United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
LEVY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lamale Lawson is charged with possessing a firearm as a
felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 922(g)(1) and
924(a) (2018). Lawson has moved to suppress all evidence
obtained when agents from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency
(“MDEA”) searched a bedroom closet in the
apartment of his girlfriend, “N.N.” (ECF No. 15).
For the reasons that follow, I deny the motion.
March 2016, Special Agent Josh McDonald, of the MDEA, began
investigating Lawson's alleged involvement in trafficking
drugs and firearms. See ECF No. 16 at 1. Special
Agent McDonald and other agents learned that Lawson would
occasionally stay at N.N.'s apartment, and agents made
two controlled purchases of heroin from Lawson at N.N.'s
housing complex. Special Agent McDonald also learned that
Lawson would use N.N.'s vehicle in the course of his
alleged drug trafficking. After obtaining a search warrant
for the location data associated with Lawson's cell
phone, Special Agent McDonald confirmed that Lawson had taken
N.N.'s car to New York in late July 2016. See
Id. at 1-2. Using the same location data, on July 31,
2016, MDEA agents intercepted Lawson in the same vehicle,
driving northbound in Maine. See Id. at 2. Although
a search of Lawson and the vehicle revealed no drugs, Lawson
was arrested that day on state drug trafficking charges based
on the prior controlled purchases, as well as a federal
charge as a felon in possession of a firearm.
July 31, Special Agent McDonald and two other officers spoke
with N.N. at her apartment. See Id. N.N. told the
agents that Lawson stayed with her and kept some of his
property in her apartment, and she then signed a written
consent form that granted the agents permission to search her
entire bedroom. See id.; see also ECF No.
15 at 2. She took the agents to her bedroom, which had two
closets with sliding doors. See ECF No. 16 at 2,
July 27 Hearing Tr. at 16:18-18:13. N.N. pointed to the
left-side closet and, as testified to by Special Agent
McDonald, said “that's where he [keeps] his
stuff.” Tr. at 22:6-22:9. Special Agent McDonald slid
open the unlocked closet door, shined a flashlight on the
floor, and immediately recognized a gun case. See
id. at 23:5-23:23. Special Agent McDonald observed that
the case was slightly open, and what appeared to be a silver
handgun was visible. See id. at 24:12-24:20. N.N.
told the agents that she did not know the gun was in the
closet. See Id. at 25:25-26-2.
the agents discovered the gun, N.N. pointed them towards a
safe, which was located under her bed, and told them that it
belonged to Lawson. See ECF No. 16 at 2.
She told the agents that “if he [Lawson] had drugs,
they would be in the safe.” Id. at 2-3;
see also Tr. at 27:4-27:7. Special Agent McDonald
then bent down and visually confirmed that there was a safe
under the bed. See Tr. at 26:18-26:22.
discovering the handgun and safe in N.N.'s bedroom, the
agents applied for and obtained a search warrant, which was
issued by a Judge of the State of Maine District Court.
Fourth Amendment guarantees “[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. Lawson argues that the warrantless closet
search was unreasonable. It follows, Lawson contends, that
both the evidence discovered during the initial closet
search, and the search that followed the issuance of the
search warrant (which was supported in part by the evidence
discovered during the initial search) must be
the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments  a search conducted
without a warrant issued upon probable cause is per
se unreasonable . . . subject only to a few specifically
established and well-delineated exceptions.”
Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973)
(internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis added). It is
“well settled that one of the specifically established
exceptions to the requirements of both a warrant and probable
cause is a search that is conducted pursuant to
consent.” Id. Thus, officers do not need a
search warrant when a person with the authority to consent
does so freely and voluntarily. See United States v.
Jones, 523 F.3d 31, 37 (1st Cir. 2008).
argument proceeds in three ways: First, he argues that N.N.
lacked apparent authority over the closet in which he kept
his personal property; second, he argues that even if N.N.
did have apparent authority, the closet was outside of the
scope of the search that she had consented to; and third, he
argues that if the fruits of the closet search are suppressed
and thus excised from the warrant affidavit, the mere
presence of a safe in N.N.'s bedroom, along with her
statement indicating that if Lawson had drugs, he would keep
them in the safe, were insufficient grounds for issuing a
warrant. I consider each argument and conclude that the
officers acted within the scope of the consent they obtained
from N.N., who was a person with authority over the searched
area. Accordingly, I need not and do not reach Lawson's
argument with respect to whether the search warrant would
have issued in the absence of evidence obtained during the
initial closet search.
consent of one who possesses common authority over premises
or effects is valid as against the absent, nonconsenting
person with whom that authority is shared.” United
States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 170 (1974). Here, the
parties agree that N.N. was the lessor of the apartment, and
the officers were aware of that fact. They further agree that
N.N. signed a written consent form permitting officers to
search her entire bedroom, which is where the relevant closet
was located. See ECF No. 16 at 2; see also
ECF No. 15 at 2.
with other factual determinations bearing upon search and
seizure, determination of consent to enter must be judged
against an objective standard: would the facts available to
the officer at the moment . . . warrant a man of reasonable
caution in the belief that the consenting party had authority
over the premises?” Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497
U.S. 177, 188 (1990) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Common authority exists where people mutually use a ...