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United States v. Aiken

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 18, 2017

MARQUIS AIKEN, Defendant, Appellee.


          Benjamin M. Block, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Richard W. Murphy, Acting United States Attorney, Margaret D. McGaughey, Assistant United States Attorney were on brief, for appellant.

          Vivian Shevitz for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Stahl and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          STAHL, Circuit Judge.

         In this criminal appeal, we must decide whether the Defendant, Marquis Aiken ("Aiken"), had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in the motel room where he was at the time of a police search of the premises. The district court ruled in Aiken's favor. The government timely filed this appeal. After careful review, we reverse and remand.


         On November 7, 2014, two state troopers and members of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency ("MDEA") received a tip that individuals who were in room 216 at the Super 8 Motel in Lewiston, Maine had with them large bags containing crack, cocaine or heroin. The Super 8 Motel was known to the agents as a common stopover for out-of-state gun and drug traffickers.

         At approximately 9:00 AM, MDEA agents began knocking on the door to room 216. Although no one from room 216 responded to their repeated knocks, an unidentified man partially opened the door to room 218. Although room 218 smelled of marijuana, the agents informed the man that they were not there for him.[1]

         After a minute or two, the door to room 218 opened again. A man subsequently identified as Joshua Bonnett ("Bonnett") stood by the door and Aiken stood five to ten feet behind him. Aiken was barefoot and only wearing shorts. The agents noticed "one particular bed look[ed] like the sheets and the comforters were pulled back and the other one liked [sic] like it had just been made." One of the agents recognized Aiken from a relatively recent heroin trafficking arrest.[2] Aiken's presence raised suspicions that "there was possibly more going on inside that room besides marijuana."

         The agents asked both men to step out of the room. When neither man exited the room, the agents entered, conducted a security sweep and observed what appeared to be a bag containing marijuana on one of the beds and a digital scale dusted with white powder on a nightstand between the two beds. One of the agents opened the top drawer of the nightstand and discovered a bag containing one-quarter to one-half kilogram of a substance that appeared to contain cocaine base.

         The agents subsequently obtained a search warrant, and as a result of the evidence seized in the search, the government charged Aiken and Bonnett with possession with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and aiding and abetting such conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2.

         Both Aiken and Bonnett filed motions to suppress all evidence seized as a result of the search. Originally, the magistrate judge heard the evidence and determined that neither Bonnett nor Aiken could challenge the search of the motel room. On de novo review, without hearing any new evidence, the district court reversed the magistrate's decision. The district court found that both Defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the motel room and could contest the search as a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

         The district court determined that Jahrael Browne ("Browne") had rented room 218 at the Super 8 Motel with another person, Bonnett, and that Aiken stayed in the room with Bonnett. The district court explained that "Bonnet was Browne's traveling companion from Massachusetts to Maine" and Browne rented the room accompanied by another person who appeared from a video to be Bonnett. The motel registration reflected two persons staying in the room; however, only Browne's name was included on the registration form. In addition to Bonnett and Browne traveling together, Browne's license was found in the motel room, "further suggesting a connection between Browne and Bonnett." Bonnett was also in possession of the room key at the time the agents entered the room. At 9:00 AM, the appearance of the room and the occupants "were consistent with two occupants -- Bonnett and Aiken -- having slept in the room and, therefore, having occupied the room for more than a brief period." Post-arrest statements made by Aiken to his mother "confirm that the room was Bonnett's room and that Aiken stayed there with Bonnett's knowledge."

         Finding that both Bonnett and Aiken could challenge the search, the court ruled that the search violated the Fourth Amendment and granted Aiken and Bonnett's motions to suppress. The government appealed the district court's decision as to Aiken's expectation of privacy.


         We review the district court's findings of fact for clear error and its conclusions of law de novo. See United States v. Carty, 993 F.2d 1005, 1008 (1st Cir. 1993).

         The Fourth Amendment provides "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. "To prevail on a claim that a search or seizure violated the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must show as a threshold matter that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place or item searched." United States v. Battle, 637 F.3d 44, 48 (1st Cir. 2011)(emphasis added)(citing Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 95 (1990)). "The burden of proving a reasonable expectation of privacy lies with the defendant." United States v. Mancini, 8 F.3d 104, 107 (1st Cir. 1993). "In order to make such a demonstration, the defendant must show both a subjective expectation of privacy and that society accepts that expectation as objectively reasonable." Id.


