United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. WATSON, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Jones ("Defendant") has been charged with unlawful
possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
922(g)(1). Defendant filed a motion in limine, ECF No. 21,
motion to suppress, ECF No. 22, and motion to dismiss the
indictment for failure to preserve exculpatory evidence, ECF
No." 27. On February 19, 2019, the Court held an
evidentiary hearing on these motions. ECF No. 31. The Court
also ordered the parties to submit post-hearing briefs on the
motions, which they did. ECF Nos. 33, 35, and 36.
following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART
and DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion in
limine, ECF No. 21, GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion to
suppress, ECF No. 22, and DENIES
Defendant's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 27.
October 21, 2017, Officers Christopher Davis ("Officer
Davis") and Matthew Dover ("Officer Dover")
were on patrol in a marked police cruiser when they observed
a car parked on E. Mound St. with the engine running. A man
in the front passenger seat got out of the car, and the car
then pulled away from the curb without signaling. The
officers followed the car as it turned again, allegedly
without using a turn signal. The officers then attempted to
conduct a traffic stop. Defendant exited the car and ran from
the officers. Officers commanded Defendant to stop, and
eventually Officer Davis tackled Defendant. During the
struggle, Officer Davis allegedly observed Defendant reach
down and pull handgun from his waistband and place it inside
of a tire in an attempt to hide the gun. Officers placed
Defendant under arrest and located the loaded gun in the
tire. After Defendant was arrested, his vehicle was impounded
and towed and thus was subject to an inventory search wherein
the officers discovered a digital scale, currency, and a
small amount of cocaine.
September 2018, Defendant was indicted on one count of
unlawfully possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922(g)(1). ECF No. 11.
MOTION IN LIMINE
motion in limine seeks to preclude the use of two types of
evidence at trial: (1) contraband or evidence of other crimes
not identified in the indictment; and (2) any testimony
regarding Defendant's criminal record or the nature of
his prior felony convictions. ECF No. 21.
Evidence Relating to Any Contraband or Evidence of Other
Crimes Not Identified in the Indictment
Defendant moves to "preclude testimony and/or evidence
at trial relating to any and all contraband and/or evidence
of other crimes not identified in the indictment." Mot.
1, ECF No. 21. Specifically, Defendant moves to exclude
testimony or evidence related to "a small quantity of
cocaine (approximately 1.9 grams), a small sum of currency .
and a digital scale" that the government alleges were
found in the vehicle driven by Defendant on the night of his
arrest. Id. Defendant also seeks to preclude any
"testimony and/or evidence relating to any allegation
that he was under suspicion for drug trafficking, including
any testimony about or recordings of his conversation(s) with
law enforcement officers regarding such matter."
argues that this evidence is inadmissible under Federal Rule
of Evidence 404(b)(1). Rule 404(b)(1) states, "Evidence
of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a
person's character in order to show that on a particular
occasion the person acted in accordance with the
character." The rule also states that "[t]his
evidence may be admissible for another purpose."
Government argues that the cocaine, currency, and scale were
lawfully discovered in the vehicle driven by Defendant and
are admissible as background evidence that is inextricably
intertwined with the charged offense. Resp. 1, ECF No. 25.
The Government specifically argues that the evidence is
probative of Defendant's "mental state and his
motive for fleeing the police and discarding a firearm upon
being apprehended." Id. at 2.
evidence is an exception to Rule 404(b). United States v.
Hardy, 228 F.3d 745, 748 (6th Cir. 2000); see also
United States v. Adams, 722 F.3d 788, 810 (6th Cir.
2013). Background evidence "consists of those other acts
that are inextricably intertwined with the charged offense or
those acts, the telling of which is necessary to complete the
story of the charged offense." Hardy, 228 F.3d
at 748. "Typically, such evidence is a prelude to the
charged offense, is directly probative of the charged
offense, arises from the same events as the charged offense,
forms an integral part of a witness's testimony, or
completes the story of the charged offense."
Id. Background evidence is allowed "to put the
charges in the appropriate context" and is permitted
because "defendants are not entitled to a
'sanitized' recounting of the facts, and prosecutors
are not restricted to proving only discrete elements of a
crime in such a way that they would be unable to offer the
jury a natural narrative of events.'" United
States v. Gibbs, 797 F.3d 416, 424 (6th Cir. 2015)
(internal citations omitted).
the cocaine, currency, and digital scale allegedly found in
the car do not go directly to proving one of the elements of
the charged offense- unlawful possession of a firearm-they
are relevant background that helps explain why Defendant
would need a firearm. See United States v. Till, 434
F.3d 880, 884 (6th Cir. 2006) (affirming trial court's
admission of evidence of drug possession as background
evidence when trial court found it was "relevant
evidence in this case because of the propensity of people
involved with drugs to carry weapons"); United
States v. Andrews, No. 11-1415, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS
27380, at *5 (6th Cir. June 21, 2012) (finding that,
"[u]nder any standard of review, the district court did
not err by permitting a police officer to testify about
evidence of drugs and drug-trafficking paraphernalia found in
the car" in a felon in possession case); United
States v. Rhodes, 314 Fed.Appx. 790, 793 (6th Cir. 2008)
(affirming denial of motion in limine that sought to exclude
evidence of drugs in case involving firearm-related offenses
and noting that "[d]eclining to charge a drug offense
does not bar appropriate trial reference to drugs").
