United States District Court, D. Maine
DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
E. WALKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
October 12, 2018, Ryan Merrill was indicted on one count of
possession of an unregistered silencer, in violation of 26
U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(d), and 5871, as well as one
count of possession of a silencer not identified by a serial
number, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5842, 5861(i),
and 5871. Indictment (ECF No. 33). He now moves to suppress
evidence gathered from his home on July 17, 2018. Mot. to
Suppress (ECF No. 49). The motion is DENIED.
established in the evidentiary hearing, Merrill resides at 14
Holly Hill Lane in Augusta, Maine. On July 17, 2018, Augusta
Police Officers Christopher Hutchings and Todd Nyberg
responded to reports of gunshots being fired at the
residence. En route, dispatch advised Officer Hutchings that
police had been called to Merrill's residence before in
response to Merrill firing blank ammunition. Dispatch did not
provide any additional information regarding Merrill and
neither Officer Hutchings nor Nyberg checked the Augusta
Police Department's “In House File” before
responding to the call.
Hutchings and Nyberg arrived at Merrill's trailer at
nearly the same time.Both were armed and in uniform. Before
approaching the front door of the trailer, the officers saw a
figure-Merrill-through a large window and motioned for him to
come to the door. The officers then climbed the stairs to the
deck by the front door and knocked on the door. Officer
Nyberg stood behind Officer Hutchings during the initial
opened the door. In a relaxed tone, Officer Hutchings asked
Merrill whether he had been shooting blanks, to which Merrill
responded in the affirmative. When Officer Hutchings
requested to see the gun, Merrill told Officer Hutchings that
his mother had taken the gun. When Officer Hutchings asked
Merrill if he could speak with Merrill's mother, Merrill
indicated the gun was in his residence.
point, Officer Hutchings said: “I need to see the gun
and I will get out of here.” Merrill responded by
stepping back from the door and stating, “Come on
in.” After a brief conversation, Merrill directed the
officers' attention to a firearm with an attached
silencer leaning against the wall in the hallway. Merrill
warned that the gun was loaded and after unloading the gun,
the officers seized the weapon.
Hutchings testified that throughout the interaction,
Merrill's tone remained “relaxed, very cooperative,
[and] very understanding.” By Officer Hutchings'
account, Merrill's demeanor and attitude toward the two
officers was “accommodating, hospitable . . . overly
friendly and very cooperative, [he] was almost happy to
answer our questions.” Merrill did not appear to be
confused and didn't give any indication of mental
incapacity. Merrill did ask to take anxiety medicine near the
end of the encounter.
to the officers at the time of their interaction with
Merrill, Merrill has a history of mental illness. Six days
prior to this interaction, Merrill was released from Maine
General Medical Center against medical advice following a
two-week involuntary commitment “for evaluation of a
manic decompensation with psychotic features.” Motion
2; Def.'s Ex. 8.
argues the Augusta Police Officers violated his rights under
the Fourth Amendment by “unreasonably enter[ing] and
search[ing] his home, without a warrant, without valid
consent, and without exigent circumstances.” Motion 5.
During the evidentiary hearing, the core of the parties'
arguments focused on Merrill's ability to voluntarily
consent due to his mental health concerns. Upon questioning
by the court at the conclusion of evidence, the issue was
more refined; to wit, that Mr. Merrill's mental health
made him more susceptible to feeling coerced by the APD
officers to agree to enter his residence without a warrant.
No. claim was made that the officers' search was
warranted by exigent circumstances.
Fourth Amendment guarantees the “right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. “It is a ‘basic principle of
Fourth Amendment law' that searches and seizures inside a
home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.”
Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980)
(quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443,
477 (1971)). However, a warrantless search - even of a home -
is not per se unreasonable if “proper
consent” is “voluntarily given.” United
States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 165-66 (1974);
Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973)
(“It is equally 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.”). Of potential
significance here, “where the officer's real
objective is search and seizure the householder's consent
should not only be clearly voluntary, but also specifically
directed toward search and not merely toward entry.”
Robbins v. MacKenzie, 364 F.2d 45, 49 (1st Cir.
Officers Hutchings and Nyberg did not have a warrant to
search Merrill's home, my factual findings establish that
Merrill, the homeowner, consented to the officers entering
his home for the very purpose of seeing the firearm when he
said “come on in” and stepped away from his door.
Once inside, Merrill directed the officers to the firearm.
The parties do not contest whether Merrill expressed his
consent and instead focus on whether Merrill's
consent was voluntary in light of Merrill's mental