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Junkert v. Massey

April 24, 2009

DODIE JUNKERT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHERIFF ROGER W. MASSEY AND DEWITT COUNTY, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

The Court now considers the Defendants' motion in limine and the Plaintiff's motion in limine.

I. Defendants' Motion in Limine

Defendants Sheriff Roger W. Massey and Dewitt County, Illinois, seek an order in limine which precludes Plaintiff Dodie Junkert from presenting any evidence or argument at trial concerning the seizure of a drill from her home. In support of the motion, the Defendants allege that Plaintiff raised for the first time in the Pretrial Order filed on December 8, 2008 that Plaintiff intends to seek recovery for the seizure of a drill from her home because the drill was not specified in the warrant.

The Defendants contend that the drill was seized during the service of the search warrant and was seized pursuant to the plain view doctrine. The plain view doctrine allows for the seizure of material "if (1) a law-enforcement officer is lawfully present, (2) an item not named in the warrant . . . is in the plain view of the officer, and (3) the incriminating nature of the item is immediately apparent (i.e., the government can show probable cause to believe the item is linked to criminal activity)." United States v. Raney, 342 F.3d 551, 558-59 (7th Cir. 2003). The Defendants assert that the officers were where they had a right to be pursuant to the warrant, given that they were searching for stolen computers from a series of burglaries in which there were also drills of the type stolen and the drill was in plain sight. Sheriff Massey testified that "it did match the general description of several drills and power equipment" that were stolen in the burglary ring, though it was later determined that the drill's serial number did not match any of the stolen items.

In opposing the Defendants' motion, the Plaintiff first argues that rather than seeking a pre-trial ruling on an evidentiary issue, the Defendants request a ruling as a matter of law that Sheriff Massey's seizure of a drill, an item not described in the search warrant, was lawful under the plain view doctrine. According to the Plaintiff, the Defendants are using a motion in limine as a vehicle for seeking relief akin to the grant of a partial summary judgment.

Next, the Plaintiff contends that the Defendants cannot show that there is probable cause to believe that the item was linked to criminal activity. The search warrant affidavit does not indicate that Sheriff Massey had any information that Plaintiff was in possession of a stolen drill or any power equipment. Moreover, the Sheriff's deposition does not indicate that he had probable cause to believe that Plaintiff's drill was stolen. The Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Massey provides no support for his statement about stolen equipment. The summary report prepared by State Police Agent Lindemulder describes the stolen goods as "[d]igital camera, video cameras, United States Currency, Ridlin [sic], several laptop computers, police shotguns and several other items." Moreover, the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant to search the home of the suspected thieves does not refer to stolen tools, but identifies as proceeds of the burglary some of the items noted above.

Based on the foregoing, the Plaintiff alleges that a jury would be entitled to conclude that Massey did not have "probable cause to believe that the [drill] is contraband or otherwise linked to criminal activity," see United States v. Cellitti, 387 F.3d 618, 624 (7th Cir. 2004), and instead seized the drill on a fishing expedition to see if it would "match up with any of the items that we had reported stolen." The Plaintiff asserts, therefore, that the issue is not one which may be fairly resolved on a motion in limine.

The Court concludes that, even assuming that a motion in limine is the proper vehicle for the Defendants' requested relief, there simply is not enough information in the record to determine if the incriminating nature of the drill was immediately apparent. Neither the summary report prepared by the agent nor the affidavit used to obtain the warrant specifically mentions the item. Moreover, in his deposition, Sheriff Massey was unable to recall any specific features of the drill. The sheriff also could not recall how long the drill remained in the Defendants' possession or how long it took to determine that it did not match up with any stolen items. Because it is unable to determine whether the incriminating nature of the drill was immediately apparent, the Court will DENY the Defendants' motion in limine.

II. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine

The Plaintiff seeks to exclude any evidence or argument concerning the following information: (1) information supporting the issuance of the search warrant beyond that which is included in the warrant affidavit; (2) evidence of the Plaintiff's culpability on the dismissed criminal charges; and (3) certain alleged prejudicial information about the Plaintiff.

(A)

The Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Massey secured the warrant by making false, material statements. She further asserts that Sheriff Massey's affidavit for the search warrant was so deficient that it was unreasonable for him to believe that there was probable cause for the issuance of the warrant. The Plaintiff contends, moreover, that the warrant was executed in an unreasonable manner because the officer serving the warrant had obtained possession of the items sought before entering the Plaintiff's home and law office.

The Plaintiff alleges that several of the witnesses identified by the Defendants have testified at their depositions about information, not included in the search warrant affidavit, which could have a bearing on the reasonableness of Sheriff Massey's belief that the warrant was issued on probable cause. The Plaintiff contends that any such information should be excluded because it cannot be relevant to the decision to issue the warrant and because reasonableness must be decided on an objective basis. Citing National-Standard Co. v. Adamkus, 881 F.2d 352 (7th Cir. 1989), the Plaintiff alleges that ...


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