United States v. Christy

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Citation739 F.3d 534
Docket NumberNo. 12–2127.,12–2127.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Edward CHRISTY, Defendant–Appellant.
Decision Date03 January 2014

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Lee P. McMillian of the Law Offices of Lee McMillian, South Houston, TX, for DefendantAppellant.

Laura Fashing, Assistant United States Attorney (and Kenneth J. Gonzales, United States Attorney, on the brief), Albuquerque, NM, for PlaintiffAppellee.

Before KELLY, HARTZ, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.

KELLY, Circuit Judge.

DefendantAppellant Edward Christy appeals from an order of the district court granting in part the government's motion to reconsider and denying Mr. Christy's motion to suppress on the basis of the inevitable discovery doctrine. United States v. Christy, 810 F.Supp.2d 1219 (D.N.M.2011). The district court initially granted the motion to suppress. United States v. Christy, 785 F.Supp.2d 1004 (D.N.M.2011).1 Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the motion to reconsider and correctly applied the inevitable discovery doctrine. We therefore affirm.

Background

This case concerns Mr. Christy's relationship with a sixteen-year-old girl (“K.Y.”). Mr. Christy met K.Y. on AgeMatch.com, a dating website, Aplt.App. 431, and the two exchanged sexually explicit emails and photographs, id. at 417–18. Believing that her father was abusive, Mr. Christy arranged to pick K.Y. up from her home in Westminster, California, and bring her to his home in Albuquerque, which he did. Id. at 431.

On November 8, 2009, K.Y.'s parents reported her missing. Id. at 417. K.Y's father gained access to her email account and found sexually explicit exchanges with Mr. Christy. Id. at 417–18. FBI Task Force Officers Carvo and Fletes investigated K.Y.'s disappearance. Id. at 418. Using K.Y.'s telephone records, they found that she received three calls from Mr. Christy around the time of her disappearance and obtained Mr. Christy's address and other information from his cellular provider. Id. at 418–19. Using Mr. Christy's cell phone usage data, the agents determined that he traveled to California and back to Albuquerque. Id. at 419–20.

On November 9, 2009, the officers contacted the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office (“BCSO”) and told them what they had found. Id. at 421. As a result, BCSO deputies Littlefield and McKinney were dispatched to Mr. Christy's residence to conduct a welfare check on K.Y. Id. at 421–22. One of the deputies walked to the rear of the house and noticed a crack in the blinds covering a window. Id. at 423. He peered through the window and saw K.Y. wearing a brassiere and underwear, smiling and holding a rope. Id. at 423–24. Concerned for K.Y.'s safety, the deputy asked his sergeant for permission to force entry into the house and for backup. Id. at 424. He looked again through the window and saw K.Y. no longer wearing a brassiere and bound by the rope, and observed camera flashes. Id. at 425.

When backup arrived, the deputies forced entry into the house and arrested Mr. Christy. Id. at 425–27. They conducted a protective sweep and found pornographic materials. Id. at 426. Mr. Christy was given Miranda warnings and told the deputies he had picked K.Y. up from California. Id. at 427. He was taken to a law enforcement center and interviewed by Detective Proctor (“detective”). Id. at 428, 430. Mr. Christy told the detective about his relationship with K.Y., how he drove her from California to Albuquerque, and that they had sex. Id. at 431.

Based in part on the BCSO deputies' observations at Mr. Christy's residence and Mr. Christy's post-arrest statements, the detective prepared and obtained warrants to search Mr. Christy's residence, cell phone, vehicle, computer, and person. Id. at 433–435. Pursuant to the warrants, BCSO deputies obtained used condoms, sexual devices, and computer files later determined to contain child pornography, including pictures of K.Y. Id. at 435–36.

In May 2010, Mr. Christy was indicted by a federal grand jury. Id. at 436. He was charged with one count of transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), and three counts of possession of matter containing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(4)(b), (b)(2), & 2256. App. 18–20.2 He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search of his house, including his statements to the detective and all evidence obtained pursuant to the search warrants. Id. at 437. The district court found that the deputies violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered Mr. Christy's house without a warrant, and granted the motion to suppress. Christy, 785 F.Supp.2d at 1045, 1054.

