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United States of America v. Lamont Oakes

July 31, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAMONT OAKES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Introduction

On June 23, 2011, Defendant Lamont Oakes ("Defendant") was charged, in a four-count indictment, with possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of Section 841 of Title 21 of the United States Code, maintaining a premise to distribute cocaine in violation of Section 856 of Title 21 of the United States Code, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking in violation of Section 924 of Title 18 of the United States Code, and with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of Sections 922 and 924 of Title 18 of the United States Code. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., for pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1).

On September 16, 2011, Defendant filed a motion seeking suppression of evidence found at his home as well as statements made at the time of his arrest.

(Docket #9) The Government filed a response to Defendant's suppression motion on September 26, 2011. (Docket #10) On December 6, 2011 and January 10, 2012, Magistrate Judge Schroeder conducted a hearing to determine whether the contraband found at the time of Defendant's arrest was lawfully seized, and whether statements made by Defendant at the time of his arrest were voluntary.

On May 15, 2012, Magistrate Judge Schroeder issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that Defendant's motion to suppress evidence and his statements be denied in its entirety. (Docket #25) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Schroeder concluded that the contraband discovered at the time of Defendant's arrest was seized pursuant to a lawful search, and that Defendant's statements at the time of his arrest were made knowingly and voluntarily.

On May 29, 2012, Defendant filed objections to Magistrate Judge Schroeder's Report and Recommendation. (Docket #27) The Government responded on June 4, 2012. (Docket #29) Oral argument was held before this Court on June 29, 2012.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1), this Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which objections have been made. After reviewing Magistrate Judge Schroeder's Report and Recommendation, as well as reviewing the submissions and hearing argument from the parties, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Schroeder's Report and Recommendation in its entirety.

Discussion

Search of 195 Northland Avenue

Magistrate Judge Schroeder concluded that Ernetta Curry, who resides with Defendant and is a co-occupant at 195 Northland Avenue, validly consented to a search of those premises on June 9, 2011.*fn1 Therefore the search and seizure of the contraband from the premises did not violate Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. Defendant argues that Magistrate Judge Schroeder erroneously concluded that Ms. Curry knowingly and intelligently consented to a search of the residence. Specifically, Defendant maintains that Ms. Curry was drinking hard liquor for many hours before the Buffalo police officers arrived and, because she was highly intoxicated, she did not voluntarily consent to the search.

The Second Circuit has instructed that where a Magistrate Judge conducts an evidentiary hearing and makes credibility findings on disputed issues of fact, the district court will ordinarily accept those credibility findings. See Carrion v. Smith, 549 F.3d 583, 588 (2d Cir. 2008) ("[A] district judge should normally not reject a proposed finding of a magistrate judge that rests on a credibility finding without having the witness testify before the judge.") (quoting Cullen v. United States, 194 F.3d 401, 407 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Grassia v. Scully, 892 F.2d 16, 19 (2d Cir. 1989) ("Had the district court rejected the magistrate's conclusions regarding the credibility of the central witnesses without hearing live testimony from those witnesses, troubling questions of constitutional due process would have been raised.").

Magistrate Judge Schroeder credited the testimony of the Buffalo police officers who testified that when they encountered Ms. Curry she was fully conscious, coherent and did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. In addition, Magistrate Judge Schroeder credited the testimony of Heidi Delnuovo, the volunteer from crisis services who interacted with Ms. Curry at ECMC and witnessed the consent to search form. Ms. Delnuovo testified that Ms. Curry was coherent, able to understand what was going on and answer questions in an appropriate manner, and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Further, Magistrate Judge Schroeder rejected Ms. Curry's testimony regarding her intoxication and mental competence. At the time of the suppression hearing, Ms. Curry admitted that she lied to her prior attorney about signing the consent to search form because she wanted the charges against Defendant "dropped". Moreover, Ms. Curry testified as an uncooperative witness and had to be arrested on a material witness warrant before she appeared at the suppression hearing. Magistrate Judge Schroeder noted that because Ms. Curry admitted that she did not want ...


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