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United States v. Bear

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division

May 1, 2015



ROBERTO A. LANGE, District Judge.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe police officers arrested Defendant Ronnie Keith Circle Bear in his motel room. They seized certain evidence and questioned him both in the room and at the tribal police department. Circle Bear moved to suppress the evidence and statements, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment as well as the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno recommended denying Circle Bear's motion and Circle Bear has now filed objections to that recommendation. For the reasons explained below, this Court adopts the Report and Recommendation in part.

I. Facts

In the early morning of June 24, 2014, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Police Officers Clayton Kennedy and Milo Lafferty responded to a report that a juvenile female was requesting help at the Cheyenne River Motel in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. T. 12, 82. The female was visibly upset and appeared intoxicated when the officers located her at a convenience store near the motel. T. 17, 19, 84-85, 99-100. She informed the officers that her name was R.H., that she was seventeen years old, and that her uncle Ron Circle Bear had forced her to drink alcohol before he raped her in room 202 of the Cheyenne River Motel. T. 24, 85-86. Officer Kennedy went to the motel to speak with Circle Bear while Officer Lafferty took R.H. to the hospital. T. 25. Officer Kennedy knocked on the door of room 202 several times before Circle Bear answered. T. 28. He wore nothing but underwear and appeared intoxicated. T. 28, 44-45. Officer Kennedy identified himself and asked if he could enter. T. 29. Without saying anything, Circle Bear opened the door wider and waved Officer Kennedy in. T. 29.

Once inside, Officer Kennedy asked if Circle Bear had anybody staying with him. T. 29. Circle Bear replied that he did not. T. 29. When Officer Kennedy inquired if he was sure, Circle Bear said that his niece R.H. was staying in the room. T. 29-30. Officer Kennedy observed vodka in the room and Circle Bear opened the door of a small refrigerator to show Officer Kennedy a bottle of schnapps and a juice container. T. 31, 92.[1] Officer Kennedy asked Circle Bear if R.H. had been drinking alcohol with him, and Circle Bear conceded that she had. T. 37, 48-49. Officer Kennedy then questioned Circle Bear about R.H.'s whereabouts. T. 30, 49. Circle Bear initially said he did not know where R.H. was, then explained that she was with a friend, and ultimately said that she had left with friends whom he was unable to name or describe. T. 32-33.

At some point while Circle Bear was getting dressed, Officer Kennedy noticed scratch marks on his back. T. 34-36. He asked Circle Bear about the scratches but Circle Bear denied having any. T. 36. Thereafter, Officer Kennedy arrested Circle Bear for the tribal charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. T. 36-37. Another officer arrived at approximately 1:30 a.m. and transported Circle Bear to the Cheyenne River Law Enforcement Center where he was booked and held. T. 40, 52. Officer Kennedy remained behind in the room. T. 40.

Officer Lafferty arrived at the room around forty-five minutes later. T. 54. He and Officer Kennedy took photographs of the room and seized bedding, a towel, a blanket, clothing, and a loofah. T. 41, 96-97, 103; Ex. B.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. that morning, Detective Gordon Runs After and Officer Lafferty met with Circle Bear in a briefing room at the Law Enforcement Center. T. 97, 111-13. Before any questioning, Detective Runs After read Circle Bear his Miranda rights, pausing after each line for Circle Bear to say that he understood. T. 98, 113-15, 123; Ex. C. Circle Bear signed a form stating that he voluntarily waived his rights, after which he admitted to drinking with R.H. but denied sexually assaulting her. T. 98, 113-15, 123; Exs. C, D.

A grand jury indicted Circle Bear for aggravated sexual abuse by force and sexual abuse of a person incapable of consenting. Doc. 1. Circle Bear moved to suppress the evidence seized from his motel room and his statements in the room and at the Law Enforcement Center. Docs. 27, 28. Judge Moreno held an evidentiary hearing during which he received several exhibits into evidence, including photos of the motel room, a list of the evidence seized from the room, and the waiver of rights form Circle Bear signed. Judge Moreno also heard testimony from Officer Kennedy, Officer Lafferty, and Detective Runs After. Judge Moreno issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that Circle Bear's motion be denied. Doc. 40. Circle Bear now objects to the Report and Recommendation, arguing that the warrantless entry of his motel room and the seizure of evidence therein violates the Fourth Amendment, that his statements in the room after he admitted to drinking with R.H. were obtained in violation of Miranda, and that his statements at the Law Enforcement Center were involuntary and made without a valid waiver of his Miranda rights. Doc. 44.

This Court reviews a report and recommendation pursuant to the statutory standards found in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), which provides in relevant part that "[a] judge of the [district] court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Having conducted a de novo review, this Court adopts the vast majority of the Report and Recommendation, but reserves ruling on whether three of the items seized from the motel room are admissible.

II. Discussion

A. Warrantless Entry into Motel Room

The warrantless entry of a motel room violates the Fourth Amendment unless the occupant consents or there are exigent circumstances. Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 211 (1981); Stoner v. California. 376 U.S. 483, 490 (1964). Judge Moreno found that Circle Bear impliedly consented to Officer Kennedy's entry by opening the door wider and waiving Officer Kennedy in. See United States v. Sabo. 724 F.3d 891, 893-94 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that defendant consented to entry of home by stepping back and to the side of doorway in response to officer's request to enter); United States v. Smith, 973 F.2d 1374, 1376 (8th Cir. 1992) (finding consent by a resident who stepped aside and motioned officers in). Circle Bear objects to this finding, arguing that his intoxication renders his consent involuntary.

"The government bears the burden of proving voluntary consent by a preponderance of the evidence and must show that on the totality of the circumstances the officer reasonably believed that the search was consensual." United States v. Almendares, 397 F.3d 653, 660 (8th Cir. 2005). A defendant's intoxication is relevant to the voluntariness determination but does not alone vitiate his consent. United States v. Watters. 572 F.3d 479, 483 (8th Cir. 2009). Rather, "[i]n each case, the question is one of mental awareness so that the act of consent was the consensual act of one who knew what he was doing and ...

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