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United States v. Sanders

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

August 9, 2018



          C.J. Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Kenneth Lamont Sanders' (“defendant”) Motion to Suppress Evidence. (Doc. 7). The Government timely filed its resistance (Doc. 9), and I held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on August 1, 2018. For the following reasons, I recommend the Court deny defendant's motion.


         On February 16, 2018, just prior to 10:00 A.M., the Dubuque Police Department received a call from N.R.'s grandmother. N.R. is the daughter of Karina LaFrancois, who was defendant's girlfriend on the date in question. N.R., who was eleven years old at the time, called her grandmother on the phone[1] and explained that Ms. LaFrancois and defendant were fighting in their residence. N.R.'s grandmother told the 911 operator that her granddaughter told her that Ms. LaFrancois and defendant were “fighting really bad, ” but the grandmother did not know why Ms. LaFrancois and defendant were fighting, or whether the “fight” was verbal as opposed to physical. N.R.'s grandmother also did not know whether any weapons were involved. The grandmother informed the 911 operator that three minor children were present in the residence: N.R. and two other children, ages seven and one. The grandmother also informed the 911 operator that she had difficulty understanding N.R.

         Dubuque Police Officers were dispatched to the residence. The dispatcher did not share the complete details of the 911 call with the officers who were dispatched. Rather, the dispatcher told Officer Joel Cross only that there was a domestic disturbance, but made no mention of a fight, injury, or firearm. Officer Cross was the first to arrive at the residence, and Officer Tom Pregler arrived shortly thereafter. Several other officers subsequently arrived at the residence as well. When Officer Cross arrived at the residence, he observed N.R. through an upstairs window “acting excited, ” and gesturing at Officer Cross. It is unclear what N.R. intended to communicate with her gestures.

         Officers Cross and Pregler knocked on the front door, and Ms. LaFrancois came outside to talk to the officers. Officer Pregler described Ms. LaFrancois as “very emotional” and “unstable.” Officer Pregler testified that Ms. LaFrancois had visible injuries in the form of red marks on her face and neck. (Exhibits 6-8). Ms. LaFrancois, however, told the officers that everything was okay.

         The officers informed Ms. LaFrancois that they also needed to talk to defendant. Ms. LaFrancois explicitly stated that she did not want the officers to enter the residence and offered to have defendant speak with the officers outside. The officers initially assented to speaking with defendant outside. When Ms. LaFrancois opened the door to go inside to ask defendant to speak with the officers outside, crying could be heard coming from inside the residence, though it was unclear, specifically, who was crying or where the crying was coming from. Upon hearing the crying, the officers who were positioned outside the residence had a brief discussion as to whether they should enter the house to check on the crying person, and the officers ultimately decided to enter the residence.

         Once the officers were inside the residence, defendant was very noncompliant, uncooperative, and argumentative. At some point, Ms. LaFrancois reentered the residence. Both defendant and Ms. LaFrancois adamantly insisted, repeatedly, that they did not want the officers inside the house and that defendant would go outside to speak with them. Defendant repeatedly referred to the house as Ms. LaFrancois' house, and when later asked if defendant and Ms. LaFrancois lived together, defendant replied “I don't live here.” (Exhibit 2). Officers separated defendant and Ms. LaFrancois, with Ms. LaFrancois stepping outside. While outside, Ms. LaFrancois stated that defendant was living in the residence. Officers also learned that defendant and Ms. LaFrancois had a child together. Neither defendant nor Ms. LaFrancois ever gave the officers permission to be in the house or to search the house, and the officers did not have a search warrant.

         When Officer Cross started to go upstairs to speak with N.R., defendant attempted to physically block Officer Cross from communicating with either N.R. or N.R.'s brother, who was also upstairs. Officer Cross eventually made it past defendant and was able to converse with N.R., at which time N.R. told Officer Cross that although she never saw defendant in possession of a firearm during the argument, N.R. could hear her mother yelling “Put the gun down! Put the gun down!” (Exhibit 1). N.R. further stated to Officer Cross that it sounded like Ms. LaFrancois was being choked during the argument.

         N.R. told Officer Cross that the gun could be in a drawer in the downstairs living room. Officer Cross immediately went back downstairs and searched the drawer; however, he did not locate the firearm there. Officer Cross then spoke with Ms. LaFrancois, who initially denied there was a gun present. She eventually admitted that she believed defendant had a gun while the couple was arguing, based on defendant holding his arm behind his body as though he was reaching for a gun that was tucked into his waistband. Officer Cross asked Ms. LaFrancois where the gun was and after initially denying any knowledge of the gun's location, Ms. LaFrancois stated that it could be in the couch. Officer Cross looked in the couch and located the gun. After Officer Cross found the gun, the officers further questioned defendant and Ms. LaFrancois concerning the gun and the circumstances surrounding the fight that ultimately led to the officers being dispatched to the residence.


         A. Warrantless Search Standards

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment may be excludable. United States v. Peltier, 422 U.S. 531, 535-39 (1975). “[T]he exclusionary rule reaches not only primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure, but also evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality or fruit of the poisonous tree.” Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 804 (1984) (citations and internal quotations marks omitted).

         When officers conduct a search pursuant to their community caretaker functions or to exigent circumstances, however, no Fourth Amendment violation has occurred. See United States v. Quezada, 448 F.3d 1005, 1007 (8th Cir. 2006). Similarly, officers are not required to obtain a warrant to search when exigent circumstances are present. United States v. Ramirez, 676 F.3d 755, 759 (8th Cir. 2012). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained the differences between when an officer conducts a ...

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