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United States v. Buckman

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division

December 11, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Vernard Buckman, Jr., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court on Defendant Vernard Buckman, Jr.'s (“Defendant”) Motion to Suppress. (ECF No. 34.) The United States of America (“Government”) opposes Defendant's Motion. (ECF No. 43.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 34).

         I. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 30, 2017, a complaint was issued charging Defendant with Felon in Possession of a Firearm. (ECF No. 1.) On May 31, 2017, Defendant made his first appearance in federal court and the federal public defender was appointed to represent Defendant. (ECF No. 7.) On June 1, 2017, a preliminary hearing was held and Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin found probable cause for the case to proceed. (ECF No. 13.) On June 13, 2017, a Grand Jury sitting in the District of South Carolina returned an Indictment charging Defendant with possession of a firearm and ammunition, after having received a felony conviction and a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 922(g)(9). (ECF No. 15.) On October 13, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence recovered in this case. (ECF No. 34.)

         II. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On May 30, 2017, Deputy Christopher Morrow (“Deputy Morrow”) with Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office (“SCSO”) responded to a call regarding a domestic dispute. (ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) Deputy Morrow arrived on the scene and made contact with the victim, Kesha Johnson, who stated that Defendant had hit her in the head with a gun two times, resulting in bruising and lacerations on her head. (Id.) The victim also reported that, after Defendant struck her with the gun, he went to his vehicle to leave. (Id. at 2.) While he was out of sight, the victim reported hearing the sound of three gunshots. (Id.) The victim called 911. (Id.) Officers F. Obrecher and B. Peacock, from the Spartanburg Police Department (“SPD”), were the first law enforcement on the scene, until they determined the location was within SCSO's jurisdiction, and Deputy Morrow was dispatched, followed later by Deputy Horton. (Id.)

         While SPD officers were on the scene, Defendant arrived at the victim's house in his car with a child as the only passenger. (Id.) Defendant indicated he was there to drop off the child with the victim. (Id.) SPD Officers requested to search the vehicle, but Defendant did not respond. (Id.) After SCSO Deputies arrived on the scene, they also requested Defendant's consent to search the vehicle. (Id.) Defendant refused. (Id.) Deputy Horton observed that Defendant had cuts on his lip and chest that were still bleeding. (Id.)

         At this point, Deputy Morrow applied for and obtained a search warrant. (Id.) The search warrant lists the property sought as a “Handgun” and the description of the premises to be searched as a “2004 Cadillac DeVille white in color. S.C. tag MQR307. VIN 1G6KD54Y94U188142.” (ECF No. 47.) The search warrant explained the basis for the application as follows:

During a domestic violence incident on Southern Ave. within Spartanburg County, the suspect, Vernard Buckman, Jr., used a pistol to assault the mother of his child, Kesha Johnson, after returning from the front of the residence where his vehicle was parked. After the incident, he left the residence, got his child, and returned him to the mother, Kesha Johnson, at 221 Ardmore Rd. Spartanburg, SC.

(ECF No. 47.)

         During the search, law enforcement recovered a loaded Taurus Millennium G2 9mm pistol, with blood on the back-strap, from a storage compartment in the center console of the car. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2.)

         On October 13, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress asserting: (1) the search of the vehicle and seizure of items in the vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment because the search warrant submitted by Deputy Morrow and/or other officers did not contain or constitute probable cause to establish that evidence of a crime would be found in the vehicle; and (2) the search warrant was so sparse of facts such that no objectively reasonable officer could have relied in good faith on the sufficiency or legality of the search warrant or its application. (ECF No. 34.)

         On November 13, 2017, the Government filed a response in opposition to Defendant's Motion asserting that the search warrant did contain sufficient probable cause to justify a search of his vehicle. (ECF No. 43.) On December 4, 2017, the court held a suppression hearing in which both parties were present and given an opportunity to question Deputy Morrow.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Fourth Amendment provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Probable cause is not subject to a precise definition, and it is a relaxed standard. See United States v. Allen, 631 F.3d 164, 172 (4th Cir. 2011). Whether the issuing magistrate judge had probable cause to issue a search warrant depends upon whether, from a “totality of the circumstances” presented, there was a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime” would be found in the places to be searched. Illinois v. ...


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