magistrate judge's R&R under the following standards:

Within fourteen days after being served with a copy, any party may serve and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court. A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b). Thus, when a party objects to any portion of an R&R, the district judge must undertake a de novo review of that portion.

         Any portions of an R&R to which no objections have been made must be reviewed under at least a “clearly erroneous” standard. See, e.g., Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (noting that when no objections are filed “[the district court judge] would only have to review the findings of the magistrate judge for clear error”). As the Supreme Court has explained, “[a] finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573-74 (1985) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). However, a district judge may elect to review an R&R under a more-exacting standard even if no objections are filed:

Any party that desires plenary consideration by the Article III judge of any issue need only ask. Moreover, while the statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed, it does not preclude further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party, under a de novo or any other standard.

Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).


         A. Procedural History

         On December 20, 2017, a grand jury returned an indictment (Doc. No. 2) charging defendant Jacquiere Burnside with one count of illegally possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2). Burnside filed a motion (Doc. No. 19) to suppress evidence and the Government filed a resistance (Doc. No. 22). Judge Williams conducted an evidentiary hearing on February 23, 2018, during which Government's Exhibits 1 and 2 and defendant's Exhibit A were received.[1] The Government also presented the testimony of Waterloo Police Officer Andrew Tindall. On February 26, 2018, Judge Williams issued an R&R in which he recommends that I deny the motion.

         B. Relevant Facts

         At 10:00 p.m. on October 20, 2017, Officer Tindall conducted a traffic stop of a silver Hyundai Santa Fe. Burnside was the driver of the vehicle and identified himself by name. The stated reason for the stop was a defective left license plate lamp. At the time of the stop, Tindall was notified that Burnside was known to carry weapons. Tindall asked Burnside to exit the vehicle. Burnside complied and Tindall performed a pat down search, during which he discovered a silver Bryco Arms Jennings Nine Model 9mm handgun on Burnside's person. Burnside did not have a permit for the weapon.

         The vehicle at issue was originally equipped with two white lights that illuminated the rear license plate. One license plate lamp was not operating but the other was functioning and illuminated the license plate so it could be seen within 50 feet of the vehicle. Tindall testified that he believed the defective license plate lamp was in violation of Iowa Code § 321.387, which addresses “Rear lamps” on a vehicle. However, he did not issue Burnside a citation for a defective license plate lamp.

         C. Judge Williams' Findings

         Burnside argues that evidence of the firearm should be suppressed because the officer who stopped him lacked any reasonable suspicion that he was in violation of Iowa law. Burnside contends that the statute referenced by Tindall, Iowa Code § 321.387, is not applicable to defective license plate lamps. Judge Williams found that the plain language of section 321.387 was ambiguous. Doc. No. 27 at 3-4. Applying various federal rules of statutory interpretation, he then found that the statute only applied to rear red lamps on a vehicle, and not rear lamps illuminating license plates. Id. at 4-6.

         Judge Williams next analyzed whether the officer's mistake of law was reasonable such that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. Id. at ...

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