United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
November 10, 2005.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
LABARON ROBINSON, a/k/a Labaron Joseph Robinson, a/k/a Lebaron Joseph Robinson, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: TERRENCE McVERRY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Defendant Labaron Robinson ("Robinson" or "Defendant") was
indicted by a Grand Jury on September 28, 2004, and charged with
one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in
violation of Title 18, United States Code, sections 922(g)(1) and
924(e). The basic facts of the case are as follows: An automobile
driven by Defendant was stopped by officers of the Pittsburgh
Police Department on June 7, 2003. Defendant fled from the
automobile on foot and dropped a loaded pistol during his flight
from the officers. During the chase, Defendant also yelled, "back
off, I've got a gun," or words to that effect. Defendant was
unable to elude the officers and was arrested.
Presently before the Court for consideration and disposition is
Defendant's MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND STATEMENTS WITH
CITATION OF AUTHORITY ("Motion") (Document No. 21) filed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(h) and the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendant has
also filed a POST HEARING MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO
SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND STATEMENTS (Document No. 31). No
post-hearing brief has been filed on behalf of the government.
Defendant seeks to suppress evidence obtained during the chase
on the following grounds:
a. The decision to seize and subsequent seizure of
Mr. Robinson and his car was unlawful, warrantless,
without probable cause, and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
b. Any evidence seized based upon the unlawful
seizure is fruit of the poisonous tree and must be
c. Any statements alleged to have been made by Mr.
Robinson must be suppressed under Miranda as fruits
of the illegal seizure.
Motion at 2-3 (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
The Government argues that the officers "had the requisite
reasonable circumstances to conduct a traffic stop," and that
"the traffic stop was reasonable and proper under the applicable
case law." Government's Response to Defendant's Motion to
Suppress Evidence and Statements at 11 (Document No. 24).
On August 19, 2005, this Court conducted an evidentiary hearing
at which City of Pittsburgh Police Officers David Weber ("Officer
Weber"), Dan Hartung ("Officer Hartung"), and Sandra Follette
("Officer Follette") testified. Robert Abram ("Abram"), who was a
passenger in Defendant's car during the incident, also testified.
No other witnesses testified. At issue at the hearing was whether
the police officers possessed either probable cause or reasonable
suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle. A transcript of the
testimony adduced at the suppression hearing has been filed of
record. See Document No. 26.
The Court will discuss primarily those basic facts which are
relevant to the motion under consideration and except as
otherwise indicated the following facts are basically unrebutted.
Based on the testimony presented during the suppression hearing
and the applicable law, the Court enters the following findings
of fact and conclusions of law:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. On June 7, 2003, at approximately 12:15 a.m., Defendant was
driving his automobile, a gold or bronze four (4) door sedan, on
Lincoln Avenue in the City of Pittsburgh. Defendant was
accompanied by his friend, Abram, who was in the passenger seat
of the car. Defendant and Abram were traveling "inbound" on
Lincoln Avenue, i.e., toward "downtown" Pittsburgh. 2. Earlier that day a tree had fallen in the 1300 block of
Lincoln Avenue and blocked the inbound lane. At the relevant time
Officer Sullivan was directing traffic around the tree. There was
little to no traffic at that hour of the night. According to
Abram, when Defendant approached the area of the tree, they
encountered Officer Sullivan, who motioned for Defendant to go
around the tree. Abram testified that Defendant drove around the
tree (and Officer Sullivan) without incident, i.e, Officer
Sullivan never instructed Defendant to stop, and Defendant's
vehicle never struck or grazed Officer Sullivan. Abram also
testified that when Defendant's vehicle passed by Officer
Sullivan, the distance between Defendant's vehicle and Officer
Sullivan was too far for the vehicle's side view mirror to have
struck Officer Sullivan.*fn1
After passing the tree,
Defendant and Abrams continued inbound on Lincoln Avenue.
3. Officer Weber*fn2 testified that Officer Sullivan sent
out a broadcast over his police radio in which Officer Sullivan
stated that he had been struck by the side mirror of an
automobile while directing traffic. Officer Sullivan described
the vehicle that struck him as a bronze four (4) door vehicle and
stated the vehicle's license plate number. Officer Sullivan was
not present and did not testify at the hearing. The government
presented no eyewitness testimony of Officer Sullivan having been
struck by the side view mirror of Defendant's vehicle or of any
motor vehicle violation having occurred.
4. At that time, Officer Weber was on patrol in a marked police
car six to eight blocks away from Officer Sullivan's location
when he heard the call. Officer Weber then proceeded to the
corner of Lincoln and Derry street. Less than a minute after
Officer Weber heard the call, and while sitting at the red light
at Lincoln and Derry, a gold-colored four (4) door automobile
passed in front of him. Officer Weber immediately pulled behind
the vehicle, which was still traveling inbound, and "ran the
plate," which revealed that the vehicle's license plate matched
Officer Sullivan's description. 5. Officer Weber followed Defendant's vehicle for approximately
half a mile. Defendant's vehicle eventually came to a stop at the
intersection of Lincoln and Meadow street. Officer Weber then
activated his overhead lights and siren and initiated a traffic
stop. At the same time, Officer Hartung,*fn3 who was stopped
at the corner of Lincoln and Meadow streets, pulled his police
vehicle in front of Defendant's vehicle. With Officer Hartung's
vehicle in front and Officer Weber's vehicle behind Defendant's
vehicle, he was blocked in and could not drive away.
