U.S. v. Lawlor

Decision Date27 April 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-2044.,04-2044.
PartiesUNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Christopher Joseph LAWLOR, Defendant, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Brett D. Baber, with whom Law Office of Brett D. Baber, P.A., was on brief for appellant.

Margaret D. McGaughey, Appellate Chief, with whom Paula D. Silsby, United States Attorney, was on brief for appellee.

Before HOWARD, Circuit Judge, CYR, Senior Circuit Judge, and STAHL, Senior Circuit Judge.

STAHL, Senior Circuit Judge.

On the morning of May 29, 2003, Maine State Police Trooper Thomas Fiske ("Fiske") went to the residence of Appellant Christopher Lawlor ("Lawlor") to investigate a report of a gunshot and an altercation between two men at the house, one of whom proved to be Lawlor. After arriving at the scene and subduing the two men, Fiske conducted a warrantless search of the residence and found a shotgun. Lawlor was then formally arrested and later charged with making an unregistered, short barreled shotgun, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5861(f), 5871, and possession of such a shotgun, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5861(d), 5871. Subsequently, Lawlor filed a motion to suppress the shotgun. Based on a stipulated record (the parties having agreed that an evidentiary hearing was not necessary), the magistrate judge assigned to the case recommended that the district court allow the motion. After the government objected to the recommendation, the district court decided to hold an evidentiary hearing. Following that hearing, the district court rejected the recommendation and denied the motion. Lawlor now seeks review of the district court's decision to (1) conduct an evidentiary hearing and (2) deny his motion to suppress. Finding no error, we affirm.

I. Background

At approximately 7:00 a.m. on May 29, 2003, Andrew McLaughlin ("McLaughlin") called the Maine State Police and reported seeing an altercation between two men and hearing a gunshot outside a specified residence in Enfield, Maine (the "Lawlor residence," the "residence," or the "house"). Soon thereafter, Fiske was ordered to travel to the Lawlor residence.

Fiske was familiar with the residence and its occupants. In 1998 or 1999, he had arrested Lawlor's father and brother at the residence. It was then that Fiske first encountered Lawlor. Significantly, Fiske believed that Lawlor was living in the residence on the date in question and that his brother also lived there "from time to time."1 In addition, Fiske was aware that the Maine State Police had received intelligence connecting the residence and its occupants with illicit, drug-related activities. And, over the years, while fulfilling his "patrol duties," Fiske had regularly observed "individuals coming and going from th[e] house."

When Fiske arrived at the residence, he saw Lawlor and another man, later identified as Christopher Tomah ("Tomah"), standing in the driveway. Fiske also saw a woman, later identified as Ann Delaite ("Delaite"), standing in the doorway to the house. Lawlor and Tomah were yelling at each other, and Lawlor was holding a three-and-a-half foot long two-by-four over his shoulder and appeared ready to strike Tomah. Fiske drew his revolver, ordered both men to the ground, and after they had complied, handcuffed them. The men were visibly inebriated. Fiske did not see a gun.

At that point, a second trooper, Barry Meserve ("Meserve"), arrived at the scene. Fiske then noticed two spent shotgun shells on the ground in front of the doorway to the residence. Fiske asked Lawlor and Tomah for the location of the gun. At the suppression hearing, Fiske testified that he did so because he "was concerned that there may still [have been] an assailant with a gun" in or around the residence. Lawlor initially denied knowledge of any gun but, a short time later, asked Fiske to specify the gun to which he was referring, thus implying that there were several guns inside the house. After Fiske said that he wanted to know the location of the gun from which the above mentioned shells had been fired, Lawlor shrugged his shoulders.

Fiske then went inside the house, leaving Meserve with Lawlor and Tomah. Fiske did not have a warrant to search the house. Upon entering the house, he walked first through the kitchen, then the living room, and then two rooms off of the living room. In one of the latter two rooms, he found a shotgun on the floor in plain view. The shotgun smelled of gunpowder, an indication that it had been fired recently. After looking into one final room located adjacent to the room containing the shotgun, Fiske picked up the gun and went outside.

