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United States v. Florence

April 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel H. Slomsky, J.


Slomsky, J.

Before the Court is the Motion to Suppress Evidence seized from the Defendant William Florence ("Defendant") and his Ford Econoline van on October 23, 2008 by Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("Agents").*fn1 (Docket Nos. 47 and 59.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the Motion.*fn2


F.B.I Agent Joseph Denahan was assigned to the squad that investigated, among other things, drug trafficking. (Suppression Hearing Transcript, March 25, 2009 ("Tr.") at 3-4.) He was assigned to an investigation of trafficking in PCP in Philadelphia on September 30, October 16, and October 23, 2008. (Id. at 4.) On September 30, 2008, an individual cooperating with the F.B.I. ("Informant") purchased PCP from an individual identified as Terrence Savage ("Savage"). (Id. at 5-8.) Agent Denahan was part of the surveillance team on September 30, 2008. (Id.) He understood that Savage would be meeting with an unknown supplier to obtain PCP and that Savage would then bring the PCP back to the Informant. (Id.) In fact, on September 30, 2008, Savage did receive an order for PCP from the Informant, left the Informant to meet with supplier and then returned to the Informant with the PCP. (Id. at 6.)

On October 16, 2008, Savage made a second delivery of PCP to the Informant. (Id. at 8.) Similar to the events on September 30, 2008, Agents observed Savage meet with the Informant and then leave the area to meet with a person who was believed to be the supplier of the PCP. (Id. at 8-9.) Savage again obtained PCP and returned to the location where the Informant was located and gave the PCP to the Informant. (Id.)

On October 23, 2008, there was a third delivery of PCP to the Informant by Savage. (Id. at 9.) On that day, Agent Denahan coordinated the surveillance and the arrest of the unknown supplier. (Id.) Similar to the prior two exchanges, the Informant met with Savage and placed an order for PCP. Savage then left the area where the Informant was located and Agents followed him to a Wawa gas station located on Rising Sun Avenue. Agents observed Savage park his car next to Defendant Florence's vehicle in the Wawa parking lot. (Id. at 10.) Defendant Florence entered Savage's vehicle. (Id. at 11.) After several minutes, Defendant Florence exited the vehicle and went inside the Wawa. He then left the Wawa and pumped gas for his blue Ford Econoline. He entered his vehicle and departed the Wawa parking lot. (Id. at 12.) Agent Denahan followed Defendant Florence, who drove to the 5900 block of Palmetto Street. (Id.) Defendant Florence left the vehicle and went inside a residence. (Id.) Defendant Florence remained in the residence for approximately five minutes after which Agents observed him exit the residence carrying a small bag.*fn4

After leaving the residence, Defendant Florence drove back to an area approximately one block from the Wawa on Rising Sun Avenue. (Id. at 13.) Agents observed Defendant Florence cross the street with the bag in his hand and enter Savage's vehicle. (Id.) Defendant Florence handed the bag to Savage. (Id. at 14.) Defendant Florence returned to his vehicle and drove away. (Id.) Savage also drove away from the location of the exchange.

Agent Denahan continued to follow Defendant Florence with other Agents. While following Defendant Florence, Agent Denahan was informed on his cellphone by Case Agent James Crawley that Savage had been taken into custody and that PCP had been recovered from him. (Id. at 15.)

When Agent Denahan was notified by Agent Crawley of this information and that PCP had been delivered to the Informant, Agent Denahan still had Defendant Florence's vehicle in his sights. Defendant Florence parked his van near a school and was seen exiting the van with a large wad of currency in his hand. (Id. at 17.) When Florence began to put the money in his pocket, Agents converged on him and he was placed under arrest. (Id. ) Agents then confiscated the currency, $2,780.*fn5 Agents also seized in plain view a cellphone observed on the passenger seat of the vehicle within two feet of the location where Defendant Florence was arrested. (Id. at 17-18.)

F.B.I. Agent Robert Lockhart also participated in the surveillance of William Florence on October 23, 2008. He was familiar with the investigation regarding the two prior sales of narcotics made by Savage to the Informant. (Id. at 29-30.) Agent Lockhart arrived at the location where Defendant Florence was arrested after he was in custody. (Id.) Defendant Florence was transported from the scene and Agent Lockhart prepared to transport Defendant Florence's van back to an FBI facility because it was subject to seizure. (Id. at 30.) Agent Lockhart examined the van to make sure it was safe to move. (Id.) To ensure there was nothing dangerous in the van, he opened the back doors to inspect the interior of the vehicle. (Id. 31-32). When he opened the doors he observed in plain view a small glass bottle with a black cap that had a yellowish liquid inside.*fn6 (Id. at 32). Based upon his experience working drug investigations for over ten years in Washington, D.C., he concluded that the substance in the jar was likely to be PCP and he seized the jar. (Id.) (Government's Exhibit No. 1).


A. Motion to Suppress Standard

On a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a search and seizure, the movant bears the burden of establishing a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment by a preponderance of the evidence. See United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Whether a search is reasonable will depend upon its nature and all of the circumstances surrounding it. United States v. Whitted, 541 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir. 2008). Generally, warrantless searches are presumed to be unreasonable and suppression of all evidence obtained from an unreasonable search is the appropriate remedy. See id. (citing Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439 (1973). Here, the Government concedes that the Agents seized the evidence at issue during a warantless search. The Government contends, however, that the seizure of the money from Defendant ...

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