367 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2004), 02-50539, United States v. Brooks

Docket Nº:02-50539.
Citation:367 F.3d 1128
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Guy Christopher BROOKS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 13, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1128

367 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2004)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Guy Christopher BROOKS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 02-50539.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 13, 2004

Argued and Submitted March 1, 2004.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Monica Knox (argued) and Angel K. Leung, Deputy Federal Public Defenders, Los Angeles, CA, for the defendant-appellant.

Douglas F. McCormick, Assistant United States Attorney, Santa Ana, CA, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; David O. Carter, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CR-02-00053-DOC.

Before: SILVERMAN, GOULD, and BEA, Circuit Judges.

GOULD, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-Appellant Guy Christopher Brooks, convicted in the district court on three counts of bank robbery, challenges the admission of incriminating evidence that police seized in a search of his hotel room made without a warrant. We consider whether the district court committed reversible error by denying Appellant's pretrial motion to suppress the evidence where that search was prompted by a "911" emergency phone call to the police from a hotel guest, staying in an adjacent room, who thought that she had heard the sounds of a woman being beaten. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

I

On February 2, 2002, Appellant Brooks and Sharon Andrea Bengis ("Bengis")--who had been living together for almost three weeks in room # 301 of the Extended Stay America hotel in Lake Forest, California--were breaking up their relationship. It is not disputed that they were at least engaged in an argument so loud that it commanded the attention of a neighboring hotel guest. The guest next door in room # 303 called the police and reported hearing what she thought were sounds of a woman being beaten in room # 301. Deputy Sheriff Marcus Perez ("Perez") arrived on the scene. After Perez met in the hotel lobby with the guest who placed the 911 call, Perez went to room # 301 and knocked on the door. He heard Brooks say, "Honey, I think somebody is here."

When Brooks opened the door, Perez identified himself. Perez told Brooks that Perez was there because he received an emergency call about a domestic disturbance. Brooks said, "I knew you were coming. She was very loud." Perez noticed that the room was, in his words, in "total disarray;" the hotel bed was unmade and clothes were strewn over the floor. Perez asked whether there was a female in the room. Brooks told him that a woman was in the bathroom, probably taking a shower. Perez asked to speak with her, and Brooks turned around toward the bathroom to ask Bengis to come out and speak to the officer. Brooks testified that he did not close the hotel room door, but that it began to close automatically. Brooks was not aware whether the door closed completely.

When Brooks turned to face the officer, he noticed that Perez had entered the hotel room. There is no evidence that Brooks ever asked Perez to wait outside, or to leave the room once he had entered. At the time he entered the room, Perez had not yet confirmed whether the woman involved in the dispute was hurt and needed his help, nor had Perez determined whether the fighting might continue. In any event, as the issues are presented by the parties, it is not disputed that Perez did not receive formal or informal consent to enter the room.

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Upon entering the hotel room and going to the kitchen area, Perez heard Bengis crying in the bathroom. Perez asked Brooks to sit on a chair in the kitchen area and tell him what had happened. Brooks told the officer that he and Bengis had gotten into a verbal argument. Bengis then came out of the bathroom. Perez did not see signs of a physical assault, but he noticed that Bengis was still crying.

Perez asked Bengis several times whether she was hurt or had been assaulted, and Bengis each time said that she had not been injured. Perez asked whether she needed assistance, and she declined help. Perez asked Brooks and Bengis for proof of identification. Brooks denied having any, and gave a false name. Bengis showed Perez her California driver's license.

The plot thickened when Perez asked Brooks and Bengis whether they had anything illegal in the room. Brooks admitted to having marijuana in the top drawer of the dresser, but said that Bengis did not know about it. Perez then asked for permission to search for marijuana, and Brooks and Bengis both assented: "Yes, go ahead." Brooks confirmed in his own declaration that he told Perez he had some marijuana, and Brooks gave Perez permission to search for the marijuana.

Soon thereafter, Perez noticed a man's wallet on top of the dresser where Brooks said the marijuana was located. He picked up the wallet, looked inside it, saw Brooks's driver's license, and then knew that Brooks had lied about his identity. When Perez visibly removed Brooks's driver's license from the wallet, Brooks bowed his head and sighed. On Perez's immediate inquiry, Brooks then admitted that he had given Perez a false name. Brooks also said that he was on parole for bank robbery in Oregon and had absconded from parole. Next, Perez handcuffed Brooks, and conducted a records check. Perez learned that there was an active warrant out from the United States Marshal's service for Brooks's arrest.

At that time, Perez realized that Brooks fit the description of a bank robber in a matter on which Perez had worked the previous month. Perez began to search the room and discovered two tennis rackets in cases, and one of the cases contained $3,000 in a zippered baggie. Without advising Brooks of his Miranda rights, Perez asked Brooks about the tennis rackets and about the money found inside one of the cases; Brooks admitted that the tennis rackets and the money were his. Brooks also said that the money belonged only to him, not to Bengis, and that only he and Bengis had access to the hotel room.

Brooks was indicted on February 27, 2002, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and charged with three counts of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). On March 29, 2002, Brooks filed a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence seized by law enforcement officers from his hotel room, as well as the "fruits" of such evidence. The district court held a hearing on Brooks's suppression motion and issued a written ruling on April 18, 2002. The district court granted Brooks's unopposed motion to suppress the incriminating statements Brooks had made before receiving Miranda warnings but denied the motion to suppress the physical evidence found in the challenged search of Brooks's hotel room.

The district court concluded that a "potential domestic violence assault in this case justified Deputy Perez's warrantless entry." Specifically, the court held that there was "probable cause" as a result of the combination of the hotel guest's emergency call to the police, the signs of disturbance in the room, and the sounds of a woman crying in the bathroom. And the

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court held that Perez's warrantless entry was justified by "exigent circumstances" because "domestic violence might have endangered the physical safety of the potential victim."1

The district court also held that Perez did not violate Brooks's Fourth Amendment rights by staying in the room to ask follow-up questions after Bengis told him that she did not need assistance and was not harmed. The court concluded that Perez was authorized to stay in the room for a "few minutes" to "[e]nsure that the situation was as secure as Bengis suggested" and "to obtain identification of the principals in the matter." Regarding Perez's search of Brooks's wallet, the district court held that Brooks had given consent to search for marijuana, and that an objectively reasonable person could have searched--as Perez did--in Brooks's wallet.2

The case went to trial on April 23, 2002. The cash and the items of clothing seized by Perez were introduced at the jury trial. Two days later, Brooks was convicted by a jury of bank robbery.

II

Brooks challenges the district court's rulings denying his motion to suppress, and contends that the district court erred in concluding that the search was justified by probable cause, and that exigent circumstances excused Perez's warrantless entry into Brooks's hotel room. Also, Brooks contends that even if the warrantless search was permissible at the outset, Perez had to stop the search and leave the room after Bengis said that she was fine and did not need help. Brooks further contends that Perez's questioning about illegal items lay outside the scope of any exigency that prompted his entry. Finally, Brooks argues that his consent to Perez's search of the hotel room for marijuana, after entry, was tainted by prior Fourth Amendment violations.3

III

A

Brooks argues that Perez's warrantless entry into the hotel room violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states:

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The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be...

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