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United States v. Schaeffer

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 14, 2016



          Laurie Smith Camp Chief United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Findings and Recommendation (ECF No. 155), issued by Magistrate Thomas D. Thalken recommending that the Motion for Hearing under Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (ECF No. 119), and the Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 121), both filed by Defendant Cuc Thi Schaeffer (“Schaeffer”), be denied. Schaefer filed an Objection to the Findings and Recommendation (ECF No. 159) as allowed by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and NECrimR 59.2(a). The Government has not responded to the Objections. For the reasons set forth below, the Findings and Recommendation will be adopted, the Objection will be overruled, and the Motion for Hearing and the Motion to Suppress will be denied.


         Schaeffer is charged in the Second Superseding Indictment (ECF No. 70) with conspiracy to distribute and/or possess with intent to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Schaeffer seeks to suppress all evidence obtained in connection with the search of Schaeffer's person, residence, and property, on November 8, 2013. The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on both Motions on June 22, 2016. The Magistrate Judge took the matters under advisement and issued a written Findings and Recommendation (ECF No. 155) that included the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact. Schaeffer does not expressly object to the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact. The Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact for purposes of these Motions. The Court provides the following background by way of summary.

         Evidence Supporting the Warrant

         On October 23, 2013, law enforcement, suspecting criminal activity, learned that two packages were being mailed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Fairfield, California. One package was mailed from Defendants Brian Robinson (“B. Robinson”) in Pittsburgh and addressed to Kimberly Robinson (“K. Robinson”) at a P.O. Box associated with B. Robinson in Fairfield. On October 24, 2013, officers with the Fairfield Police Department arrested B. Robinson and K. Robinson and seized the packages. Law enforcement searched the residence of B. Robinson and K. Robinson and discovered evidence of contacts between the Robinsons and Schaeffer. These contacts included a spreadsheet with line items of capital, including the purchase of a tractor, and an RV (Ex. 2 at 6);[1] an invoice for an RV repair dated April 4, 2013, with the handwritten name “Cuc Schaeffer” (Ex. 2 at 7); a customer invoice and receipts from Home Depot for Schaeffer (Ex. 2 at 8); a copy of an email to from, regarding the purchase of a water tank (Ex. 2 at 8); a power bill statement to 2329 Edison Avenue, Sacramento (Ex. 2 at 8); receipts with “C” written on them, presumed by law enforcement to stand for “Cuc” (Ex. 2 at 8); and receipts to a general store in Cool, California, which is near Pilot Hill, California, where Schaeffer owns land and rents to a tenant (Ex. 2 at 9).

         Based on this evidence, law enforcement further investigated Schaeffer and discovered that Schaeffer is the owner of land at 6300 Blarney Way, Pilot Hill, California (Ex. 2 at 10); that Schaeffer's mailing address was 3301 Pope Avenue, Sacramento, California, a property which she co-owns with her husband, Brian Haines (“Haines”) (Ex. 2 at 10); and that Schaeffer's Pope Avenue address had a wrought iron gate and a high fence, which law enforcement associated with illicit activities (Ex. 2 at 10).

         Law enforcement went to the land at 6300 Blarney Way, Pilot Hill, California, and observed two tent-like structures on the property. One of the structures contained approximately 121 white plastic buckets, with sticks, and the other structure had equipment commonly used to dry marijuana after it is cut from the plant. (Ex. 2 at 11.) In the other structure was a large amount of marijuana trimmings and leaves scattered on the floor. (Ex. 2 at 11.) Law enforcement also observed large water tanks, fed by an electric water pump. (Ex. 2 at 12.) There were approximately 100 holes in the ground on another area of the property. (Ex. 2 at 12.)

         Based on this evidence, as described in Officer Patrick High's (“Officer High”) affidavit, a magistrate in Solano County, California issued a warrant to search (1) Schaeffer's person, (2) the residence at 3301 Pope Avenue, Sacramento, California, and (3) the residence at 2329 Edison Avenue, Sacramento, California.

         Execution of the Warrant

         Law enforcement executed the warrant on November 8, 2013. Schaeffer arrived at her residence after law enforcement initiated the search. Haines was home when officers arrived. The officers were armed, and had weapons pointed at Haines when they first entered the residence. However, once the house was cleared, the weapons were holstered.

         When Schaeffer arrived several officers were at the house. The officers were wearing casual clothing with vests with the word “police” on them. When Schaeffer arrived, one of the law enforcement officers searched her, took her phone, advised her the law enforcement officers were executing a search warrant, and provided her a copy of the warrant. Schaeffer was told she could wait or leave, and she indicated that she would wait. Schaeffer sat on the retaining wall attached to the driveway while she spoke to Officer High. She was wearing a sweatshirt and pajama pants and there were no other officers nearby when Officer High initially talked to Schaeffer.

         Officer High asked Schaeffer if she would be willing to talk to him, and she said she would. Schaeffer and Officer High then had a conversation lasting approximately five to ten minutes. Officer High ended the conversation because he felt Schaeffer was not being honest. Officer High described Schaeffer's demeanor as calm and monotone in her responses. She did not seem to be agitated or upset and there was nothing in her behavior or in the conversation between Schaeffer and Officer High that led Officer High to believe Schaeffer was under the influence of any type of substance. Schaeffer was never hand-cuffed or restrained. Over a year later, on June 1, 2015, Schaeffer was arrested and indicted for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. (See ECF No. 1.)

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court conclude that the warrant to search Schaeffer's property and person was supported by probable cause, or, even if it was not, that law enforcement acted in good faith when relying on the warrant. Finally, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Schaeffer's statements to law enforcement were voluntary. Schaeffer objects to each of the Magistrate Judge's conclusions

         STANDARD ...

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