         In determining that Aiken had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the motel room, the district court first determined that Bonnett was a guest in the room with Browne. From there, the court inferred that Aiken was an invited guest of Bonnett. On appeal, the government argues that the district court erroneously found that Aiken was a guest of Bonnett and further contends that Aiken did not demonstrate that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the room. We address the two issues in turn.

         A. Aiken's Guest Status

         To the extent the district court found that Aiken was a guest because Bonnet invited Aiken into the room, the district court did not clearly err. Aiken was in the motel room along with Bonnett when the agents conducted the search. Based on the appearance of the two beds in the motel room and Aiken's state of undress at 9:00 AM, the district court concluded that Aiken "slept in the room" for "more than a brief period." It was not improper for the court to draw the inference that Bonnett had invited Aiken into the room.

         We pause here to emphasize that we use the term guest in accordance with the district court's finding, made entirely by inferences, without direct evidence showing that Bonnett invited Aiken into the motel room. In fact, Bonnett's affidavit, which he provided to the court in support of his motion to suppress, did not even mention Aiken. It would be inappropriate for this Court to make any other inferences to support Aiken's reasonable expectation of privacy, in light of the fact that he came forward with no evidence on a motion that he had the burden to carry. As such, the term guest, at least in this case, does not carry with it any Fourth Amendment protection unless and until the defendant has satisfied his burden of proving a reasonable expectation of privacy. See Mancini, 8 F.3d at 107.

         An invitation to be present in a location does not automatically confer Fourth Amendment privacy protection. See Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 148, (1978)("[T]he fact that they were legitimately on [the] premises . . . is not determinative of whether they had a legitimate expectation of privacy.")(alteration in original)(internal citations omitted); see also United States v. Irizarry, 673 F.2d 554, 556 (1st Cir. 1982)("The hotel room here was registered to [Defendant 1 but Defendant 2], however, offered no evidence of any personal interest in the room beyond his being 'merely present.'").[3] Aiken's guest of a guest status does not resolve the question of whether he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the room. Therefore, we turn to the government's second argument.

         B. Aiken's Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

         In finding that Aiken had a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that he could challenge the search of the motel room, the district court found that Aiken was a guest who spent more than a brief period of time in the room. On appeal, however, the government challenges whether Aiken met his burden. Although the district court did not clearly err in finding that Aiken was Bonnett's "guest" -- that is, Aiken was invited by Bonnett to sleep in the motel room for "more than a brief period, " it incorrectly inferred that Aiken had an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy based on these facts alone.

         As previously mentioned, the burden is on the defendant to show that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched. Mancini, 8 F.3d at 107. Here, rather than testify or put on any evidence, Aiken relied on the government's evidence to satisfy his burden. On appeal, Aiken argues that as a guest who slept in the room, he "had an actual, subjective expectation of privacy . . . that was objectively reasonable." This, argues Aiken, is enough to meet his burden. We do not agree.

         In Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83 (1998), the Supreme Court considered whether an individual who was legitimately on the premise for the purpose of bagging cocaine had an expectation of privacy in an apartment. Despite the permission and presence of the apartment's occupant, the Court found that "the purely commercial nature of the transaction . . . the relatively short time on the premises, and the lack of any previous connection between respondents and the householder, " resulted in a lack of Fourth Amendment protection. Id. at 91. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to consider the (1) the nature of the defendant's visit, (2) his length of stay, and (3) his relationship to the host in analyzing a defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy.

         As in Carter, the evidence before the district court supports that Aiken was in the room for business purposes, specifically drug trafficking. One of the agents who executed the search testified that Aiken's presence in the room made him wary that the men were engaged in drug trafficking. A scale was on display and looked as if it had been recently used and the motel was known to the agents as a location commonly used by drug traffickers. Aiken provided no evidence to support that his visit was for non-business purposes.

         As to Aiken's length of stay, the district court found that Aiken slept in the room and was present for "more than a brief period, " however, the district court made no factual findings as to the amount of time Aiken spent in the room. All that the evidence showed was that Aiken was present in the room for less time than Bonnett because the video evidence depicted only two men checking into the motel and the district court concluded one of those men was Browne, to whom the room was registered, ...

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