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United States v. Fischer

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 10, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant David William Fischer's (“Fischer”) Motion to Suppress. Dkt. 14. Fischer alleges that law enforcement officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. He seeks to exclude “evidence seized from the … hotel room” he was staying in. Dkt. 14-1 at 11. This evidence includes: (1) a large bundle of cash in the amount of $3, 275, (2) two backpacks[1], (3) a clear shard of what turned out to be methamphetamine recovered from the bathroom toilet, and (4) an empty plastic baggy from the bathroom trashcan. Additionally, Fischer seeks to exclude the contents of the locked backpacks, including: (5) approximately forty-four grams of methamphetamine, (6) oxycodone, (7) marijuana, and (8) two Samsung cellular telephones. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Fischer's motion.


         On September 26, 2017, law enforcement officers converged on the Red Lion Hotel in Boise, Idaho to arrest him on a parole violation warrant. Dkt. 14-1 at 1. Fischer concedes that prior to the search, “law enforcement was aware … that … [he] was on parole for aggravated assault … and had a history of drug offenses.” Dkt 14-1 at 10.

         Once they arrived on scene, the officers observed Fischer exiting Room 208 and removing items from a 2002 Ford Taurus. After surveilling Fischer for a period of time, the officers approached Room 208 and initiated a “contain and call out, ” thereby announcing themselves as law enforcement officers. Fischer refused to open the door and subsequently barricaded himself in the room by moving a heavy dresser in front of the door. The officers contacted Fischer by phone. Fischer was upset and continually disconnected the calls. While they were on the phone with Fischer, the officers heard movement in the room, including a toilet flushing and a barking dog. After an hour-long standoff, Fischer surrendered to the officers and was placed into custody at 2:35 PM.

         After taking Fischer into custody, Officer Joshua Thorndyke entered Room 208 and discovered another occupant in the room, Tymilynn Uhl. Ms. Uhl had a large dog with her. Officer Thorndyke commanded Ms. Uhl to put her dog in the bathroom and exit the room with her hands up. Ms. Uhl complied. With the dog safely locked in the bathroom, law enforcement began a protective sweep of the bedroom area. During the bedroom sweep, the officers discovered a large bundle of cash in the amount of $3, 275 and two locked backpacks. The officers then turned to the bathroom. A K-9 officer on the scene retrieved the dog from the bathroom. From the doorway of the bathroom area, Officer Thorndyke was able to see a wet and empty clear plastic baggy in the bathroom trashcan and a clear shard in the toilet bowl. The shard subsequently tested positive for methamphetamine.

         After the sweep, the officers secured Room 208 while Officer Thorndyke left to obtain a warrant. Rather than remaining outside of Room 208 while Officer Thorndyke secured the warrant however, the officers repeatedly exited and entered the Room. At approximately 4:09 PM, the officers on the scene interviewed three witnesses: Ms. Uhl, who was in the hotel room with Fischer; Juliet Summers, who rented the hotel room for Fischer; and, Sheryll Wilson, who owned the 2002 Ford Taurus that Fischer was borrowing at the time he was arrested. Ms. Summers and Ms. Wilson had been called to the scene by the officers.

         During her interview with the officers on scene, Ms. Summers consented to a search of Room 208 at 4:15 PM. In doing so however, she told the law enforcement officers that she (1) rented the room solely for Mr. Fischer, (2) had never been in the hotel room, (3) had no intention of going in the room, and (4) did not have any belongings in the room. Ms. Wilson consented to a search of her car. An officer retrieved three sets of keys from Room 208. Ms. Wilson identified one of the key sets as belonging to her. The officers then used the key to open Ms. Wilson's Ford Taurus at approximately 4:21 PM. In the trunk of the car officers discovered a Charter Arms pistol box that contained a cigarette box with thirteen rounds of ammunition in it. Officers also discovered a pistol holster in the trunk.

         Four hours after Fischer was arrested, law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Room 208. Using a key found in the Room, law enforcement opened the two locked backpacks. The first backpack contained two handguns and about forty-four grams of methamphetamine. The second backpack contained 1.1 grams of methamphetamine, along with oxycodone, marijuana, and smoking pipes.

         Fischer was indicted for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C. § 841, possession of firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and possession of a firearm as a felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). On March 20, 2018, Fischer filed his motion to suppress. He seeks to suppress only “evidence seized from … [the] hotel room.” Dkt. 14-1 at 11. The Court will not evaluate the search of Ms. Wilson's car and the subsequent seizure of the pistol holster and Charter Arms pistol box containing ammunition.


         1. Search-Incident to Arrest, Protective Sweep, and Plain View Doctrine.

         The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from searches and seizures that are unreasonable. United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985). Reasonableness “depends upon all of the circumstances surrounding the search or seizure and the nature of the search or seizure itself, ” id., and weighs the intrusion upon individual privacy interests against the promotion of legitimate governmental interests. See Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 331 (1990). The Supreme Court has recognized a need for law enforcement to adequately protect themselves during searches of a home where a suspect may hide and readily access a weapon, Buie, 494 U.S. at 333-34, thereby creating a limited exception to the warrant requirement. See United States v. Lemus, 582 F.3d 958, 961 (9th Cir. 2009).

         “A search incident to a lawful arrest is a well-established exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. This exception allows an officer to search the arrestee's person and the area within his immediate control, defined as the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” United States v. Cook, 797 F.3d 713, 717 (9th Cir. 2015). Concern for the officer's safety justifies a search without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of areas including closets and small places where a readily accessible weapon may be hidden. Lemus, 582 F.3d at 962. Furthermore, officers may conduct a protective sweep of adjoining areas if there are articulable facts that would reasonably lead “a prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbor[ed] an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.” Id. (quoting Buie, 494 U.S. at 334). A protective sweep “may extend only to a cursory inspection of ...

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