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United States v. Steffens

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

November 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK LAYNE STEFFENS and JEREMY WILLIAM LILLICH, Defendants.

          ORDER ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LEONARD T. STRAND, CHIEF JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................. 2

         II. BACKGROUND ............................................................................... 2

         A. Procedural History ........................................................................ 2

         B. Relevant Facts ............................................................................. 3

         III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS ............................................................. 8

         IV. DISCUSSION ................................................................................ 9

         A. Lillich's Objections to the Factual Findings ....................................... 10

         B. Legality of the Initial Encounter ..................................................... 11

         1. Judge Mahoney's Analysis .......................................................... 11

         2. The Government's Objection ....................................................... 13

         3. Lillich's Objections ................................................................... 13

         4. Steffens' Objections .................................................................. 15

         5. Analysis ................................................................................. 15

         C. Legality of the Second Encounter .................................................... 28

         1. Judge Mahoney's Analysis .......................................................... 28

         2. The Government's Objection ....................................................... 31

         3. Lillich's Objections ................................................................... 31

         4. Analysis ................................................................................. 33

         D. Lillich's Motion to Suppress Due to Lack of Miranda Warnings .................. 40

         1. Judge Mahoney's Analysis .......................................................... 40

         2. Lillich's Objection .................................................................... 40

         3. Analysis ................................................................................. 41

         E. Steffens' Arguments to Suppress Evidence from His Cell Phone .............. 42

         1. Judge Mahoney's Analysis .......................................................... 43

         2. Steffens' Objection ................................................................... 44

         3. Analysis ................................................................................. 45

         F. Lillich's Motion to Sever ............................................................... 47

         1. Judge Mahoney's Analysis .......................................................... 47

         2. Lillich's Objection .................................................................... 48

         3. Analysis ................................................................................. 48

         V. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 50

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R) by the Honorable Kelly K.E. Mahoney, Chief United States Magistrate Judge. Doc. No. 75. Judge Mahoney recommends that I (1) grant in part and deny in part Jeremy Lillich's motion to suppress evidence related to his first and second encounters with law enforcement (Doc. No. 27), (2) deny Patrick Steffens' motion to suppress (Doc. No. 50), (3) deny Lillich's motion to suppress related to the lack of Miranda warnings (Doc. No. 56) and (4) deny Lillich's motion to sever (Doc. No. 42).

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On March 20, 2019, a grand jury returned an indictment (Doc. No. 3) charging defendants Steffens and Lillich with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 546 and 541(a)(1) and one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 541(a)(1).

         Lillich filed his first motion to suppress evidence (Doc. No. 27) on April 16, 2019, which was followed by a motion to sever the defendants' trial (Doc. No. 42) on May 8, 2019, and a second motion to suppress evidence (Doc. No. 56) on May 23, 2019. The Government resisted each of these motions. Doc. Nos. 41, 45, 67. Steffens also filed a motion to suppress evidence and request a Franks hearing (Doc. No. 50) on May 22, 2019. The Government resisted this motion as well. Doc. No. 58.

         Judge Mahoney held an evidentiary and Franks hearing on the motions on June 20, 2019. During the hearing, Judge Mahoney received Government's Exhibits 1 through 6 and defendants' Exhibits A through C into evidence.[1] She then issued her R&R on July 23, 2019. The Government (Doc. No. 84), Lillich (Doc. No. 85) and Steffens (Doc. No. 86) filed objections to the R&R on August 12, 2019.

         B. Relevant Facts

         Judge Mahoney made detailed factual findings in her R&R. Doc. No. 75 at 2-9. Only Lillich raises specific objections to the factual findings.[2] See Doc. No. 85 at 4. Nonetheless, I adopt Judge Mahoney's factual findings as summarized in the R&R.

