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United States v. Akinola

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 23, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KOLE AKINOLA, Defendant.

ORDER

JOSE L. LINARES, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendant Kole Akinola ("Defendant")'s motion for reconsideration of this Court's Opinion and Order denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from a rental vehicle on April 27, 2011. For the reasons set forth in this Court's corresponding Opinion,

IT IS on this 23 day of December, 2013,

ORDERED that Defendant's motion for reconsideration (CM/ECF Nos. 90, 103, 111) is denied.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendant Kole Akinola ("Defendant")'s motion for reconsideration of this Court's Opinion and Order denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from a rental vehicle on April 27, 2011. The Court denied Defendant's motion to suppress on March 15, 2013, following an extensive evidentiary hearing that took place over the course of six days. In addition to considering the evidence presented during the course of the evidentiary hearing, the Court also considered the parties' written submissions and the oral arguments setting forth the legal bases for their respective positions with respect to Defendant's motion to suppress.

Following this Court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, Defendant filed a pro se motion for reconsideration on March 25, 2013. On March 27, 2013 and March 28, 2013, respectively, Messrs. Thomas Ashley, Esq. and David Ruhnke, Esq. filed motions to withdraw as Defendant's counsel. On April 9, 2013, the Court granted counsels' motions to withdraw, and appointed Assistant Federal Public Defender K. Anthony Thomas, Esq. to represent Defendant. Thereafter, on July 22, 2013, Mr. Thomas filed a brief in support of Defendant's motion for reconsideration.

Subsequently, Defendant filed a series of letters with the Court expressing dissatisfaction with the arguments Mr. Thomas raised in support of the motion for reconsideration. Accordingly, the Court held a status conference on September 5, 2013 to determine whether Defendant wished to represent himself, or continue being represented by Mr. Thomas. At this conference, Defendant represented to the Court that he wished for Mr. Thomas to continue representing him, but insisted that the Court consider certain arguments that Mr. Thomas failed to raise.

Following the status conference on September 5, 2013, this Court entered an Order allowing Mr. Thomas to amend his brief in support of Defendant's motion for reconsideration to include the arguments Defendant wished for this Court to consider. In accordance with this Court's Order, Mr. Thomas filed a supplemental submission on Defendant's behalf on October 20, 2013. Defendant also filed a pro se supplemental submission on October 23, 2013, in spite of this Court's having instructed him on the record that all his communications with the Court should be through counsel so long as he wished to continue being represented by counsel.

The Court has thoroughly considered all the submissions made in support of and in opposition to Defendant's motion for reconsideration. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is denied.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

"Reconsideration is an extraordinary remedy" and should be granted "very sparingly." See Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(i) cmt. 6(d).[1] A motion for reconsideration "may not be used to re-litigate old matters" or argue new matters that could have been raised before the original decision was reached. See, e.g., P. Schoenfeld Asset Mgmt., LLC v. Cendant Corp., 161 F.Supp.2d 349, 352 (D.N.J. 2001).

The court will reconsider a prior decision only where a different outcome is justified by: (1) an intervening change in law; (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available; or (3) a need to correct a clear error of law or manifest injustice. See N. River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance, Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 2005).

II. DISCUSSION

The crux of Defendant's argument in support of his motion for reconsideration is that this Court committed "both error of law and fact [which], if not corrected, would result in manifest injustice." (CM/ECF No. 103 at 2.) Specifically, Defendant argues that he is entitled to reconsideration because: (1) the officers' stop of his vehicle was not supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; (2) Defendant's arrest was not supported by probable cause; (3) Defendant has standing to challenge the warrantless search of the rental vehicle; (4) Defendant has standing to challenge the search and seizure of the briefcase located in the trunk of the rental vehicle; and (5) the officers failed to comply with the Glen Ridge Police Department's Inventory Policy in searching the rental vehicle.

