USA v. Michael Godfrey
OPINION filed : AFFIRMED the district court's denial of Godfrey's motion to suppress, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. R. Guy Cole , Jr., AUTHORING Circuit Judge; Eric L. Clay, Circuit Judge and Ronald Lee Gilman, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 11a0423n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Jun 28, 2011
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN
DISTRICT OF OHIO
COLE, CLAY, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.
COLE, Circuit Judge. Defendant-Appellant Michael Godfrey appeals the denial of his
motion to suppress a firearm seized during a Terry stop. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM.
Early in the afternoon of February 19, 2009, Officer Chris Perry, an agent with the Regional
Enforcement Narcotics Unit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, approached a four-way stop
sign in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. Godfrey was stopped at that
intersection in his vehicle as Perry arrived. Although Godfrey had the right of way, he motioned for
Perry to proceed first. Perry, suspicious of this apparent act of kindness in an area where he believes
residents distrust the police, declined and indicated that Godfrey should go first. Godfrey acceded,
followed by Perry and another agent driving behind Perry, Officer Timothy Nash. As Perry began
USA v. Godfrey
following Godfrey, he radioed Godfrey’s license plate to Nash, so that Nash could run a warrant
check while Perry focused on keeping Godfrey’s vehicle in sight. Nash followed.
However, Nash “made a typographical error [when] entering [Godfrey’s] license number into
the mobile data terminal (‘MDT’) in his patrol car.” (Order, Dist. Ct. Docket No. 30, at 2; see also
Suppression Hr’g Tr., Dist. Ct. Docket No. 32, at 35.) Instead of entering in license plate number
“EAD7669,” which belonged to Godfrey, Nash entered “EAD7769,” the plate number of a vehicle
belonging to Neal Ramey. As soon as he entered the (wrong) license plate number into the MDT,
Nash received an audible (a “high-low tone”) and visible (the screen turning red) warning indicating
the vehicle’s owner had an outstanding warrant. Because Perry was working with Nash that
afternoon, Perry’s MDT system was linked to Nash’s, and Perry received alerts from Nash’s MDT.
At this point, Godfrey turned onto another street in front of several cars, putting several
vehicles between him and the officers. Because they were concerned with catching up with Godfrey
and weaving through traffic to do so, neither Nash nor Perry “scroll[ed] through [the] several more
screens” that would be required to discover the identity and description of the individual and vehicle
for which the alert sounded. (Order, Dist. Ct. Docket No. 30, at 3.) Also, it does not appear that
Perry’s MDT would have allowed him to access any information on the individual associated with
the alert, but this is somewhat unclear from the record. (See id. at 7; Suppression Hr’g Tr., Dist. Ct.
Docket No. 32, at 61. But see Suppression Hr’g Tr., Dist. Ct. Docket No. 32, at 19-20.)
Once Perry and Nash activated their lights and caught up with Godfrey, Godfrey pulled over
to the curb, and the officers pulled over behind him. Perry immediately exited his vehicle to secure
Godfrey, and Nash left his vehicle simultaneously to provide Perry with backup. Perry approached
USA v. Godfrey
Godfrey and asked to see his driver’s license. In response, Godfrey admitted that his license was
suspended. Shortly thereafter, Perry entered Godfrey’s information into Perry’s MDT to verify that
Godfrey’s license was suspended, which it was.
A third agent then arrived, Officer Ryan Hudson, and the officers put Godfrey in the back
of Hudson’s police car so they could impound his vehicle. Meanwhile, the officers received consent
from Godfrey to search his vehicle and found inside the vehicle a firearm with the serial number filed
off. The officers subsequently transported Godfrey to the police station, where he was questioned
and arrested with regard to the firearm.
The government prosecuted Godfrey for being a felon-in-possession of a firearm. Godfrey
moved to suppress the firearm, but the district court denied his motion after a hearing. Godfrey then
pled guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. Godfrey received a
sentence of one day of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. Godfrey timely
appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.
In examining the denial of a motion to suppress, we review the district court’s findings of
fact for clear error and its conclusions of law de novo. United States v. Foster, 376 F.3d 577, 583
(6th Cir. 2004). We must view the evidence “in the light most likely to support the district court’s
decision.” United States v. Navarro-Camacho, 186 F.3d 701, 705 (6th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Although, “in affirming a denial of a motion to suppress, we need not rely on the
ground set forth by the district court,” United States v. Pasquarille, 20 F.3d 682, 685 (6th Cir.
USA v. Godfrey
1994), that basis (the good faith exception) is adequate here, so we do not reach the government’s
newly-advanced argument that reasonable suspicion justified the stop.
Because Godfrey concedes that his detention was lawful after he admitted to driving under
a suspended license, and that he consented to the search of his vehicle, our inquiry centers around
whether the good faith exception cured the alleged unconstitutional infirmity of the stop. Yet our
focus is even narrower, for Godfrey does not contend that Nash’s mistyping of the license plate was
anything more than accidental. We must therefore determine simply whether “good faith” justifies
the officers’ failure to scroll through the several screens and confirm the details of the warrant before
intruding on Godfrey’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Where we find—or a party concedes—that a search is unconstitutional, the typical remedy
is suppression of the evidence seized. Herring v. United States, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 695, 699
(2009). However, exclusion is not always proper; instead, it “applies only where it results in
appreciable deterrence.” Id. at 700 (internal quotation marks omitted). In making this determination,
we “must consider the actions of all the police officers involved,” id. at 699, assess “the efficacy of
the [exclusionary] rule in deterring Fourth Amendment violations in the future,” id. at 700, and
analyze whether “the benefits of deterrence . . . outweigh the costs” to the justice system of letting
culpable individuals go free, id. at 700-01. Further, the Supreme Court has explained that where,
as here, police personnel are responsible for the unconstitutional error, suppression is necessary only
if the police conduct is “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent . . . , or in some circumstances [due
to] recurring or systemic negligence.” Id. at 702.