6. Defendant exited the driver's side door of his vehicle and
fled on foot. Abram remained in the passenger seat of Defendant's
vehicle. Officer Weber stayed with Defendant's vehicle, while
Officer Hartung gave chase in his own vehicle.*fn4 Officer
Weber detained Abrams to check for weapons, contraband and
outstanding arrest warrants. After finding no weapons, contraband
or arrest warrants, Abrams was permitted to leave the scene.
7. Defendant ran down Meadow Street a few hundred feet and made
a left hand turn into an alley. Defendant then ran to the back of
a row house that was on the corner of Meadow Street and the
alley. At the back of the row house Defendant encountered a chain
link fence, which he scaled. While Defendant was climbing the
fence, Officer Hartung observed a silver pistol fall from his
waistband. Defendant did not attempt to retrieve the firearm, but
continued to flee. Officer Hartung quickly exited his vehicle and
climbed over the fence; he did not secure the firearm at that
time. Officer Hartung's police dog also exited the vehicle to
join in the chase, but was unable to scale the fence, and was
forced to wait at the vehicle.
8. Defendant, with Officer Hartung behind him, scaled a few
more fences as he ran through the back yards of the row houses.
At some point during the chase Defendant yelled, "you better back
off, I have a gun, back off," or words to that effect. Eventually
Defendant exited from the back yards and ran down a path. Defendant then
rounded a bend and jumped into some bushes in an attempt to
conceal himself. Officer Hartung saw where Defendant was hiding.
Defendant tried to get up, but was met with a blast of pepper
spray from Officer Hartung. In the brief struggle that ensued, a
gun holster that Defendant was wearing fell to the ground.
Defendant was quickly handcuffed and taken into custody.
9. While Officer Hartung was in pursuit of Defendant, Officer
Follette*fn5 arrived at Officer Hartung's vehicle. Officer
Follette quickly located and secured the pistol, which was fully
loaded and ready to fire.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that the "right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the
place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."
U.S. Const., amend. IV.
2. Stopping a car and detaining its occupants is considered a
"seizure" and, therefore, is subject to protections of the
Fourth Amendment, including a requirement of reasonableness under the
circumstances. United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 226
3. "As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is
reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation has occurred." Whren v. United States,
517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996). Furthermore, an investigative stop to check
a driver's license and registration is constitutional when it is
based on an "articulable and reasonable suspicion that . . .
either the vehicle or an occupant" has violated the law."
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663 (1979); see also
United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1995) (noting
that under Pennsylvania motor vehicle law, "a trooper who has
reasonable and articulable grounds to believe that a vehicle or driver is in violation of the Vehicle
Code may stop the vehicle").
4. Whether a reasonable and articulable suspicion exists turns
on an objective assessment of the totality of the circumstances.
United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 8 (1989).
5. When an officer "develops a reasonable, articulable
suspicion of criminal activity," he or she may properly "expand
the scope of an inquiry beyond the reason for the stop and detain
the vehicle and its occupants for further investigation." United
States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 458 (3d Cir. 2003).
6. Generally speaking, "the burden of proof is on the defendant
who seeks to suppress evidence." United States v. Johnson,
63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). "However, once
the defendant has established a basis for his motion, i.e., the
search or seizure was conducted without a warrant, the burden
shifts to the government to show that the search or seizure was
reasonable." Id. (citation omitted).
7. "On a motion to suppress, the government bears the burden of
showing that each individual act constituting a search or seizure
under the Fourth Amendment was reasonable." United States v.
Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 261 (3d Cir. 2005).
8. When police officers stop a vehicle based solely upon
another officer's radio call or bulletin, "the government [is]
required to present evidence at the suppression hearing of the
requesting police officer's reasonable suspicion." United States
v. Coward, 296 F.3d 176, 179 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Whiteley v.
Warden, 401 U.S. 560 (1971).
9. In Coward, the United States Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit observed that "a finding of reasonable suspicion to
justify [a vehicle] stop required the presentation of evidence by
the government that the officer who issued the radio bulletin had
reasonable suspicion, not simply that it was reasonable for the
arresting officer to have relied on the bulletin." Coward,
296 F.3d at 180.
10. The Court finds and rules that the government did not
present sufficient evidence from which the Court could conclude
that Officer Sullivan had an articulable and reasonable suspicion
that Defendant had violated the law during the time that
Defendant and his vehicle were observed by Officer Sullivan.
Prouse, 440 U.S. at 663. The Court also finds and rules that the subsequent stop of Defendant's automobile by Officers Weber
and Hartung was unlawful. See Coward, 296 F.2d at 179-80. The
Court further finds and rules that the evidence obtained during
the subsequent foot chase was obtained by exploitation of the
illegality of the traffic stop. Therefore, the evidence obtained
from Defendant during the foot chase will be suppressed as fruit
of the poisonous tree. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471,
487-88 (1963); United States v. Burton, 288 F.3d 91, 99 (3d
Cir.), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1039 (2002).
For the reasons hereinabove stated, the Motion to Suppress
filed by Defendant will be granted. An appropriate Order follows.
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