As set forth below, this Court considered and rejected the merits of each of these arguments when it originally denied Defendant's motion to suppress. As a motion for reconsideration is an improper vehicle in which to "re-litigate old matters, " these arguments are an insufficient basis to grant the relief Defendant seeks. See, e.g., P. Schoenfeld, 161 F.Supp.2d at 352; see also Giblin v. Sun Life & Health Ins., No. 11-2603, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148710, at *8 (D.N.J. Oct. 16, 2012) (Linares, J.) ("Defendant's attempt to re-litigate [an] issue in its motion for reconsideration is improper.").

A. Constitutionality of the Traffic Stop

"[A] traffic stop will be deemed a reasonable seizure' when an objective review of the facts shows that an officer possessed specific, articulable facts that an individual was violating a traffic law at the time of the stop." United States v. Delfin-Colina, 464 F.3d 392, 398 (3d Cir. 2006). As this Court noted in its opinion, courts "must consider the totality of the circumstances - the whole picture" in deciding whether a traffic stop was based on a reasonable suspicion. United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 164, 167 (3d Cir. 2002) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

Based on its review of the video of the traffic stop and the testimony of the Glen Ridge Police Department ("GRPD") officers, which this Court found credible, the Court concluded that Defendant's erratic driving was a valid basis for the officers to have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that Defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 7-9.) Defendant suggests that this Court failed to consider the totality of the circumstances by failing to consider that his erratic driving was a consequence of his reaction to a vehicle with its hazard lights on, and that he was driving cautiously.

In considering the constitutionality of a traffic stop, "[c]ourts give considerable deference to police officers' determinations of reasonable suspicion, and the cases are steadily increasing the constitutional latitude of police to pull over vehicles." United States v. Mosley, 454 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing cases). For the reasons this Court set forth in its Opinion, the officers did, in fact, have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that Defendant was driving erratically and under the influence. See, e.g., State v. Pavao, 239 N.J.Super. 206, 209 (App. Div. 1990) ("The erratic nature of the vehicle's movement provided an articulable and reasonable suspicion that defendant was driving carelessly or while under the influence of alcohol.") (citations omitted).

B. Constitutionality of the Arrest

It is well settled that the Fourth Amendment requires that an arrest be based on probable cause. See Paff v. Kaltenbach, 204 F.3d 425, 435 (3d Cir. 2000). "Probable cause to arrest exists when the information within the arresting officer's knowledge at the time of the arrest is sufficient to warrant a reasonable law enforcement officer to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested." Id. at 436. "While probable cause to arrest requires more than mere suspicion, the law recognizes that probable cause determinations have to be made on the spot under pressure and do not require the fine resolution of conflicting evidence required at trial." United States v. Navedo, 694 F.3d 463, 467 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether an arrest is properly based on probable cause, courts use a totality of the circumstances analysis. See Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003).

Defendant argues that this Court failed to account for various exculpatory factors which undermined any notion that he was, in fact, driving while intoxicated. ( See CM/ECF No. 112 at 19.) This argument lacks merit. As this Court previously held, the officers' observations of Defendant's erratic driving, fumbled hand movements, and watery droopy eyelids, as well as the officers' detection of an alcoholic odor emanating from Defendant's breath, provided ample support for this Court's conclusion that the officers had probable cause to believe that Defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol. As this Court noted in its Opinion, "if the officers had concluded that Defendant had passed [all] the field sobriety tests, they may very well have decided not to arrest him in spite of the existence of probable cause." (CM/ECF No. 86 at 11-12, emphasis in original.) In other words, even if Defendant was in fact driving sober, this would not undermine the notion that the officers had probable cause to arrest Defendant for driving while intoxicated. See, e.g., Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 243-44 (1983) ("[I]n making a determination of probable cause the relevant inquiry is not whether the particular conduct is innocent' or guilty, ' but the degree of suspicion that attaches to particular types of noncriminal acts.").

