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United States v. Brooks

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 16, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
BRANDON BROOKS, Defendant-Appellee.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

The United States appeals the magistrate judge's decision in United States v. Brandon Brooks, No. TMD-13-po-01614, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 3731. Previously, the magistrate judge had issued an Opinion and Order in United States v. Cedric S. Brown, No. TMD-13-po-01557, 2013 WL 5604589 (D. Md. Oct. 11, 2013), excluding blood test evidence in a DUI case on the grounds that its warrantless acquisition violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights under Missouri v. McNeely, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013). The magistrate judge, referencing and incorporating the reasoning of the Brown opinion, suppressed the blood test evidence in this case as well. Because the Brown opinion misapplied McNeeley and failed to apply the good-faith exception properly, I will reverse the suppression order and remand this case for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts in this case are not in dispute, and were largely stipulated to for the purposes of a suppression hearing. On December 22, 2012, slightly before 1:00 a.m., Defendant was driving on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway and was stopped by Sergeant Adam Zielinski, United States Park Police, for driving erratically. Feb. 3, 2014 Suppression Hr'g Tr. 4, ECF No. 3-4 ("Tr."). Sergeant Zielinski noticed an odor of alcohol in the vehicle, at which time he requested that Defendant perform a field sobriety test. Id. Defendant failed the field sobriety test, so Sergeant Zielinski asked Defendant to perform a breath alcohol test. Tr. 5. Because Defendant refused to perform the breath test, Sergeant Zielinski took him into custody and transported him to a local hospital for an involuntary blood draw. Id. Sergeant Zielinski did not make any attempt to obtain a warrant prior to the blood draw, Tr. 7, and no procedure was in place that would have allowed Sergeant Zielinski to obtain a warrant over the phone, Tr. 8-11.[1]

Prior to a trial on charges of driving under the influence, Defendant moved to suppress the blood test evidence. The magistrate judge stayed the case, as well as several similar cases including Brown, pending the outcome of McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552, which was expected to resolve a jurisdictional split about whether the natural metabolization of alcohol in the blood stream created a per se exigency exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. McNeely invalidated the per se rule and held that exigency must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis under the totality of the circumstances. Id. at 1568. After the Supreme Court issued McNeely, the magistrate judge lifted the stay and held a suppression hearing in Brown. Applying McNeely, which he ruled applied retroactively, the magistrate judge found that the defendants' blood was taken without consent, that the government had not established exigent circumstances, and that, consequently, the blood draws violated the defendants' Fourth Amendment rights. Brown, 2013 WL 5604589, at *11. Finding that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply, he suppressed the blood test evidence in Brown, id., and in this case. Tr. 21.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(A) permits a party to bring an interlocutory appeal from "an order of a magistrate judge to a district judge within 14 days of its entry if a district judge's order could similarly be appealed." A district judge's suppression order in a case like this one may be appealed to the court of appeals so long as "the United States attorney certifies to the district court that the appeal is not taken for purpose of delay and that the evidence is substantial proof of a fact material in the proceeding." 18 U.S.C. § 3731. Such certification was timely filed as part of the Government's Notice of Appeal and Certification, ECF No. 1.

Rule 58(g)(2)(D) provides that the scope of an appeal from a magistrate judge's order or judgment "is the same as in an appeal to the court of appeals from a judgment entered by a district judge." Thus, "[i]n reviewing the grant of a suppression motion, [I] review the [magistrate judge's] factual findings for clear error and [his] legal determinations de novo." United States v. Laudermilt, 677 F.3d 605, 609 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Lewis, 606 F.3d 193, 197 (4th Cir. 2010)).

III. DISCUSSION

The magistrate judge considered three questions, but only one of them is raised on appeal. The parties do not dispute that, under United States v. Johnson, 457 U.S. 537, 562 (1982), decisions of the Supreme Court construing the Fourth Amendment (such as McNeely ) apply retroactively to cases that are pending on direct appeal when the Supreme Court decision is announced, [2] and the Government does not challenge the magistrate judge's finding that no exigent circumstances existed.[3] The Government contends that, even if a warrant was required, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies because Sergeant Zielinski properly relied on binding appellate precedent at the time of the blood draw. This argument has merit.

A. Precedent

Application of the exclusionary rule can be unpalatable; "its bottom-line effect, in many cases, is to suppress the truth and set [a] criminal loose in the community without punishment." Davis v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2427 (2011). The rule is a prudential doctrine created to deter law enforcement from engaging in activity that violates a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights-not a constitutional right itself. Id. at 2426-27. Because of the tremendous social costs of "requir[ing] courts to ignore reliable, trustworthy evidence bearing on guilt or innocence, " its application only is appropriate where it has real deterrent value. Id.

In Davis v. United States , the Supreme Court was asked to apply the exclusionary rule and suppress physical evidence obtained during a search incident to a lawful traffic stop. Id. at 2425. Relying on the decisions of the Eleventh Circuit interpreting New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), the police had understood the search of a vehicle following the arrest of its occupants to be per se reasonable within the search-incident-to-arrest exception of the warrant requirement and acted accordingly. Davis, 131 S.Ct. at 2424. But two years after the search of Mr. Davis's vehicle, the Supreme Court limited the Belton rule in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), while Mr. Davis's case was on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. Id. at 2426.[4] Conceding that the search now would be found unconstitutional under Gant, the Eleventh Circuit refused to suppress evidence obtained in good-faith reliance on then-settled law. Id.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that "when the police conduct a search in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent, the exclusionary rule does not apply." Id. This is one iteration of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, which has developed over time in a variety of circumstances where the police, in collecting incriminating evidence, did not engage in any misconduct that caused a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights to be violated.[5] The search of Mr. Davis's vehicle followed existing Eleventh Circuit precedent "to the letter, " such that the police conduct was inculpable in its entirety. Id at 2428. Davis's case did not involve any negligence or misconduct on the part of law enforcement that exclusion would have deterred going forward, id. at 2429, and did Davis did not secure ...


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