USA v. Godfrey
Herring formed the basis of the district court’s conclusion, so we begin with an examination
of that decision. In Herring, the Supreme Court faced a situation where an individual went to a
police station to retrieve an item from his impounded truck. Id. at 698. The officers ran a warrant
check on the individual, and the neighboring county’s warrant clerk told the officers that the
individual had an outstanding warrant. Id. The officers then arrested the individual and found drugs
and a firearm on his person. Id. Yet there was, in actuality, no arrest warrant outstanding; the
warrant had been recalled five months earlier, though, “[f]or whatever reason,” no one had cleared
it from the warrant database. Id. Applying the good faith standard, the Court in Herring held that
the exclusionary rule did not apply to bar evidence seized after an accidental police error. Id. at 704.
We have since expounded on Herring’s effect on the exclusionary rule: “The Supreme Court
has effectively created a balancing test by requiring that in order for a court to suppress evidence
following the finding of a Fourth Amendment violation, ‘the benefits of deterrence must outweigh
the costs.’” United States v. Master, 614 F.3d 236, 243 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Herring, 129 S. Ct.
at 700). We explained further that “the Herring Court’s emphasis seem[ed] weighed more toward
preserving evidence for use in obtaining convictions, even if illegally seized, than toward excluding
evidence in order to deter police misconduct unless the officers engage in ‘deliberate, reckless, or
grossly negligent conduct.’” Id. (quoting Herring, 129 S. Ct. at 702).
The district court applied Herring’s approach here and found no justification to exclude the
evidence. We agree. Nash’s initial data-entry error was a mistake and at most constituted typical
negligence of the sort present in Herring. See Herring, 129 S. Ct. at 698, 704. And Godfrey does
not argue, nor is there evidence in the record independently establishing, that Hamilton County
USA v. Godfrey
officers make these sorts of typographical errors recurrently or systemically. See id. at 703 (“If the
police have been shown to be reckless in maintaining a warrant system, or to have knowingly made
false entries to lay the groundwork for future false arrests, exclusion would certainly be justified .
. . .”). Accidental typographical mistakes are not the sort of police behavior that suppression would
deter, so the exclusionary rule does not require suppression for this error.
Once the error occurred and the officers learned of the outstanding warrant, the second
purported police error—and the one Godfrey contends was “reckless” or “deliberate”—was the
officers’ failure to verify that the information conveyed to Nash on his MDT matched Godfrey’s
person and vehicle. But, as the district court noted, accessing this information would have required
scrolling through several screens on Nash’s MDT touch screen, and the district court found—based
on Nash’s testimony—that Perry did not have access to this information at all. We believe the
decision not to scroll through the MDT screens while weaving in and out of traffic and pursuing
Godfrey was reasonable, because the officers were concerned with driving safely and not losing
Godfrey, who in their view was trying to put distance between himself and the officers. After
stopping Godfrey, Nash did not scroll for further information on his screen because Perry wanted
to secure the vehicle and the individual for whom they thought a warrant was outstanding, and Nash
had to provide Perry with backup for Perry’s safety.
These actions and the officers’ concerns for road and officer safety, as well as a perceived
need for swift apprehension of the wanted individual, reasonably explained the officers’ failure to
double-check the MDT system before securing the suspect and his vehicle. This oversight
constituted negligence at most, and there is no reason to believe that suppression in such
USA v. Godfrey
circumstances would deter similar mistakes in the future. Moreover, because there is no evidence
that such errors are commonplace or systemic, the good faith exception militates in favor of
“preserving evidence for use in obtaining convictions, even if illegally seized, [rather] than toward
excluding evidence in order to deter police misconduct.” Master, 614 F.3d at 243. As such, the
good faith exception cures any unconstitutional police action here.
Godfrey’s reliance on Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551 (2004), for a contrary result, is
misplaced, because that decision entailed unreasonable reliance on a facially-invalid warrant. In
Groh, the search warrant on which the officers relied to search the defendants’ ranch “failed to
identify any of the items that [the officers] intended to seize.” Id. at 554-55. Rejecting the argument
that the resultant search was constitutional or undertaken in “good faith,” the Court explained: “[A]
warrant may be so facially deficient—i.e., in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the
things to be seized—that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid. This is
such a case.” Id. at 565 (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, by contrast, the officers did not
examine a facially-invalid warrant, but instead at most negligently failed to examine a facially-valid,
if inapplicable, warrant. Herring thus guides our determination that the good faith exception saves
the officers’ action. See United States v. Lazar, 604 F.3d 230, 236 (6th Cir. 2010) (“This case does
not involve the sort of police error or misconduct in Herring. Like Groh, it instead deals with
particularization of search warrants and whether they are facially deficient.
government’s argument to the contrary, Herring does not purport to alter that aspect of the
exclusionary rule which applies to warrants that are facially deficient warrants ab initio.” (footnote
USA v. Godfrey
As a final matter, finding good faith on the part of Perry and Nash does not necessarily
require affirmance, as remand may be appropriate where the district court failed to “consider the
actions of all the police officers involved.” Master, 614 F.3d at 243 (quoting Herring, 129 S. Ct.
at 699). Here, however, the district court independently assessed the culpability of each officer
relevant to this inquiry, and it found their actions to be at most negligent—a conclusion with which
we agree. That fact distinguishes this case from Master and establishes that no remand for
clarification is necessary. See id.
For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s denial of Godfrey’s motion to
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