C. Defendant's Standing to Challenge the Search of the Rental Vehicle

This Court previously held that the Third Circuit's decision in United States v. Kennedy, 638 F.3d 159 (3d Cir. 2011) compelled the conclusion that Defendant lacks standing to challenge the search of the rental vehicle because he was not an authorized driver of said vehicle. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 13-16.) In his motion for reconsideration, Defendant takes issue with this Court's interpretation of Kennedy. While Defendant acknowledges that the rule set forth in Kennedy "generally precludes [an unauthorized driver of a rental vehicle] from having a reasonable expectation of privacy in that rented vehicle, " he maintains that extraordinary circumstances exist to overcome the general rule set forth in Kennedy. ( See CM/ECF No. 112 at 39.) The Court addressed this very issue in its Opinion denying Defendant's motion to suppress, and sees no compelling reason to revisit its original decision. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 14-18.)

D. Defendant's Standing to Challenge the Search and Seizure of the Briefcase Located within the Trunk of the Rental Vehicle

In his motion for reconsideration, Defendant once again argues that even if he lacks standing to challenge the search of the rental vehicle, he nevertheless has standing to challenge the search and seizure of the briefcase located within said vehicle's trunk. ( See CM/ECF No. 103 at 5-12.) Defendant further asserts that "this Court committed legal error by concluding that the plain view doctrine permitted the seizure of the loose items' and partially open briefcase." (CM/ECF No. 103 at 14.) Defendant has presented these very same arguments to the Court on numerous occasions, ( see, e.g., CM/ECF Nos. 16 at 29-31; 76 at 15; 79 at 7, 8; 85 at 6), and is now merely re-litigating issues which the Court has already considered and rejected.

Contrary to Defendant's assertion, this Court did not rely primarily on United States v. White, 504 Fed.Appx. 168 (3d Cir. 2012) in holding that Defendant lacks standing to challenge the search and seizure of the briefcase. ( See CM/ECF No. 103 at 7.) Rather, the Court held that Kennedy supports the proposition that "an individual who lacks standing to challenge the search of a vehicle also lacks standing to challenge the search of bags or containers within the vehicle." ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 16-17.) The Court cited to White, an unpublished decision in which the Third Circuit observed that "[a] person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in a place where he has no right to be, " to underscore what it believes is its valid interpretation of Kennedy. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 17-18) (citing White, 2012 U.S.App. LEXIS 23456, at *8 (3d Cir. Nov. 15, 2012)).

As this Court previously explained, "[i]n light of Kennedy and White, there is no legal basis to draw a distinction between Defendant's privacy interest with respect to the [rental vehicle], and that which he contends exists with respect to the briefcase." (CM/ECF No. 86 at 17-18.) While Defendant certainly may, should he choose to do so, challenge this Court's interpretation of Kennedy on appeal if he is ultimately convicted of the charged offense, it is inappropriate for Defendant to re-litigate issues on a motion for reconsideration which this Court has already addressed. See, e.g., Giblin, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148710, at *8.

E. The GRPD Officers' Compliance with the GRPD Inventory Policy

As this Court previously concluded, even if Defendant had standing to challenge the inventory search of the rental vehicle and the search and seizure of the briefcase, his motion to suppress would still fail as the officers complied with the GRPD's Inventory Policy. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 18-23.) In his motion for reconsideration, Defendant attempts to re-litigate the issue of whether the officers' inventory search complied with the GRPD's Inventory Policy. ( See CM/ECF No. 112 at 43-46.) This is improper. See, e.g., Giblin, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148710, at *8.

More importantly, even if this Court were to agree that it erred in holding that the officers complied with the GRPD's Inventory Policy, such error would be harmless in light of the Court's conclusion that Defendant lacks Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the search of the rental vehicle and the briefcase. ( See CM/ECF No. 86 at 13-18.)

III. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, Defendant's motion for reconsideration is denied. An appropriate Order follows.


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