As Fiske made his way through the rooms, he also noticed a straw and a plate covered with white powder, which he believed to be cocaine. But, at the time, Fiske seized only the shotgun.

After the search, Lawlor was formally arrested. He later was charged in a two-count indictment. Count I alleged that he had made an unregistered, short-barreled shotgun, and Count II charged him with possession of the shotgun. On August 20, 2003, Lawlor moved to suppress the shotgun on the ground that it was the product of an unlawful, warrantless search. The district court referred the motion to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. Following the referral, the parties agreed that there was no need for the magistrate judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing before issuing her recommendation, and consequently, they submitted the motion on the papers.2 On October 23, 2003, the magistrate judge recommended that the motion be granted. The government objected to the recommendation. Before ruling on the objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court, acting sua sponte and over Lawlor's objection, conducted an evidentiary hearing. After the hearing, the district court denied the suppression motion, finding that the search was justified under the protective sweep and emergency doctrines.

On May 17, 2004, Lawlor pleaded guilty to Count II, reserving his right to appeal the suppression ruling. Count I was later dismissed on the government's motion.

On appeal, Lawlor challenges both the district court's decision to hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress and its ultimate denial of that motion. We address the challenges in turn.

II. Discussion
A. Evidentiary Hearing

Lawlor claims that the district court erred in conducting an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress because the parties had previously agreed that the motion was to be submitted to the magistrate judge on the papers. We disagree.

The relevant statute, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), provides that when a party objects to a magistrate judge's recommendation on a matter, the district court "shall make a de novo determination of ... [the] recommendation[]." The district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the ... recommendation[] made by the magistrate judge." § 636(b)(1). And, in conducting its de novo review, the district court "may ... receive further evidence [on] the matter." § 636(b)(1).

Thus, as a general rule, a district court is permitted to conduct an evidentiary hearing when reviewing a magistrate judge's recommendation on a motion. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980); Stauble v. Warrob, Inc., 977 F.2d 690, 695-96 n. 7 (1st Cir.1992). The issue here, however, is whether the fact that the parties agreed that the magistrate judge could decide the motion to suppress on the papers precluded the district court from later conducting an evidentiary hearing. It did not. The district court had a statutory obligation to "make a de novo determination" of the magistrate judge's recommendation with respect to the motion and, in doing so, was expressly authorized to "receive further evidence [on] the matter." § 636(b)(1).

The two cases that Lawlor cites to support his position, United States v. McGill, 952 F.2d 16 (1st Cir.1991), and United States v. Shapiro, 879 F.2d 468 (9th Cir.1989), are easily distinguished from the case at hand, as each involved pretrial evidentiary stipulations entered into before a district court; neither involved a district court's review of a magistrate judge's recommendation in a situation where the parties had agreed to limit the evidence before the magistrate. Given that such review is de novo, the binding effect of an evidentiary agreement entered into before a magistrate judge is not comparable to that of one entered into before a district court.

B. Motion to Suppress

Having determined that the district court did not err in conducting an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress, we now consider whether it erred in denying that motion. Our review of the denial of the motion to suppress is bifurcated. United States v. Charles, 213 F.3d 10, 18 (1st Cir.2000). We review de novo the district court's ultimate legal decision to deny the motion. Id. But, we review its factual findings only for clear error. Id.

Lawlor argues that the district court should have suppressed the shotgun because the warrantless search of his residence was unlawful. The government, however, insists that the district court correctly found that the search was justified pursuant to both the protective sweep and emergency doctrines. Because we believe that the search was a lawful protective sweep, we need not, and do not, consider the applicability of the emergency doctrine.3

For a search to be lawful, it must be reasonable. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. And, "[a] warrantless search of a private residence is presumptively unreasonable." United States v. Tibolt, 72 F.3d 965, 968 (1st Cir.1995). There are, however, exceptions to this general rule.

One exception, announced by the Supreme Court in Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 110 S.Ct. 1093, 108 L.Ed.2d 276 (1990), is that following an in-home arrest, police officers may conduct a protective sweep of the premises if "articulable...

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