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United States v. Trimble

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 28, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Durnell Trimble, Defendant.


          G. Murray Snow Chief United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court are Defendant Durnell Trimble's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 43), Motion to Suppress Statements (Doc. 44), and Motion to Dismiss Superseding Indictment (Doc. 45). For the following reasons, the Court grants the motions to suppress evidence and statements, and denies the motion to dismiss.


         On January 26, 2018 at approximately 1:58 p.m., four Navajo Nation Police Department Officers in three police vehicles approached a house in Ganado, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation to investigate reports of gun and drug activity. Specifically, the Officers were investigating a recent theft of firearms from a Criminal Investigations Office, as well as reports that an individual had been selling drugs and alcohol on the property.

         The house is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and the driveway entry to the home has a gate in front of it. Throughout the property are several “No Trespassing” signs, both on the exterior fencing, as well as on the housing structures. Before approaching, the officers did not obtain a warrant to search the property. After passing through an open gate, the officers parked their patrol cars in a dirt area near the house where other vehicles were parked and approached the home. Officers Alejandro Dayea and Dean Goldtooth approached the front door to perform a “knock and talk” and the three remaining officers positioned themselves around the front of the home to see if anyone would flee from the house. Ms. Beulah Begay and her boyfriend, Mr. Keenan Smith, responded to the officers. She informed the Officers that Mr. Trimble was also staying at the residence, and the Officers asked if he could be questioned. Ms. Begay woke up Mr. Trimble, who came to the door to answer the questions. After answering the Officers' questions and producing identification, Mr. Trimble offered to call the homeowner, Ms. Terrilyn Curley. Ms. Curley then gave the Officer Dayea permission to search the house.

         The Officers then instructed Ms. Begay, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Trimble to sit in the living room while the conducted the search of the home. Officer Goldtooth stood in the living room with them during the search.

         The search of the house did not produce any contraband. After this initial search was finished, Officer Dayea announced to Ms. Begay and Mr. Trimble that the Officers were leaving the premises. But after exiting the home, one of the officers noticed a bottle of alcohol on the floorboard of Ms. Begay's vehicle and proceeded to search her car over her objection.[1] At this point, Mr. Trimble asked why the officers had not left the premises as they indicated they would. While the officers were searching Ms. Begay's vehicle, Mr. Trimble asked if he could use the restroom. Officer Goldtooth escorted him to the bathroom. At some point prior to this escort, Officer Goldtooth performed a pat down of Mr. Trimble. While Mr. Trimble used the restroom, Officer Goldtooth remained standing near the outhouse.

         Another officer then noticed that Mr. Trimble's car had a plastic bag which he believed contained alcohol. At some point before the Officers searched Mr. Trimble's vehicle, they parked one of the patrol cars behind it. (See Exs. 7, 30). Mr. Trimble and Officer Dayea disagreed about whether alcohol could be seen from the window of the vehicle. Yet none of the officers took photos of the vehicle before they began to search it. The sole photographs offered in evidence demonstrate an opaque plastic bag on the seat of the truck that completely covers its contents. Further, all parties acknowledge that Mr. Trimble's vehicle had tinted windows, and so any observations of the plastic bag were made through the tinted windows. In addition to the alcohol, officers spotted the butt of a rifle in the back of the vehicle. Despite Mr. Trimble's objections, the officers instructed Mr. Trimble to provide them with the keys so they could search the vehicle for contraband. Once officers opened the truck and removed a shotgun and ammunition, Officer Dayea asked Mr. Trimble if he was aware of the weapons. At this point, Mr. Trimble admitted that he had a previous felony conviction and he did not want them to search the vehicle for that reason. The search of Mr. Trimble's vehicle produced three firearms, several rounds of ammunition, and approximately 23 grams of methamphetamine.

         Mr. Trimble now moves to suppress the evidence produced in this search. (Doc. 43). He also argues that his statements to the officers should be suppressed because he was seized without probable cause in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. 44). Finally, he argues that the indictment should be dismissed because the officers failed to preserve exculpatory evidence. (Doc. 45).


         I. Legal Standard

         “The burden of proving that a warrantless search falls within an exception to the warrant requirement is on the government.” United States v. Scott, 705 F.3d 410, 416 (9th Cir. 2012). It is also “the government's burden to show that evidence is not fruit of the poisonous tree.” United States v. Shetler, 665 F.3d 1150, 1157 (9th Cir. 2011). However, it is the Defendant's burden to demonstrate Fourth Amendment standing. Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 104 (1980).

         II. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         A. Fourth ...

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