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United States v. Council

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 19, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
William Hayward Council Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: November 16, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City

          Before RILEY, [1] Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         William Council pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), after the district court[2] denied his motion to suppress evidence. Officers arrested Council without a warrant while he was standing at the doorway of his camper. The officers then used information gathered during that arrest to obtain a search warrant, which allowed them to seize the evidence at issue. On appeal, Council contends the arrest and ensuing search violated his Fourth Amendment rights and the evidence should have been excluded. We find no such constitutional violation, and we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 23, 2013, the Callaway County (Arkansas) Sheriff's Department received a call from Andrew Wright about an alleged assault with a firearm. Dispatch relayed the report to Deputy Kevin Foley shortly after 5:00 p.m. Deputy Foley first contacted Wright, who recounted the incident. At about 9:00 that morning, Wright reportedly was driving with a friend, Melanie Miller, when a multi-colored pickup truck pulled in front of their vehicle and attempted to block the road. The driver got out of the truck and pointed a gun-described as a sawed-off shotgun with a handle wrapped in black tape-at Wright and Miller. Wright managed to drive around the truck and escape the situation without further escalation. Deputy Foley then spoke to Miller, who corroborated Wright's story and identified the other driver as Council, a friend who desired a "more serious relationship" with her. Deputy Foley and the Callaway County Sheriff's Department were already familiar with Council from previous criminal complaints made against him by his neighbors, some of which involved violent behavior.

         Deputy Foley decided to contact Council at his residence, and enlisted Deputy Kirk Blehm to accompany him. Neither officer sought a warrant because it was not their intent to arrest Council or search him or his residence. Their intent merely was to speak with Council, and according to Deputy Blehm, officers in Callaway County "don't usually apply for an arrest warrant for somebody before [officers] talk to them." When Deputies Foley and Blehm arrived at Council's property shortly after 7:00 p.m. they noticed a truck matching the description provided by Wright and Miller. The officers also observed a shell camper sitting on a different pickup truck about 25 to 30 yards from the road, where they presumed Council lived.

         Deputy Foley approached the camper, while Deputy Blehm took a position off to one side where he was mostly out of sight. Deputy Foley knocked. Council asked who was there, and Deputy Foley answered "the Sheriff's Department." Deputy Foley could hear movement within the camper, but there was no answer, so he knocked again. Again, Council asked who was there. Deputy Foley responded louder this time and said "Sheriff's department, come to the door." Council opened the outward-swinging door dressed in only his underwear. Behind Council was a blanket hanging from the ceiling and obstructing the officers' view into the camper. According to Deputy Foley, he explained the nature of the Wright and Miller report and his investigation while Council stood "right in the doorway." Council vehemently denied any involvement, claiming he had been sleeping at the time of the encounter. Upon hearing who had made the accusation, Council called Miller a liar, cursed, and said he would "beat her half to death" the next time he saw her. Deputy Foley asked if he could search the camper, but Council told the deputy to "get a warrant."

         It was at this moment Deputy Foley decided to arrest Council. He took Council's arm and ordered him to "[s]tep out of the trailer." Council resisted and tried to retreat behind the blanket while repeatedly saying "wait a minute." Already hanging onto Council's arm and believing Council had "immediate access" to a shotgun, Deputy Foley crossed the threshold of the camper and tore down the blanket to see what was behind Council. Deputy Blehm rushed to assist Deputy Foley and together they were able to remove Council from the camper. While Deputy Blehm was helping pull Council into the open he was able to see inside the trailer and noticed what appeared to be a black-taped handle of a gun wedged between the bed and a laundry basket in plain view.

         As he was being escorted to Deputy Foley's police cruiser, Council asked if he could go back into his camper and get dressed. Deputy Blehm rejected the request, but offered to retrieve a pair of pants and boots for him. Council consented. Deputy Blehm entered the camper, grabbed some clothes, and confirmed the object he had seen was indeed a shotgun with its handle wrapped in black tape. After learning about the gun, Deputy Foley instructed Deputy Blehm to wait at the camper while he went to book Council and procure a search warrant. When Deputy Foley returned with a warrant the officers searched the camper and recovered a sawed-off shotgun loaded with one live round.

         On July 30, 2014, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Council: one count for being a felon in possession of a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and one count for possessing an unregistered firearm, see 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). Council thereafter filed a motion to suppress, arguing the government's evidence was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Both sides presented their arguments and evidence to the magistrate judge at a hearing on December 1, 2014.[3] The magistrate judge suggested the district court deny Council's suppression motion because the "officers effected a valid arrest" and "[t]he search that followed was supported by a valid search warrant, " so "[t]he evidence yielded from the execution of the search warrant was not in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights." The district court adopted the Report and Recommendation. Council conditionally pled guilty to the felon-in-possession count in exchange for the government dropping the other firearm count. The district court sentenced him to a prison term of 180 months. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) (statutory minimum). Council retained his right to challenge the evidentiary ruling, and now appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (appellate jurisdiction).


         Under the Fourth Amendment, "[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." Several easy-to-recite but sometimes hard-to-apply rules define the scope of this protection and are relevant here. "[T]he warrantless arrest of an individual in a public place upon probable cause d[oes] not violate the Fourth Amendment." United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42 (1976) (citing United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 423 (1976)). Conversely, "[i]t is a 'basic principle of Fourth Amendment law' that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980) (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 477 (1971)). There are exceptions that allow a warrantless entry into a person's home, such as when officers have probable cause and exigent ...

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