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United States of America v. Anthony Montez Taylor

October 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge:


A. Introduction and Procedural Overview

Via indictment, the United States of America ("the Government") charged Anthony Montez Taylor with one count of possessing with intent to distribute between 28 and 280 grams of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). Taylor pled not guilty and was set for jury trial before the undersigned Judge. Prior to the trial date, Taylor moved to continue trial and separately sought additional time to file pretrial motions. The Court granted both motions and continued trial to October 1, 2012.

Taylor filed a motion to suppress, which the parties briefed and the undersigned Judge set for hearing. The evidentiary hearing began on September 14, 2012 and continued on September 26, 2012. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court took the suppression motion under advisement, allowed the parties to file supplemental briefs through October 9, 2012, and continued trial to October 29, 2012. For the reasons delineated below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

B. Analysis


On March 5, 2012, Justin Straub, a part-time Fairmont City (Illinois) Police Officer, was on duty as a patrolman, conducting routine weekly "business checks" of local businesses. Business checks are performed to ascertain if anyone at the motel has an outstanding warrant and to guard against prostitution and drug activity. This task took Straub to the First Western Inn on Collinsville Road around 7:00 pm on March 5th, where he examined the registration cards (provided by First Western's manager) for all guests staying at the motel. Straub ran the names through the computer in his patrol car. During this process, Straub learned that one guest, Anthony Montez Taylor, had an extensive criminal history, including a conviction for armed robbery. Mr. Taylor was registered in Room 221 of the motel.

Officer Straub waited for a second Fairmont Police Officer, Shaun Benyr, to arrive at the First Western Inn.*fn1 Benyr arrived around 8:10 pm, and the two officers began to walk through the motel's hallways, the majority of which were exterior. While walking the corridors on the second floor as they approached Room 221, Officer Benyr detected a strong odor of burnt cannabis, a smell he recognized from his training and law enforcement experience.

Benyr turned to Straub and asked if he smelled the odor too. Straub said yes. The officers decided to conduct a "knock and talk."*fn2 Straub knocked on the door of Room 221. A male voice from inside asked "Who is it?" Straub identified himself as a Fairmont City Police Officer. The officers heard movement or shuffling in the room. A few seconds later Anthony Taylor opened the door. The officers remained in the exterior hallway while this exchange followed, with Mr. Taylor standing in the doorway (or for most of what followed) just outside the doorway to his room.

Taylor asked what the officers were doing. Straub explained they were conducting a business check of the property and could smell burned marijuana coming from the room. Straub asked if Taylor had cannabis or had been smoking it in the room. Taylor said no. Witness accounts differ on precisely what was said next and the sequence in which the statements were made. All witnesses agree that a woman (later identified as Brittany Lavington) came from the room to the door. Straub testified that this occurred after Straub asked Taylor whether anyone else was in the room with him, and Taylor said yes, his girlfriend was.

Lavington, who had just gotten dressed, walked out the door of the room into the hallway but did not have her jacket on yet and had left her keycard on the dresser. At some point shortly thereafter, Lavington went back in the room, retrieved her jacket, joined the others outside Room 221, handed the officers a green glass pipe (of a type frequently used to smoke marijuana) and declared that it was all that was "illegal" in the room. Brittany Lavington and Byron Blackwell (a motel guest in Room 218 who overheard pieces of the conversation and observed parts of the encounter)*fn3 testified to additional statements beforethe pipe was produced, including: (a) Lavington stated that she was a nurse and did not use marijuana, and (b) Taylor or Lavington suggested that perhaps the officers had the "wrong room" as the source of the marijuana smell.*fn4

Significantly to this Court's analysis, Lavington readily admitted that she went into the room, retrieved the green glass pipe, and gave it to the officers outside the door of Room 221. Furthermore, the record establishes that shortly after receiving the green pipe from Lavington, Straub asked if there was any more marijuana in the room, and Anthony Taylor stated that "it was all smoked up." During her testimony at the suppression hearing, Lavington further admitted that she had been smoking "weed" that day at the motel, in fact she had been smoking just prior to the knock on the door.

According to Officer Straub, Taylor said the green pipe was his. Straub asked if he could search the room to see if there was anything else there -- drugs or drug paraphernalia. Taylor refused: "Nah, there's nothing else in there, and I'm a citizen."

Undeterred, the officers persisted in requesting consent to search the room. Taylor continued to refuse entry into the room.

Ultimately, Benyr explained that Taylor could withhold his consent to search the room, but -- based on the smell, the admission of smoking marijuana, and the presentation of the paraphernalia (glass pipe) -- the room would be secured and Benyr would apply for a search warrant. According to both officers, Taylor then replied, "You don't have to do all that, you can go ahead and look but there ain't anything in here." Straub testified that Taylor was standing with Lavington at this point. Lavington maintains that she never heard Taylor say this or otherwise consent to a room search.

According to Benyr, the officers suggested that Taylor and Lavington "take a step back" away from the doorway, further into the exterior hall outside Room 221. According to Officer Straub, Taylor voluntarily walked out of the room once he consented. The record is clear that neither Taylor nor Lavington was personally searched, neither was arrested, and neither was advised of Miranda rights at this time.

Taylor and Lavington stood in the hallway outside Room 221 by a trash can at the top of the staircase with Officer Benyr while Officer Straub searched the room. Both officers testified that although Taylor and Lavington were not arrested at this point, they were detained (i.e., they were not free to leave).

One key point in the testimony merits mention here. Roughly 15 minutes after the officers had been talking to Taylor outside Room 221 (and prior to the search), Lavington walked to the gas station next to the motel and purchased cigarettes. Lavington testified that she never consented to the search, that she never heard Taylor consent to the search, and that she just walked away from the motel and went to buy cigarettes beforeOfficer Straub searched the room. Although Officer Straub did not recall Lavington ever leaving (which could have occurred while Straub was searching Room 221 and Benyr was focused on Taylor), Lavington's testimony that she left the motel is buttressed by an eyewitness (one who had no reason to lie for Lavington).

Byron Blackwell, in a state of panic because he had been "smoking reefer" in Room 218, heard the officers talk about smelling marijuana and feared they were headed for his room next. He got dressed and anxiously was gauging the moment he could leave the motel. As he exited his room, Blackwell saw Lavington walking across the parking lot between the motel and the gas station, headed back to where Taylor was standing outside Room 221. Blackwell heard Lavington ...

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