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United States v. Hendrix

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

December 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES J. HENDRIX, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SANCTIONS

          JAMES L. ROBART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendant James J. Hendrix's motion to dismiss counts 5, 6, and 7 and, in the alternative, to exclude evidence and provide a jury instruction for failure to preserve evidence. (Mot. (Dkt. # 88).) The Government filed an opposition (Resp. (Dkt. # 111)), and the court heard argument from the parties (see Dkt. # 120). Mr. Hendrix also provided supplemental materials in support of his motion after oral argument. (Supp. (Dkt. ## 122-123).) The court has considered the parties' submissions, the argument of the parties, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Mr. Hendrix's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On August 24, 2018, an officer from the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office (“SCSO”) attempted to pull Mr. Hendrix over for driving a motorcycle without a helmet. (Mot. at 4-5.) When the officer attempted to stop Mr. Hendrix, however, he fled the scene on his motorcycle at a high rate of speed. (See id.) Moments later, Mr. Hendrix wrecked his motorcycle and was so seriously injured that he was unresponsive at the scene of the wreck. (See Id. at 5.)

         Neither the emergency personnel nor the SCSO officers on the scene knew Mr. Hendrix, so the SCSO searched his person for identification. (See id.; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2.) One of the officers on scene, Sergeant Sorenson, claims that he found no wallet or identification in Mr. Hendrix's pants pocket, but that he did find a “fanny pack” attached to Mr. Hendrix's waist.[1] (See Mot. at 5; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2.) Sergeant Sorenson further claims that he removed the fanny pack and searched it for identification. (See Mot. at 5; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2.) Inside the fanny pack, Sergeant Sorenson found plastic baggies of methamphetamine and heroin and two fully loaded gun magazines. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 2 at ¶ 2.) Sergeant Sorenson allegedly alerted the paramedics on scene about the possibility that Mr. Hendrix might have a firearm on his person and searched Mr. Hendrix's person for a gun but did not find one. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2.) He then searched the fanny pack for a gun and located one inside. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2.) Sergeant Sorenson then handed the fanny pack to a second officer on the scene, Deputy Dermott. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 2 at 2; id., Ex. 3 at 2-3.) Deputy Dermott also searched the fanny pack for identification but did not find any. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 3 at 2-3.) Like Sergeant Sorenson, Deputy Dermott saw narcotics inside the fanny pack. (See Mot. at 5-6; Resp., Ex. 3 at 2-3.)

         Mr. Hendrix was transported to Harborview Medical Center due to the severity of his injuries. (See Resp. at 3.) While Mr. Hendrix was at Harborview, a traffic reconstruction expert with the SCSO took photographs of the scene to reconstruct the accident. (See id.; id., Ex. 9.) According to the Government, this officer was not a narcotics or violent crime detective; his job was to respond to traffic accidents in order to reconstruct the scene of the accident. (See Id. at 3.)

         While the traffic reconstruction detective was on the scene, Deputy Dermott took custody of the fanny pack and other personal items from the scene that did not accompany Mr. Hendrix to the hospital. (See Id. at 3; id., Ex. 3 at 2-4.) At the precinct, he searched and inventoried the items inside the fanny pack. (See Id. at 3; id., Ex. 3 at 3-4.) Inside the fanny pack, Deputy Dermott identified three baggies of narcotics that contained methamphetamine and heroin, a Glock handgun, three loaded magazines, and eight empty clear plastic baggies. (See id., Ex. 3 at 3-4.) Deputy Dermott entered the narcotics, handgun, and magazines into evidence. (See id., Ex. 7.) The Government claims that Deputy Dermott entered “the remaining items” into safekeeping under the label “Household Goods: Items/Property from Injured Motorcycle Rider.” (See Id. at 3; id., Ex. 7.) The evidence receipt and the Government's briefing fail to specifically state that the fanny pack was included amongst “the remaining items” that were entered into safekeeping. (See Id. at 3; id., Ex. 7.) It is also not clear what happened to the eight clear plastic baggies that Deputy Dermott found inside the fanny pack. (See Id. at 3; id., Ex. 7.)

         On August 27, 2018, the SCSO sent a letter to Mr. Hendrix advising him that his personal property was available for pickup and would be destroyed within 60 days pursuant to SCSO policy if not claimed. (See id., Ex. 8.) The Government claims that the SCSO did not treat Mr. Hendrix's case as a criminal referral until “late September 2018” due to the severity of Mr. Hendrix's injuries and the fact that he had not yet been released from Harborview. (See Id. at 3-4.) Ultimately, Deputy Dermott prepared the case for criminal referral, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) eventually adopted the case for federal prosecution. (See Id. at 4.) ATF Special Agent Matthew Wear handled the case for the ATF. (See id.)

         Mr. Hendrix was indicted on January 31, 2019. (See Dkt. # 1.) On March 6, 2019, Agent Wear collected the heroin, methamphetamine, firearm, magazines, and ammunition that had been entered in SCSO evidence. (See Resp. at 4; id., Ex. 10.) Agent Wear also collected two sealed brown paper bags from safekeeping that were marked as “Household Goods: Items/Property from Injured Motorcycle Rider, ” but left behind one sealed brown paper bag marked “Household Goods: Items/Property from Injuried [sic] Motorcycle Rider.” (See Id. at 4; id., Ex. 10.) The Government states that the contents of the bag that Agent Wear left behind are unknown, and the Government does not explain why Agent Wear took only two out of three bags. (See Id. at 4.) On May 12, 2019, the SCSO destroyed the remaining property in safekeeping without informing the Government. (See id.) The Government does not have possession of the fanny pack or the eight empty plastic baggies and no pictures were taken of the fanny pack or its contents. (See id.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Hendrix now alleges that counts 5-7 of the indictment-all of which relate to the August 24, 2018 arrest-should be dismissed due to the Government's destruction of the fanny pack and empty baggies, which allegedly violates Mr. Hendrix's right to due process.[2] (See Mot. at 1-2.) Alternatively, Mr. Hendrix seeks to exclude testimony of the SCSO officers who conducted the search of the fanny pack. (See id.) Finally, Mr. Hendrix requests an adverse inference instruction stating that the jury may find that, if the fanny pack and empty baggies had been preserved, it would be helpful to Mr. Hendrix. (See id.) Mr. Hendrix requests an evidentiary hearing to resolve any contested factual matters bearing on these issues. (See id.) In response, the Government claims that none of these sanctions are warranted because Mr. Hendrix has not shown that the evidence at issue would be exculpatory or that the Government acted in bad faith. (See Resp. at 1.) The court first considers whether Mr. Hendrix is entitled to an evidentiary hearing before moving to the merits of his motion.

         A. Request for an Evidentiary Hearing

         As a threshold matter, the court addresses Mr. Hendrix's request for an evidentiary hearing. Generally, evidentiary hearings must be held “only when the moving papers allege facts with sufficient definiteness, clarity, and specificity to enable the trial court to conclude that contested issues of fact exist.” United ...


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