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United States v. Dargan, No. 13-4171

Decided: December 24, 2013

The Fourth Circuit held that the United States District Court for the District of Maryland did not err in denying Reginald Dargan, Jr.’s (Dargan) motion to suppress evidence; that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting testimony involving certain out-of-court statements, per Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3); and that the admission of these statements did not violate Dargan’s Sixth Amendment right to confront opposing witnesses.  The Fourth Circuit therefore affirmed the judgment of the district court.

On March 30, 2011, three men robbed a jewelry store in Columbia, Maryland.  Police subsequently arrested several people in connection with the robbery, including Deontaye Harvey (Harvey) and Aaron Pratt (Pratt).  The police investigation also implicated another person nicknamed “Little Reggie,” who was not yet in custody.  Dargan was arrested two months later.  Police suspected Dargan was Little Reggie.  Investigators later acquired a search warrant for Dargan’s residence.  An attachment to the warrant, Attachment A, catalogued the items subject to seizure.  These items included, among other things, “[i]ndicia of occupancy.”  While searching Dargan’s residence, officers seized a receipt for a $461.10 belt, which they found in a bag on a dresser in Dargan’s bedroom; the receipt indicated that the buyer, who had identified himself as “Regg Raxx,” bought the belt on the day after the robbery and paid for it with cash.  Also, at some point after Dargan’s arrest, Harvey allegedly told a cellmate named Zachary Shanaberger (Shanaberger) that he had robbed a jewelry store with two co-conspirators and that, at the time of the conversation, he and his-coconspirators were imprisoned in the same facility.

A federal grand jury indicted Dargan, Harvey, and Pratt on October 26, 2011.  Dargan moved to suppress the receipt for the belt prior to trial.  Though the district court concluded that the receipt did not fall under Attachment A’s terms, the court found that the plain-view exception to the warrant requirement justified the seizure.  Also, prior to trial, the Government filed a motion to admit testimony regarding Harvey’s out-of-court statements to Shanaberger; specifically, the Government sought to admit Harvey’s comments as statements against interest under Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3).  Dargan objected to this categorization and argued that the introduction of Harvey’s statements would violate his rights under the Confrontation Clause.  The district court granted the Government’s motion.  At trial, the Government introduced the receipt as evidence and called Shanaberger as a witness, who testified as to Harvey’s aforementioned comments to him.  The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and Dargan appealed.  On appeal, Dargan argued that the seizure of the receipt violated the Fourth Amendment, as the receipt did not fall under any of Attachment A’s enumerated items; that Harvey’s statements were inadmissible under Rule 804(b)(3); and that the introduction of Harvey’s statements violated the Confrontation Clause.

With regard to Dargan’s Fourth Amendment arguments, the Fourth Circuit noted that courts should employ a “commonsense and realistic” approach to interpreting warrants.  The court found that “[t]he officers conducting the search could plausibly have thought that the occupant of the premises was also the purchaser identified on the belt receipt”—thus making the receipt one of the “[i]ndicia of occupancy” under Attachment A.  Furthermore, the officers were justified in opening the bag on Dargan’s dresser, as many of the items described in Attachment A could have been in the bag.  With regard to the admission of Harvey’s statements under Rule 804(b)(3), the Fourth Circuit found that Harvey was unavailable as a witness, as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify; that Harvey’s statements were self-inculpatory, as he made them to a cellmate rather than an investigator, and the statements demonstrated Harvey’s knowledge of “significant details about the crime” and “implicate[d] him in a conspiracy”; and that the factors enumerated in United States v. Kivanc, 714 F.3d 782, indicated that Harvey’s statements were supported by corroborating circumstances.  Lastly, with regard to Dargan’s Confrontation Clause argument, the Fourth Circuit found that Harvey’s statements to Shanaberger were non-testimonial.

Full Opinion

– Stephen Sutherland