Indeed, the Sixth Circuit has stated that "[t]here is
strong authority for the proposition that evidence of drug
possession can and perhaps ought to be admitted in cases of
alleged firearm possession, partly to show motive for such
possession." Till, 434 F.3d at 883.
though this evidence is properly admissible as background
evidence, it would still be excluded under Rule 403 "if
its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger
of. .. unfair prejudice." Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Court has
"broad discretion" to make "determinations of
admissibility based on considerations of relevance and
prejudice[.]" United States v. Bell, 516 F.3d
432, 440 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v.
Chambers, 441 F.3d 438, 455 (6th Cir. 2006)). Here, in
line with what courts have found in similar cases, evidence
of the drugs, scale, and currency has probative value that is
not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice. See Till, 434 F.3d at 884 (agreeing with
the district court's reasoning, including that drug
evidence was "admissible as temporally and
spatially-connected background evidence, and [was] directly
probative of defendant's knowing possession of the
firearm" and that "its probative value cannot be
said to be substantially outweighed by its potential for
unfair prejudice"); Rhodes, 314 Fed.Appx. at
793 (noting as part of its analysis that "the district
court followed the accepted view that guns ... are 'tools
of the trade' used to protect drugs and drug
the Court DENIES this portion of
Defendant's motion in limine and concludes that evidence
or testimony regarding the cocaine, currency, and digital
scale that were allegedly found in the car Defendant was
driving is admissible in this case. Defendant relies on the
"same reason[s]" to argue that evidence that
Defendant was suspected of drug trafficking should also be
excluded. Therefore, for the same reasons, the Court will not
exclude such evidence on this basis.
Any Testimony Regarding Defendant's Criminal Record or
the Nature of His Prior Felony Convictions
is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). As mentioned previously, under
§ 922(g)(1), the Government must prove the following
elements: "(1) at the time of the offense, the defendant
previously had been convicted of a felony offense punishable
by imprisonment for more than one year; (2) the defendant
knowingly possessed a firearm or ammunition; and (3) the
firearm or ammunition previously had been shipped or
transported in interstate commerce." United States
v. Workman, 755 Fed.Appx. 533, 536 (6th Cir. Nov. 9,
is willing to stipulate to the first element, that he has a
prior felony conviction. Accordingly, Defendant requests that
the Government be precluded from presenting any testimony or
evidence regarding his criminal record or the nature of his
prior felony convictions. Additionally, Defendant argues that
the Indictment, which lists his prior felony convictions,
should not be introduced into evidence or otherwise presented
to the jurors due to the potential for undue prejudice. On
January 25, 2019, at a hearing before the Court, the
Government orally agreed to stipulate to the element of a
prior felony conviction. Therefore, the Court
GRANTS this portion of Defendant's
motion in limine, and the only evidence permitted at trial
concerning the first element of the charged offense is the
parties' stipulation that the Defendant has been
convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year.
Defendant's motion in limine is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART.
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
seeks to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of his
detention and all statements that he allegedly made after his
arrest. Defendant makes three arguments in support of his
suppression request: (1) the initial stop of Defendant was
pretextual and without probable cause; (2) Defendant's
car was unlawfully searched; and (3) Defendant did not
knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel and
right to remain silent.
contends that the initial stop was pretextual and without
probable cause that Defendant committed a traffic violation.
On this basis, Defendant argues that all evidence and
statements subsequently obtained must be suppressed as fruit
of the poisonous tree.
contrast, the Government argues that the seizure was
supported by reasonable suspicion and probable cause that
Defendant committed a traffic violation. An officer may
lawfully stop a car if the officer possesses probable cause
based on reasonable grounds to believe that a violation
occurred. United States v. Warfield, 727 Fed.Appx.
182, 185-86 (6th Cir. 2018). This is a "fact-dependent
determination [that] is made from the totality of the
circumstances and includes a 'realistic assessment of the
situation from a law enforcement officer's
perspective.'" Id. at 186. Columbus City
Code 2131.14 requires a driver to signal when moving right or
left. "A driver's failure to use a turn signal
provides probable cause to justify a traffic stop
irrespective of the officer's subjective intent."
United States v. Jackson, 682 F.3d 448, 453 (6th
Officers Davis and Dover both testified that they observed
Defendant twice fail to signal when he pulled to and from the
curb. Tr. 14, 60, ECF No. 32. In light of the Officers'
testimony, the Court finds that the Officers had probable
cause to conduct a traffic stop. Officers Davis and Dover
also testified that upon initiating a traffic stop, Defendant
fled from the officers on foot. Id. at 19, 67. As
such, Defendant's subsequent arrest for fleeing and
eluding an officer was supported by probable cause, and the
subsequent discovery of the firearm was lawful and not fruit
of the poisonous tree. The Court therefore
DENIES this portion of the motion to