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United States v. Taylor

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 12, 2018

MARIO A. TAYLOR, Defendant.



         Defendant Mario A. Taylor is charged with possessing a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Dkt. 79. He alleges that the government violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 by failing to collect any evidence from the crime scene other than the contraband itself. Taylor moves to dismiss the case, or in the alternative, for a curative jury instruction. Dkt. 81. The Court concludes that, on the present record, Taylor has failed to carry his burden of demonstrating a violation of either the Due Process Clause or Rule 16. Because Taylor may yet be able to make the necessary showing with respect to one or both bases of his motion, the Court will DENY the motion without prejudice and allow him to renew the motion, if appropriate, at trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant background of this matter began on June 1, 2017, when the U.S. Marshals Service and the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) discovered a number of guns, numerous rounds of ammunition, and two vials of a “brownish[, ] yellowish” liquid in the course of executing a writ of restitution at 2547 Elvans Road SE, Unit #102, Washington, D.C. Dkt. 48 (23:3-8); Dkt. 49 (32:1-34:23). Taylor, who was listed on the lease for the apartment and was present at the time of the eviction, was arrested and was later indicted on charges of Unlawful Possession with Intent to Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of PCP, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(C) (Count One); Unlawful Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition by a Person Convicted of a Crime Punishable by Imprisonment for a Term Exceeding One Year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Two); and Using, Carrying, and Possessing a Firearm During a Drug Trafficking Offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Three). Dkt. 1. After the government provided Taylor with discovery, including the MPD “Evidence Collection Log, ” Dkt. 11-1 at 1, Taylor moved to suppress “several statements” he allegedly made during his arrest, Dkt. 10 at 2, and “all tangible objects and photographs of all tangible objects seized” from the Elvans Road residence, Dkt. 9 at 1. The Court then held an evidentiary hearing on Taylor's motions on October 27, November 17, December 8, and December 12, 2017, at which Deputy Marshals Mark Beard and Erik Navas and MPD Officer Casey Logan testified regarding the eviction and alleged discovery of the contraband. See Dkt. 18; Dkt. 48; Dkt. 49; Dkt. 54.

         According to that testimony, Deputy Marshals Beard, Navas, and Tawanna Gooding executed the writ of restitution on June 1, 2017, with the assistance of a privately retained eviction crew. Dkt. 18 (39:2-6). At the time the Deputy Marshals arrived at the residence, it was occupied by three men (including Taylor), one woman, and one infant. Id. (42:2-3). The Deputy Marshals directed all of the occupants to leave the apartment, but the adults were subsequently allowed briefly to return to retrieve valuables, such as cell phones and wallets. Id. (44:20-23). After approximately forty-five minutes, Deputy Marshal Gooding discovered two loaded rifle magazines (which, it was eventually determined, fit an AR-15 rifle) under a table in the dining area. Id. (63:22-64:9). One significant factual question for trial is whether those magazines were in plain view, as the government contends. See Dkt. 90 at 2; Dkt. 48 (22:16) (describing the clips as having been found “[i]n plain view”).

         Shortly after Deputy Marshal Gooding discovered the magazines, the eviction crew discovered two loaded, semiautomatic handguns, ammunition, and two vials in shoeboxes in one of the bedrooms. Dkt. 48 (18:1-7). At least one of the vials contained a “brownish[, ] yellowish” liquid. Id. (23:6-8). As is their standard procedure, the Deputy Marshals contacted the MPD's Gun Recovery Unit (“GRU”). Id. (15:19-25). While waiting for the GRU to arrive, the Deputy Marshals brought Taylor back into the apartment. Id. (14:2-4). One of them “explained to him that [they had] found contraband, [that they had] found guns” and told him “he[] [was] not under arrest, but [they would] have to detain him until MPD [came].” Id. (14:6-9). Taylor said “something to th[e] effect” of “[y]ou're going to charge me anyways because I'm on the lease, ” at which point the Deputy Marshals handcuffed him. Id. (14:10-19). After officers from the GRU arrived, a member of the eviction crew discovered a green bag in a closet located just off of the dining area, which he brought to Officer Logan's attention. Dkt. 49 (26:22-24). Officer Logan entered the closet, examined the bag, felt what seemed to be a rifle, and opened the bag. Id. (28:2-8) (quoting grand jury testimony). Inside, he discovered an AR-15, a type of semiautomatic rifle. Id. (12:9). The government took custody of the handguns, ammunition, AR-15, AR-15 magazines, and two vials found at the apartment, and also took photographs of the apartment and much of the evidence. Id. (33:4-34:10). The remaining contents of the apartment were either left on the curb for the occupants (or their friends or family)[1] to recover or were left for the rental company to clean out. Dkt. 18 (95:2-6); Dkt. 54 (7:24-8:6).