In the early morning hours of February 3, 2019, Sergeant Lenz and a reserve deputy with the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office were on patrol in the small town of Sloan, Iowa, due to break-ins the night before at a church and a school. They noticed a vehicle in a car wash bay (around 3:00 a.m.) and decided to observe from a short distance away. Sergeant Lenz was concerned about a possible burglary, given the break-ins the night before, the late hour, and recent car wash burglaries in the surrounding area. With regard to the latter, Sergeant Lenz testified that he receives notifications that contain information about what occurred in Woodbury County on the previous shift, as well as a summary of crimes in surrounding counties. Through these notifications and word-of-mouth from other officers, he knew about car wash burglaries in Lawton, Correctionville, and Sergeant Bluff (towns in Woodbury County); as well as car wash burglaries in Monona County, Iowa; and Cherokee County, Iowa. Sergeant Lenz could not give any specifics about these burglaries-including any information about the suspects, how long ago the burglaries occurred, and the time of day they occurred-other than that the Lawton burglary involved a cash machine outside a bay being ripped from the wall and that the Sergeant Bluff burglary involved cash machines being broken into. Sergeant Lenz also knew about an attempted burglary of the money lockbox at the Sloan car wash about a month prior, which occurred on January 1, 2019, at around 7:00 p.m. See Doc. 74.
The Sloan car wash has two manual car wash bays that are open and lit twenty-four hours. Both bays have two doors, so that a person can drive in, stop and wash their car, and then drive out. The owner of the car wash testified that the bay doors are kept closed in the winter months so the bays stay heated. The south bay (entrance) doors are manual, opened and closed by rope pulleys. The north bay (exit) doors are automatic-they open by pressing a button and automatically close when the car drives over a sensor.
On the night in question, as the officers drove by the car wash, they could see a vehicle and a person's feet in a car wash bay that had the door closed, next to an empty bay that had the door open (an automatic exit door). Sergeant Lenz turned around, drove back past the carwash, and parked about half a city block away from the car wash with the lights off. From that location, Sergeant Lenz testified that they could see all the way into the back of the open car wash bay. He testified that he observed a person walk from the closed bay through a doorway to the back of the open bay, and then back into the closed bay, and that he believed the person might have been acting as a lookout (or coming to investigate based on the sound of Sergeant Lenz's car driving by). Surveillance video from the car wash shows that Steffens walked just outside the doorway in between the occupied and unoccupied car wash bays, stopped briefly (about one second) in the back of the unoccupied car wash bay with his body angled toward the open bay door, and then returned to the occupied bay. See Govt. Ex. 2A, 3:03:15-24 (video from the unoccupied bay-Steffens is visible in the bottom right corner); Govt. Ex. 2B 3:03:15-24 (video from the occupied bay). This is the only instance of Steffens leaving the occupied bay or otherwise looking out of it. Although it could be said that Steffens “looked out” of the car wash bay from the back of the bay, the surveillance footage shows he did not turn his head or otherwise “look around” in any way.
After seeing Steffens, the officers decided to investigate further. Sergeant Lenz and the reserve deputy entered the bay occupied by Defendants by walking through the open garage bay door of the empty bay and walking the length of the empty bay to the open door between the two bays (the door Steffens had just appeared in). They announced their presence as law enforcement as they did so (and Sergeant Lenz carried a flashlight). They wore their sheriff's deputy uniforms with their weapons holstered and visible on their person.
In the car wash bay, they discovered Lillich and Steffens drying a car with the hood popped. They did not see any evidence indicating that Lillich and Steffens planned to burglarize the car wash. Sergeant Lenz asked Lillich and Steffens what they were doing at the car wash at 3:00 a.m., and Lillich responded that they had just been at the WinnaVegas Casino and that he often washes his car after going to the casino. Sergeant Lenz testified that in the past, he has been dispatched to the WinnaVegas Casino for drug trafficking activity and that the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office encounters drugs connected to the WinnaVegas Casino on an almost daily basis.
Sergeant Lenz explained to Lillich and Steffens that he was checking in based on the recent burglaries. He asked them for their identification, explaining that he needed their names for the report he would write about the contact. Steffens handed Sergeant Lenz a driver's license, and Lillich gave him an identification card, explaining that he was barred from driving and that Steffens had been driving the car. Sergeant Lenz recognized Lillich's name as a person involved with drugs. Sergeant Lenz radioed Lillich's and Steffens's information to dispatch, and while waiting for the results, he talked with Lillich and Steffens about their future plans for the night (they stated they were headed back to Sioux City).
After being on the scene for about four minutes, Sergeant Lenz went back to his car to scan the identification cards, while the reserve deputy stayed in the bay with Steffens and Lillich. The surveillance video from the car wash depicts Lillich seemingly asking the reserve deputy for permission to continue cleaning his car (which was granted-the reserve deputy gestures as if saying, “go ahead”). See Govt. Ex. 2B, 3:08:22. Shortly after Sergeant Lenz left the bay (about thirty seconds), another sheriff's deputy (Deputy Simoni) arrived and stood in the doorway between the two bays. While Sergeant Lenz was gone, Lillich and Steffens dried the car, and at various times, shut the hood and opened the driver's side and passenger side doors to access items in the car.
