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April 24, 2015
  United States v. Huff - Tenth Circuit
Case Name: United States v. Huff -- Tenth Circuit

Headline: Tenth Circuit holds that district courts may reconsider motions to suppress evidence without requiring the government to justify why it failed to present evidence or raise a legal argument at the first hearing.

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Issues Presented:

1. Can the district court reconsider a motion to suppress based on new evidence or a new legal argument advanced by the government without requiring the government to justify its failure to present it during the earlier motion hearing?

Brief Summary:

Kansas City, Kansas police offers arrested the appellant who was later indicted on counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered, short-barreled rifle. The appellant moved to suppress evidence of the firearms found in his vehicle because the police lacked probable cause to arrest him. The district court granted the motion to suppress. The government then moved to reconsider, offering a new legal argument for why the appellant was arrested without justifying why it failed to raise those arguments in the initial suppression hearing. The district court granted the motion to reconsider and denied the appellant's motion to suppress. The appellant was later found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He appealed the district court's grant of the government's motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit observed that the exclusionary rule does not automatically apply when the government fails to raise a legal argument during a suppression hearing, as prosecutorial oversight differs from the police misconduct that the exclusionary rule is designed to deter. It held that discretion lies with the district court to decide if the government must justify its earlier failure to raise a legal argument. The court affirmed the district court's decision to grant the motion to reconsider. It found that the police officers had probable cause to arrest the appellant and affirmed the district court's decision not to suppress evidence of the firearms.

Extended Summary:

In June 2011, two Kansas police officers initiated a traffic stop after observing a vehicle veer into another lane before correcting itself. While approaching the vehicle, one officer spotted a handgun beneath the driver's seat. The officers had the driver and passenger place their hands on the dash. An officer reached into the vehicle to remove the keys and noticed a rifle by the passenger seat. The officers had the two occupants exit the vehicle, handcuffed them, and placed them in the back of the patrol car.

The driver, Mr. Huff, was indicted on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of possession of an unregistered, short-barreled rifle. Acting pro se, Mr. Huff moved to suppress any evidence of the two firearms found in his vehicle. The district court found that the officers had not asked Mr. Huff any questions about the firearms before arresting him, concluded that the officers had no evidence of any legal violation by Mr. Huff at the time of the arrest, and granted the motion to suppress. The government provided no evidence of probable cause for the arrest during the motion hearing.

Two days after the motion to suppress was granted, the government filed a motion to reconsider the suppression. It admitted that it failed to identify the statute Mr. Huff had violated during the initial hearing. The government argued that the arrest was actually based on Kansas City Municipal Ordinance § 22-177(a)(5), which prohibits the transporting of any firearm that is not unloaded and completely encased in a container. The district court granted the motion for reconsideration, found that the officers had probable cause to arrest Mr. Huff, and un-suppressed evidence of the firearm. Mr. Huff was later convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The Tenth Circuit reviewed the district court's decision to reconsider a prior ruling for abuse of discretion. The court explained that motions to reconsider should "not be used to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised earlier", citing its earlier decision in United States v. Christy, 739 F.3d 534, 539 (10th Cir. 2014). The court noted that the government offered no excuse for failing to mention the Kansas City, Kansas ordinance during the initial suppression hearing even though it had ample opportunity to do so.

The court considered its Christy decision in the context of suppression hearings. It observed that, when the government seeks reconsideration based on a new legal argument, the Eleventh and the D.C. Circuits require the government to justify its failure to raise the argument during the initial hearing. However, the Second, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits do not. The court observed that, in those circuits, "[a] defendant is entitled to have evidence suppressed only if it was obtained unconstitutionally. If matters appearing later indicated that no constitutional violation occurred, society's interest in admitting all relevant evidence militates strongly in favor of permitting reconsideration. . . . [A] criminal defendant acquires no personal right of redress in suppressed evidence because the rationale for suppressing unlawfully obtained evidence is to deter official misconduct, not to compensate criminal defendants for the violation." In re Terrorist Bombings of U.S. Embassies in E. Afr., 552 F.3d 177, 196-97 (2d Cir. 2008).

The court also considered the Supreme Court's stated rationale for the existence of the exclusionary rule. In Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), the Court explained that the exclusionary rule exists to deter police misconduct. That misconduct must be "sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it". The Tenth Circuit reasoned that the exclusionary rule was meant to deter police misconduct and not prosecutorial oversight and that it was inappropriate to apply it to the prosecutor's failure to raise legal arguments during the first suppression hearing. The court therefore held that discretion lies with the district court to decide if the government must justify its failure to raise legal arguments during an initial suppression hearing and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by not requiring the government to provide such justification.

The court then turned to the appellant's argument that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence after the motion to reconsider was granted. It reviewed this denial using a totality of the circumstances standard of review. The appellant argued that, regardless of the motion to reconsider, the police still lacked probable cause to arrest him and that the reason for his arrest given by the government after the motion to reconsider was mere pretext. He argued that the police officer did not intend to arrest him for violation of Kansas City Municipal Ordinance § 22-177(a)(5) because, at the motion to reconsider, the officer testified that he knew of the ordinance but did not testify that he arrested the appellant for a violation of that ordinance.

The court highlighted the Supreme Court's decision in Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153 (2004), in which the Court held that the subjective state of mind of the officer during an arrest was irrelevant to the existence of probable cause. As per Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 814 (1996), the officers need only have specific factual knowledge to justify a search or arrest. They do not need to believe that a person has violated a specific ordinance or statute for there to be probable cause. The officers in this case clearly saw the uncased firearm in the appellant's car prior to removing the keys and arresting the appellant and his passenger. The court held that the initial search and subsequent arrest were both lawful. It affirmed the district court's ruling denying the appellant's motion to suppress.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/13/13-3216.pdf

Panel: McHugh, McKay, Baldock

Date of Issued Opinion: April 14, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-3216

Decided: Affirmed the ruling of the district court.

Counsel:
James L. Spies of the law office of James L. Spies, P.A., Kansas City, Kansas for Defendant - Appellant.

Barry R. Grissom, United States Attorney, and Terra D. Morehead, Assistant United States Attorney, District of Kansas, Kansas City, Kansas, for Plaintiff - Appellee.

Author: McKay

Case Alert Author: Ian M. Alden

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Barbara Bergman

    Posted By: Dawinder Sidhu @ 04/24/2015 05:23 PM     10th Circuit  

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