         According to Officer Logan, he asked Taylor—who remained handcuffed—“about the illegal items recovered from his home, ” and Taylor responded “that everything recovered from the residence belong[ed] to him.” Dkt. 61 at 3 (MPD Arrest Form (June 1, 2017)); see also Dkt. 49 (25:9-23) (quoting grand jury testimony). Through his counsel, Taylor denies that he made this statement. Dkt. 91 at 9. According to the government, the “brownish[, ] yellowish” liquid contained in at least one of the vials later tested positive for PCP at a Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) laboratory located in Northern Virginia. Dkt. 18 (23:12). The government ultimately conceded that Taylor's statements, which were made while he was in custody and before he was advised of his Miranda rights, should be suppressed, and the Court suppressed that evidence. Dkt. 48 (31:9-32:2). The Court, however, denied Taylor's motion to suppress the physical evidence collected at the apartment in an oral decision issued from the bench. See Minute Entry (Dec. 12, 2017). The Court detailed its reasoning in that decision, and now concludes that no further explication is necessary.

         Although the Court denied Taylor's motion to suppress physical evidence, it subsequently observed that evidence presented in the course of the suppression hearing raised questions about the merits of at least some of the charges contained in the original indictment. See United States v. Taylor, 289 F.Supp.3d 55, 68-69 (D.D.C. 2018). In particular, the evidence showed that the handguns, the handgun ammunition, and purported PCP were recovered from a bedroom on one side of the apartment's central hallway. Dkt. 18 (61:5-17). But when the adult occupants of the apartment were allowed to reenter to recover their cellphones, cellphone chargers, and wallets, Taylor went to the bedroom on the other side of the hallway, while another occupant went to the bedroom where the contraband was found. Dkt. 48 (12:2-13:3). Moreover, the evidence showed that the name “Veandre” was written in large lettering across the wall in the bedroom where the contraband was found. Dkt. 91 at 10 (reproducing photograph introduced into evidence at the suppression hearing). Further evidence indicated that one of the other residents at the apartment was named Veandre Purvis and that a man identified as Purvis was overheard speaking to Taylor while the eviction was taking place. See Dkt. 44-1. In particular, Purvis was overheard “asking why . . . Taylor had not told him that he was being evicted and was behind on his rent.” Id. at 1.

         Trial was originally scheduled to commence on December 11, 2017, but on the government's motion, the Court rescheduled jury selection for December 13, 2017. See Minute Entry (Dec. 8, 2017). After a jury was selected but before it was sworn, however, the parties jointly moved to continue the trial for an extended period of time to allow defense counsel time to investigate whether misconduct at the DEA lab at the which the “brownish[, ] yellowish” liquid was tested could have affected the validity of any test results. See Minute Entry (Dec. 14, 2017). The defense sought extensive discovery related to the alleged misconduct, and the Court concluded that, in order to permit the defense adequate opportunity to investigate, it was necessary to dismiss the (unsworn) jury and to postpone the trial. See Dec. 14, 2017 Hrg. Tr. (Rough at 22:5-15); Minute Entry (Dec. 14, 2017). Arguing that the postponement was a product of the government's failure to provide the defense with earlier notice of the possible misconduct at the DEA lab, the defense requested that Taylor be released from pretrial custody pending trial. Dkt. 57 at 1. The Court agreed that Taylor should be released into the High Intensity Supervision Program, although on somewhat different grounds than those pressed by the defense. See Taylor, 289 F.Supp.3d at 72. In particular, the Court concluded that the balance of the factors it had to consider under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(g) in determining whether Taylor's detention was appropriate had shifted in Taylor's favor based on the evidence suggesting that Purvis, and not Taylor, possessed the handguns, handgun ammunition, and alleged PCP. Id. at 68-69, 72.

         To its credit, the government also reassessed the evidence and dismissed the charges relating to the handguns, handgun ammunition, and alleged PCP. Minute Entry (Feb. 5, 2018); see also April 16, 2018 Hrg. Tr. (Rough at 16:2-13) (“We dismissed the charges related to the PCP and handguns because the Government reasonably believe[s] that the items in that room belonged to [Purvis].”). A retyped indictment referencing only a single count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) was filed on February 12, 2018. Dkt. 79. That count related only to the alleged unlawful possession of the AR-15 and ammunition found in the AR-15 magazines. On March 12, 2018, months after the trial was originally scheduled to take place, Taylor filed the pending motion, which seeks dismissal of the retyped indictment or, in the alternative, a corrective instruction on the ground that the government should have collected and preserved additional evidence found at the Elvans Road residence. See Dkt. 81.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Taylor alleges that the government's failure to preserve additional evidence from the crime scene violated the Due Process Clause and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16. As explained below, the Court is not convinced on the present record that Taylor has established a violation of either the Constitution or Rule 16, nor can it conclude that he has shown a need for yet a further pretrial evidentiary hearing. If evidence presented at trial provides further support for Taylor's motion, he may renew his motion based on that evidence.

         A. Due Process Clause

         The government violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment when it “fail[s] in bad faith to preserve material and potentially exculpatory evidence.” United States v. McKie, 951 F.2d 399, 403 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (citing Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988)). When evaluating whether the failure “to preserve evidentiary material of which no more can be said than that it could have been subjected to tests, the results of which might have exonerated the defendant, ” violates the Due Process Clause, a defendant bears the burden of ...

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