Sergeant Lenz returned after about three minutes and gave Lillich and Steffens their identification cards back. All three officers started to leave, going into the unoccupied car wash bay and walking across it toward the open bay door. Sergeant Lenz testified their encounter with the Defendants had ended and the deputies were leaving the scene. But before they made it to their cars, they received a notification from dispatch that there was a “hit” on Steffens for a United States Marshals hold and the existence of a federal arrest warrant related to “dangerous drugs.” Because of the possible warrant for Steffens, the officers returned to the car wash bay occupied by Steffens and Lillich (about thirty seconds after they had left it). The officers did not immediately arrest Steffens on the warrant, as the existence of the warrant was not verified until about thirty minutes later.
Instead, the officers questioned Lillich about his car. Lillich told the officers that he had purchased the car from Jimmy Merchant-who both Sergeant Lenz and Deputy Simoni knew to be “a thief” and involved in drugs. Deputy Simoni asked whether Lillich knew for sure the vehicle was not stolen, saying he “wouldn't trust Jimmy for nothing.” An officer asked Lillich how much he had paid for the vehicle, and Lillich told him. During this questioning, Lillich held a car floor mat that he had been wiping down, and he asked Sergeant Lenz whether he could put the car mat back inside the car. Sergeant Lenz responded, “yeah, if you want to.” The driver's side door was already open, and Lillich put the mat back in the car.
When he came back to where the officers were standing, Lillich asked, “Are we free to go?” Govt. Ex. 1, 1:11. Sergeant Lenz responded, “No, not right now, you might have a warrant, so we're just checking on that.” Sergeant Lenz then conducted a pat-down search of Steffens. During the search, he discovered a baggie of methamphetamine. Sergeant Lenz arrested Steffens and placed him in the back of his car. He also seized Steffens's cell phone.
Because Lillich was barred from driving, when Steffens was handcuffed, Deputy Simoni suggested that Lillich “start calling” someone for a ride. Lillich tried to access his car to get his cell phone, but Sergeant Lenz blocked his path, explaining that he “did not know what's in there” but that an officer could retrieve the phone for Lillich. Deputy Simoni went into the car through the open driver's side door and looked for the phone but could not find it. While Deputy Simoni looked for the phone, the reserve deputy conducted a pat-down search of Lillich. No. drugs were found on Lillich's person, although the officers did confiscate a small knife (which Deputy Simoni asked Lillich to remind him to return at the end of the encounter). Officers continued to look for the phone in the car, and eventually, Lillich rescinded his request for them to look for his phone.
After finding drugs on Steffens, officers called a K-9 officer to the scene to conduct a drug dog sniff of Lillich's car (that Steffens had been driving). While they waited for the K-9 officer, Lillich was not free to leave the scene (indeed, he asked to step outside, and the officer did not permit him to leave the car wash bay; he also asked if he could walk to the casino to find someone there to give him a ride, and the request was denied). Sergeant Lenz told Lillich, “It was a little weird, I was sitting up the street watching you guys, and [Steffens] kept peeking his head around the corner.” Govt. Ex. 1, 9:59. He elaborated that he had seen Lillich look into the unoccupied bay and out through its open door. Lillich denied it, and Sergeant Lenz responded sarcastically, “Okay, then I'm seeing stuff.” Lillich responded, “I think you are.” Sergeant Lenz stated, “I don't think so.” Sergeant Lenz asked whether Lillich and Steffens were meeting anyone at the car wash (implying he believed a drug transaction was to occur). Lillich stated that Steffens “did not peek his head around the corner one time, ” and Sergeant Lenz said that was what drew his attention to the car wash and was the reason he was there.
Officers testified that Lillich began chain smoking and became very sweaty, despite the 40-degree weather-to the point that Sergeant Lenz was concerned that Lillich had swallowed drugs because he was sweating so profusely. Lillich's face can be seen glistening with sweat in the body camera video. See Govt. Ex. 4, 22:00. At some point, Lillich asked whether he was under arrest, and an officer explained that he was currently being detained, but he was not under arrest.
When Sergeant Sands and his K-9 Rico arrived, they conducted a drug dog sniff of Lillich's vehicle. Rico alerted on the car. When officers searched the vehicle, they found approximately two pounds of methamphetamine and twenty-eight grams of cocaine inside a bag on the passenger's seat.
At a later date after Defendants' arrest, I issued a federal search warrant for Steffens's cell phone based on a supporting affidavit from Officer Howard. See Docs. 50-2, 50-3. Officer Howard prepared the affidavit based on his review of the officers' reports and by speaking with Sergeant Lenz on the telephone; he did not review the video evidence. The affidavit includes the following statements:
[Sergeant] Lenz observed a subject looking out of the wash bay and looking around in a suspicious way as if the subject was looking for someone or watching out for potential police. [Sergeant] Lenz was aware that recent burglaries had occurred in the Sloan area in the overnight hours as well as having experience with subjects entering the wash bays and drilling through the locks to steal the money from the wash machines.
Doc. 50-2. The only information in the affidavit specifically about Lillich's and Steffens's use of cell phones is from a post-arrest interview with Steffens, where Steffens stated that on the night of his arrest, a third party (who he refused to name) had called and told him to go to the WinnaVegas casino to pick up Lillich (who Steffens knew only as “J”) and give him a ride. Steffens said that he received a ride to the casino and met with Lillich, who told him to drive his car to Sioux City because he did not have a valid driver's license. Lillich also instructed Steffens to drive to the car wash so Lillich could wash his car. The affidavit also included a “belief statement” from the officer regarding his knowledge of the use of cell phones in drug trafficking activity.

