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United States v. McKnight

United States District Court, D. Kansas

September 22, 2017

HENRY D. MCKNIGHT, JR. (01), Defendant.



         On December 24, 2016, Officers Brandon Uhlrig and Zachary Goodman of the Topeka Police Department arrested Henry D. McKnight, Jr. for Lurking and Prowling in violation of Topeka City Code § 9.45.070. During a search following the arrest, Officer Uhlrig found six .40 caliber bullets on Mr. McKnight's person. Minutes before the arrest and search, Officer Uhlrig found a .40 caliber pistol on the ground in Mr. McKnight's vicinity.

         Earlier, on December 10, 2015, Mr. McKnight was convicted for Aggravated Battery; Physical Contact/Weapon. This conviction prohibited him from possessing a firearm. Based on evidence that officers had located the pistol, the grand jury indicted Mr. McKnight on one count of possession of a firearm in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2) on March 8, 2017. On August 4, 2017, Mr. McKnight moved to suppress all evidence about the bullets. Doc. 15. The court held an evidentiary hearing on August 29, 2017. The court has considered the parties' briefings and evidence, and now is prepared to rule. For reasons explained by this Order, the court denies Mr. McKnight's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 15).

         I. Factual Background [1]

         On December 24, 2016, at approximately 4:10 a.m. Officers Uhlrig and Goodman of the Topeka Police Department responded to an alarm at Paisano's Restaurant in Topeka, Kansas. When they arrived, they saw a person they later identified as Mr. McKnight lying on the ground in front of the restaurant's front door. They were unable to investigate further at that time because they were then called away to another higher priority call. They didn't return to Paisano's until about 4:34 a.m. When they returned, Officer Uhlrig arrived first. When he arrived, the person still was lying in front of the front door, facing the doors.

         Officer Uhlrig approached Mr. McKnight, shined a light on him, and announced “Topeka Police.” At the announcement, Mr. McKnight rolled over, tried to stand, stumbled, and fell.[2]Then, he got up and started to walk around the building, moving away from Officer Uhlrig. Officer Uhlrig asked Mr. McKnight to sit down on the bench, but he continued to walk away through the patio to the parking lot. Officer Goodman intercepted Mr. McKnight at the parking lot and Officer Uhlrig asked him to sit down again. This time, McKnight complied.[3] Once Mr. McKnight sat down, Officer Uhlrig asked Mr. McKnight his name and if he needed any help, explaining they had been called to the restaurant because the alarm had reported. While Officer Uhlrig spoke with Mr. McKnight, Mr. McKnight pulled his arms out of the sleeves of his sweatshirt once again. Following this preliminary interaction, Officer Uhlrig walked across the patio to the side patio door to investigate the alarm further.

         Using his flashlight, Officer Uhlrig found a handgun lying on the door mat in front of the patio door, a broken door handle on the ground, and the damaged door. Officer Uhlrig immediately turned back to Mr. McKnight. Officer Uhlrig then demanded to see Mr. McKnight's hands, had him stand up, and told Mr. McKnight he needed to check Mr. McKnight for weapons. Mr. McKnight attempted to walk away and Officer Goodman helped secure Mr. McKnight. Officer Uhlrig checked Mr. McKnight for weapons and found none. Officers Uhlrig and Goodman had Mr. McKnight sit back down.

         Then, Officer Uhlrig went back to searching the area near the patio and front door. Officer Uhlrig met Sergeant Lam at the front door[4] and they walked back to the patio and the handgun. Officer Uhlrig secured the handgun and cleared it. At that point, Officer Uhlrig again demanded that Mr. McKnight stand up and then, placed him under arrest. Officer Goodman secured Mr. McKnight while Officer Uhlrig cuffed him. Once Mr. McKnight was secured, Officer Uhlrig searched Mr. McKnight.[5] Officer Uhlrig found a cellphone, keys, a state probation officer's business card, and six .40 caliber bullets on Mr. McKnight's person. After completing the search, Mr. McKnight was placed in the back of Officer Goodman's patrol vehicle and transported to the police station for processing.

         II. Analysis

         The Fourth Amendment[6] forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 9 (1968). If the defendant challenges the reasonableness of a search or seizure, the government bears the burden to prove the reasonableness of that search or seizure by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177 (1974); United States v. Zubia-Melendez, 263 F.3d 1155, 1160 (10th Cir. 2001). If the court determines that the search or seizure violated the constitution and the law enforcement activity was not objectively reasonable, the court can suppress the fruits and instrumentalities of the search or seizure. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 918-19 (1984).

         Mr. McKnight asserts that the court should suppress evidence of the bullets found on Mr. McKnight's person because the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to detain Mr. McKnight. Additionally, Mr. McKnight asserts that the court should suppress the bullets evidence because the facts do not support the charge for which Mr. McKnight was arrested. The court will address the defendant's arguments and government's responses in chronological order with the facts.

         A. Standing

         Mr. McKnight first addresses his standing to challenge the search and seizure of his person. Doc. 15 at 3. Although the government does not contest his standing, the court will address it briefly. The Supreme Court has always recognized that “[n]o right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 9 (quoting Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891)). Here, the officers seized and searched Mr. McKnight's person. Therefore, Mr. McKnight has standing to challenge the search and seizure.

         B. ...

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