The government then filed a motion to reconsider, Aplt.App. 495, which the court granted to consider (inter alia) whether the illegally seized evidence was nonetheless admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine. Christy, 810 F.Supp.2d at 1222–23. The court determined that, absentthe illegal search, Officer Carvo would have legally obtained a warrant and discovered the evidence. Id. at 1278–82. Thus, the court denied Mr. Christy's motion to suppress. Id. at 1282.

Mr. Christy then entered into a plea agreement to a two-count information charging him with (1) coercion and enticement of a person to travel in interstate commerce to engage in sexual activity for which any person could be charged with a criminal offense, 18 U.S.C. § 2422(a), and (2) possession of matter containing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(4)(B), (b)(2), & 2256. Pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(c)(1)(C), Mr. Christy was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 108 months and the district court imposed lifetime supervised release. Aplt.App. 1230–1236; United States v. Christy, 888 F.Supp.2d 1107, 1168 (D.N.M.2012).3 Mr. Christy timely appealed.

Discussion

Mr. Christy argues that the district court abused its discretion in granting the government's motion to reconsider and challenges the court's application of the inevitable discovery doctrine. We discuss each point in turn.

A. Motion to Reconsider

We review a district court's decision to reconsider a prior ruling for abuse of discretion. United States v. Randall, 666 F.3d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir.2011). Motions to reconsider are proper in criminal cases even though the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not specifically provide for them. Id. at 1241–42;see United States v. Healy, 376 U.S. 75, 78, 84 S.Ct. 553, 11 L.Ed.2d 527 (1964). A district court should have the opportunity to correct alleged errors in its dispositions. See United States v. Dieter, 429 U.S. 6, 8, 97 S.Ct. 18, 50 L.Ed.2d 8 (1976).

A motion to reconsider may be granted when the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the law. Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir.2000). Specific grounds include: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Id. A motion to reconsider should not be used to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised earlier. Id.

Mr. Christy argues that the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion to reconsider because the government had ample opportunity to brief and argue its inevitable discovery theories during the initial suppression hearings. Aplt. Br. 14. The government in fact raised inevitable discovery in its brief in response to the motion to suppress, Aplt.App. 39, its brief in response to the amended motion to suppress, Aplee. Supp.App. 14, 20, 28, and during a hearing on the suppression motion, Aplt.App. 81. But the district court did not rule on the inevitable discovery issue in its order granting the suppression motion. See Christy, 810 F.Supp.2d at 1246.

Considering this, the district court acted well within its discretion in granting the motion to reconsider (at least as to inevitable discovery) in order to rule on an issue it mistakenly overlooked. The district court was plainly aware of the appropriate grounds for a motion to reconsider. Id. at 1250. Given its extensive treatment of inevitable discovery in its order granting reconsideration, there is little doubt that the court either misapprehended the government's original position, or else was in clear error in failing to address it at all. We defer to the district court's discretion to correct its mistakes.

B. Inevitable Discovery

Subject to a few exceptions, evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment will be suppressed under the exclusionary rule; the inevitable discovery doctrine is one such exception. United States v. Cunningham, 413 F.3d 1199, 1203 (10th Cir.2005). Under it, illegally obtained evidence may be admitted if it “ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means.” Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 444, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 81 L.Ed.2d 377 (1984). The government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence would have been discovered without the Fourth Amendment violation. Cunningham, 413 F.3d at 1203.

Mr. Christy makes three arguments as to why the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply: (1) there was no “independent investigation” that would have lawfully discovered the evidence; (2) the court misapplied the factors set forth in United States v. Souza, 223 F.3d 1197 (10th Cir.2000); and (3) the officers in this case took no preliminary steps to obtain a warrant before conducting the illegal search.

We review the district court's factual determinations for clear error and its ultimate Fourth Amendment conclusions de novo. Cunningham, 413 F.3d at 1203.

1. Independent Investigation

Mr. Christy argues that the district court failed to require an independent investigation before applying the...

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