Doc. No. 75 at 2-9 (footnotes omitted).

         III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Government, Lillich and Steffens have all filed objections to the R&R. First, I will address Lillich's objections to the factual findings in the R&R. Second, I will address the Government's, Lillich's and Steffens' objections regarding the legality of the initial encounter between law enforcement officers and the defendants. Third, I will address the Government's and Lillich's objections regarding the legality of the second encounter. Fourth, I will address Lillich's motion to suppress due to the officers' failure to provide Miranda warnings. Fifth, I will address Steffens' arguments regarding the warrant permitting the search of his cell phone. Finally, I will address Lillich's motion to sever.

         A. Lillich's Objections to the Factual Findings

         Lillich has raised 13 objections to the R&R.[3] Doc. No. 85. Three of the objections relate to Judge Mahoney's factual findings.

         In his fourth objection, Lillich argues against the finding that Deputy Lenz recognized Lillich's name as one connected with drugs. Id. at 4. Lillich contends “that Lenz was not familiar with Mr. Lillich (or his name) until much later in the action” and that Judge Mahoney improperly used this mistaken fact in concluding that the officers had a valid reason to detain Lillich and his vehicle. Id.

         The only evidence in the record regarding Lenz's prior knowledge of Lillich comes from Lenz's testimony at the suppression hearing. Doc. No. 89 at 36. Lenz answered in the affirmative when asked whether he knew Lillich was “previously involved with drug trafficking.” Id. Judge Mahoney found this testimony credible and included it in her factual findings. Without evidence to the contrary, I find no reason to discredit this finding.[4] Cf. United States v. West, 589 F.3d 936, 938 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (noting that credibility determinations by the court who heard the witness are “virtually unreviewable”).

         In his fifth objection, Lillich argues that the R&R mistakenly identifies Lenz as a “sergeant.” Doc. No. 85 at 5. Lillich argues that this mistake contributed to Lenz receiving an unwarranted assessment of credibility from Judge Mahoney. Id. I agree with Lillich that the R&R mistakenly refers to Lenz as “Sergeant Lenz.” At the suppression hearing, Lenz's position was referred to as “road deputy.” Doc. No. 89 at 14. However, I do not agree with Lillich that this error caused Judge Mahoney to inappropriately weigh the Lenz's credibility. Nothing in the record supports this assertion. ...


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