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U.S. v. MARTIN

February 6, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
V.
TYRONE MARTIN.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, U.S. District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

A jury convicted defendant Tyrone Martin of one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and one count of carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). Presently before this court is the defendant's Motion for Post-Trial Relief (doc. no. 76) in which defendant asserts two arguments as to why he is entitled to a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33.

First, the defendant asserts that the court erroneously refused to suppress evidence discovered in Martin's vehicle because the investigatory stop and subsequent search and seizure violated defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. Second, that under the recent decision of United States v. Watson, 260 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2001), Detective Matthew McDonald's testimony as to defendant's state of mind improperly violated Federal Rule of Evidence 704(b).

The court finds that the evidence found in defendant's vehicle was properly admitted into evidence. Moreover, the introduction of testimony of Detective McDonald was not error, and, even if the admission of the testimony was error, it was not plain error. Thus, the defendant's request for a new trial will be denied.

A. Suppression of the Evidence

Defendant makes two arguments as to why evidence was seized from his vehicle in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. First, defendant argues that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence based on a lack of reasonable suspicion to justify the initial stop of the defendant. Second, defendant asserts that even if the investigatory stop was proper, the officers did not have probable cause to search his vehicle.*fn1

1) Reasonable Suspicion for Initial Stop of Defendant

In its June 12, 2001 Order and Memorandum, the court denied defendant's motion to suppress. See United States v. Tyrone Martin, 155 F. Supp.2d 381 (E.D.Pa. 2001). The facts surrounding the police officers' stop and search of defendant's vehicle are detailed at length in the court's earlier opinion and only a brief recitation will be included here.

On the night of February 6, 1999, between the hours of 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Officers Whitaker and Fletcher were patrolling a section of Northwest Philadelphia in an unmarked car and wearing plainclothes. The 35th district, to which Officers Whitaker and Fletcher had been assigned for four and five years, respectively, had recently received calls from citizens concerning drug activity in the area and the officers were informed of those calls. While conducting surveillance around 11:00 p.m., the officers saw a 2000 Ford Expedition drive around the block three or four times, but never saw any contact between the driver of the vehicle (defendant Martin) and alleged narcotics activity they had witnessed earlier that same day in the same area. The officers observed that the vehicle had New Jersey plates and bore an emblem indicating that it was a rental vehicle. While defendant was driving, his vehicle came face to face with that of the officers.

Thereafter, the officers got out of their vehicle, approached the defendant's vehicle, and, after arriving at the driver side window of the defendant's vehicle, the arresting officers asked the defendant to step out of his vehicle and produce his license.*fn2 Defendant stepped out of the vehicle on request and thereafter stated that he had no driver's license. A subsequent search of the vehicle found a gun between the console and the driver's seat and numerous rounds of ammunition.

At the suppression hearing, the court held that at the moment that the officers showed their badges to the defendant and asked the defendant to produce his license and exit his vehicle, a stop had occurred because a reasonable person at that point would not have felt free to leave. Martin, 155 F. Supp.2d at 384 n. 2. However, "[b]ecause the court [found] that the objective facts, known by the two experienced officers and undisputed by the parties, provide reasonable suspicion for the officers to approach defendant Martin, ask him questions, and request him to exit his vehicle, the court denie[d] defendant Martin's motion to suppress." Id.

The court's decision denying the motion to suppress due to an illegal stop was based on its conclusion that a reasonable inference could be made that the individual detained by the police "ha[s] engaged, or will engage, in criminal activity," id. (quoting United States v. Rickus, 737 F.2d 360, 364 (3d Cir. 1984)), based on the following undisputed facts: 1) defendant was driving his vehicle late at night; 2) defendant circled the block three or four times; 3) the area where defendant circled the block was known to the officers as one where there was drug activity; 4) defendant was driving a rented vehicle with out of state tags; and 5) the officers had four and five years experience as Philadelphia police officers. "Although any one of these factors may not on its own raise reasonable suspicion, the court conclude[d] that, taken collectively all of these factors and in light of the circumstances, Officers Whitaker and Fletcher were legally justified in asking defendant for his driver's license and requesting that he exit his vehicle." Id. (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968) (requiring reasonable suspicion to be based on objective facts considered collectively).

In his motion for a new trial, the defendant argues that in each of the cases the court relies upon to support the five factors above, at least one fact, in itself, was suspicious in nature so that the other innocuous facts took on added significance. Here, the defendant argues, all five factors are innocuous and the officers, therefore, had no basis to conclude that criminal activity was afoot.

The court disagrees. None of the cases cited by the court and objected to by defendant require that among the factors upon which the arresting officers base their reasonable suspicion, there must be at least one objectively suspicious factor. Nor does Terry mandate this requirement for the legality of a stop. Rather, what Terry requires is that reasonable suspicion be based on objective facts considered collectively. 392 U.S. at 21. In other words, the facts supporting the justification of a Terry stop need not be inherently suspicious in and of themselves so long as all of the facts taken together give rise to a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Id. at 22 (reasonable suspicion may be found by observing "a series of acts, each of them innocent in itself, but which taken together warrant further investigation."). Just recently, the Supreme Court echoed this holding of Terry stating that a "particularized and objective basis" for reasonable suspicion may be valid within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, despite the fact that "each of the[] factors alone is susceptible to an innocent ...


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