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United States v. Turnbow

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOEL RALPH TURNBOW, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         Joel Ralph Turnbow was charged with felon in possession of a firearm, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine-based on drugs and a gun found in a backpack in the trunk of a car he was driving when he was arrested on a misdemeanor arrest warrant, following an inventory search of the car. Following an evidentiary hearing (the “Hearing”), the Court granted Turnbow's motion to suppress the drugs and gun found in the car. (ECF No. 69 (“Suppression Order”).) Before the Court is the government's motion for reconsideration of the Suppression Order (the “Motion”).[1] (ECF No. 73.) Because the Court finds it applied the correct legal standard in the Suppression Order, and that neither shifting the burden as the government suggests in its Motion nor the fact that Sergeant English completed a vehicle inventory report changes the result the Court reached in the Suppression Order, the Court will deny the government's Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Court refers to the Suppression Order for the facts relevant to the government's Motion. (ECF No. 69 at 2-5.) As pertinent here, the Suppression Order noted that the government never proffered a Vehicle Inventory Report (the “Report”) corresponding to Sergeant English's inventory search of the car at issue. (Id. at 4, 12.) However, as the government pointed out in its Motion, Sergeant English did prepare such a report. (ECF Nos. 73 at 2-3, 73-1 (Report).)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “No precise “rule” governs the district court's inherent power to grant or deny a motion to reconsider a prior ruling in a criminal proceeding.” United States v. Lopez-Cruz, 730 F.3d 803, 811 (9th Cir. 2013). “Rather, the district court's authority to revisit a ruling on a suppression motion is within its sound judicial discretion.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Argument or evidence that could have been raised in connection with a motion to suppress, but was not, will not justify reconsideration. See id.

         This Court and other courts look to the standard governing motions for reconsideration in civil cases for guidance in ruling on motions for reconsideration in criminal cases. See, e.g., United States v. Hector, 368 F.Supp.2d 1060, 1063 (C.D. Cal. 2005), rev'd on other grounds, 474 F.3d 1150 (9th Cir. 2007); see also United States v. Ritchie, No. 2:15-cr-00285-APG-PAL, 2018 WL 6579181, at *4 (D. Nev. June 20, 2018), report and recommendation adopted, No. 2:15-cr-00285-APG-PAL, 2018 WL 6580954 (D. Nev. Dec. 13, 2018).

         In civil cases, a motion to reconsider must set forth “some valid reason why the court should reconsider its prior decision” and set “forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to persuade the court to reverse its prior decision.” Frasure v. United States, 256 F.Supp.2d 1180, 1183 (D. Nev. 2003). Reconsideration is appropriate if this Court “(1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in controlling law.” Sch. Dist. No. 1J v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993). But “[a] motion for reconsideration is not an avenue to re-litigate the same issues and arguments upon which the court already has ruled.” Brown v. Kinross Gold, U.S.A., 378 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1288 (D. Nev. 2005) (citation omitted).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The government's arguments in its Motion do not fit neatly within the framework governing motions for reconsideration in the civil context. Regardless, the government makes two arguments as to why the Court should reconsider the Suppression Order: (A) the Court applied the wrong legal standard in the Suppression Order; and (B) the Report existed and was produced to defense counsel in discovery. (ECF No. 73 at 2.) While the Court is persuaded by neither, it addresses both below.

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         The government first argues that the Court applied the wrong legal standard in the Suppression Order. (ECF Nos. 73 at 2, 79 at 2.) Defendants implicitly respond that the Court applied the correct legal standard in arguing that the government bears the burden to show a warrantless search passes Fourth Amendment muster. (ECF No. 78 at 4.) The Court disagrees with the government that it applied incorrect legal standard in the Suppression Order, and reaffirms that even if the Court reexamined the Suppression Order to more clearly place the burden on Defendants to prove Sergeant English's inventory search was pretextual, the Court would not have reached a different result.

         First, the Court applied the correct legal standard. Warrantless searches are “per se unreasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). That means the default rule is law enforcement must get a warrant before conducting a search, unless an exception applies. Here, the government argued that the inventory search exception applied. The Court correctly stated in the Suppression Order that the “government bears the burden of showing that a warrantless search or seizure falls within an exception to the warrant requirement” (ECF No. 69 at 10 (citing U.S. v. Huguez-Ibarra, 954 F.2d 546, 551 (9th Cir. 1992)), and found that “the government has not met its burden to show that the circumstances here fall within the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement” (id.). A pretextual inventory search does not fall within the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement. See U.S. v. Johnson, 889 F.3d 1120, 1125 (9th Cir. 2018) (“The search cannot be ‘a ruse for a general ...


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