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Legal Search Led Officers to Drug User’s Pipe Bomb

CINCINNATI (CN) - A suspected methamphetamine cooker cannot suppress the pipe bomb that officers found while raiding his Michigan home, the 6th Circuit ruled.

The pipe bomb would have been discovered during the execution of a search warrant for the meth lab, regardless of whether the man told police about it beforehand, according to the rulign.

Officers with the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department and Battle Creek Police Department raided the home of Lonnie Hodge on Oct. 18, 2010, after corroborating several tips that Hodge was operating a meth lab, owned several firearms and may have a pipe bomb.

Hodge, a 6'6 man weighing more than 320 pounds, had put up a brief fight with officers, but was eventually subdued.

While questioning their handcuffed suspect outside, police asked whether there were any dangerous materials in the house, including active meth labs, meth waste, and bombs.

They did not read Hodge his Miranda rights, and Hodge denied knowledge of any dangerous materials during the questioning.

Detective Bryan Gandy overheard Hodge, one to two minutes later, "blurt[] out that there [was] a bomb inside" the house, according to the ruling (brackets in original).

"Gandy immediately pressed Hodge for more information, and Hodge told Gandy that the bomb was wrapped in a towel and sitting on top of a kitchen cabinet in an area where decorative items might be displayed," the ruling continued.

Marc Pierce, a police officer with explosives training, then used a robot to retrieve and neutralize the pipe bomb. A search of the home turned up marijuana, prescription drugs and a .22 caliber rifle, but no meth lab.

As to the pipe bomb, authorities charged Hodge with possession of an unregistered firearm. As to the rifle and drugs, they charged him with possessing a firearm while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

Hodge moved to suppress the pipe bomb and the statements he made to police that led to its discovery, claiming that they were made in violation if his Miranda and Fifth Amendment rights.

A federal judge in Grand Rapids shot down Hodge's motion in a bench ruling, finding that that Hodge's injuries did not support his claim that officers overcame his will while subduing him.

The court said Hodge had volunteered his statements about the pipe bomb; that the officers had a valid public-safety concern in questioning him, and that they inevitably would have discovered the bomb while executing the search warrant.

Hodge pleaded guilty to both counts and was sentenced on Feb. 1, 2012, to three years in prison.

The 6th Circuit affirmed denial of the suppression motion Friday.

In tossing Hodge's claim that the Sheriff's Department lacked probable cause to obtain a search warrant, the court noted that "Gandy sought independent corroboration of [the tipster's] story by looking through ephedrine and pseudoephedrine purchase logs, police records, and 'silent observer' tips, and included facts from those sources in the affidavit."

Hodge likewise does not have a claim for a Miranda violation under the 1984 case New York v. Quarles, in which the Supreme Court held that "'overriding considerations of public safety' could justify a failure to provide Miranda warnings before initiating custodial interrogation," according to the ruling.

"Such questioning is permissible when 'officers have a reasonable belief based on articulable facts that they are in danger,'" Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote for the three-judge panel.

The court distinguished Hodge's claims from the issues presented by a sawed-off shotgun in the 2007 case United States v. Williams.

"Williams reaches the sensible conclusion that in a case involving a gun, the police must be aware of a third party who can access the gun and harm others," Gibbons wrote (emphasis in original). "On its own, the gun does not raise a reasonable threat of danger. But in a case involving a bomb, the presence of third parties who can access the bomb is usually not a compelling consideration. Bombs are potentially unstable and may cause damage if ignored or improperly handled by the police."

Finding that the Hodge's statements about the "pipe bomb were properly admitted under Quarles," the panel looked at the questions the officers had asked their suspect.

"Gandy and Pierce had a 'reasonable belief' that there was a pipe bomb in Hodge's house when they arrived to execute the search warrant," Gibbons wrote. "Banks, the named informant, claimed that Hodge possessed a pipe bomb that could 'blow up the entire house' if detonated and that he intended to hurt police if confronted. ... Once Hodge admitted the bomb was in the home, the questions Gandy and [Battle Creek officer Matt] Robinson asked him were all directed to obtaining information about the bomb's construction and stability."

The panel also agreed that police could have found the bomb without the admission from Hodge.

"In this case, Hodge's pipe bomb sat in a visually prominent area of his home and was conspicuously covered in a towel," Gibbons wrote. "Given the search warrant's sweeping authorization to find 'all equipment, chemicals, liquids [and] powders used in the manufacture or production of narcotics,' the officers would have been justified in examining this unusual object to see if it contained contraband, just as they would be justified in opening a safe or a drawer."

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