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United States v. Valentine

September 1, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.



Defendant, Richard Valentine, is charged in a four-count Indictment with: Count 1 -- possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base ("crack"), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B); Count 2 -- possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A); Count 3 -- possession of oxycodone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a); Count 4 -- possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(e)(1).

Presently before the Court is defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence and Statements in which defendant moves to suppress "all evidence seized from his vehicle . . . [and] any statements made" following a vehicle stop in Bensalem Township on November 12, 2008. The Court held a hearing on July 31, 2009 and granted leave to file supplemental briefs in light of the evidence presented at the hearing.*fn1 Upon consideration of the briefs and argument of counsel and the evidence presented at the hearing, for the reasons set forth below, defendant's Motion to Suppress is denied.


The following facts are taken from the undisputed testimony of Police Officer Joseph Ganksy and Police Corporal George Price, members of the Bensalem Police Department ("BPD"), at the hearing on July 31, 2009. Where applicable, the Court also cites to documents received in evidence at the hearing. Defendant did not testify or otherwise present evidence in support of his motion.

A. Car Stop, Impoundment, and Inventory Search

On the evening of November 12, 2008, Officer Gansky was assigned to patrol Sector 2 of Bensalem Township, an area to the east of Bensalem Township which abuts the west side of Bristol Township. Sometime shortly before 9:49 p.m., Officer Ganksy followed a vehicle from Bensalem Township into Bristol Township. After turning around to return to Bensalem Township, Officer Ganksy observed an old model Honda Civic (PA Plate No. HCC 4927) ("Civic") driving west on New Falls Road in Bristol Township near its border with Bensalem Township. Officer Gansky noticed the car because it "passed in front of [him] . . . at a high rate of speed*fn2 [and] also had dark tinted windows." (Hr'g Tr. 44.) Officer Ganksy "checked the Civic's registration status" by running the plates and discovered that the Civic was registered to defendant Valentine at a Norristown address. (Id. at 44-45.) When Officer Ganksy pulled up behind the Civic, the driver made a quick left hand turn and drove away. Officer Ganksy thought this behavior "appeared suspicious," but did not pursue the Civic because he was in Bristol Township and lacked jurisdiction; instead, he continued driving towards Bensalem Township. (Id. at 45, 108-09.) Officer Gansky testified that he had no previous contact with the Civic or defendant Valentine. (Id. at 77.)

Less than five minutes later, while parked facing Bridge Road in Bensalem Township near the border of Bensalem Township and Bristol Township, Officer Gansky observed the same Civic driving west on Bridge Road, having just crossed the border from Bristol Township into Bensalem Township. (Hr'g Tr. 45-46.) Officer Gansky pulled into traffic and maneuvered his vehicle behind the Civic. (Id. at 46.) At this point, the Civic signaled for a left hand turn and turned left onto Bensalem Boulevard; Officer Ganksy followed. (Id.) The Civic again signaled for a left hand turn, at which point, Officer Ganksy initiated a car stop by turning on the overhead lights of his police vehicle. (Id. at 46, 51.) Officer Ganksy testified that the reason for the stop was "the vehicle code violation of the tint on the window*fn3 and the suspicious activity." (Id. at 68-69.) According to Officer Gansky, the Civic complied "in all other respects . . . with turn signals and stopping at red lights" and the Civic was not speeding or weaving when it was stopped. (Id. at 75, 76.)

After Officer Ganksy activated his lights, the Civic turned left into a shopping center and parked in a designated parking space. (Hr'g Tr. 51, 77.) The space was located "off to the side of the shopping center stores" and was not obstructing traffic. (Id. at 77.) Officer Gansky approached the passenger side of the Civic and asked the driver, defendant Valentine, for his driver's licence, registration, and insurance. (Id. at 52.) Valentine responded that he was driving on a suspended licence and had neither insurance nor registration. (Id. at 53.) Officer Gansky then asked Valentine if there was any documentation in the glove compartment, and Valentine responded that there was not. (Id. at 78.) During this initial exchange, Valentine gave Officer Ganksy an identification card.*fn4 (Id. at 54.)

Officer Gansky returned to his vehicle to run a background and warrant check on Valentine. (Hr'g Tr. 55.) He confirmed that Valentine's license was suspended. (Id.) A search for open warrants in Bucks County produced no results. However, when Gansky entered Valentine's information in the Bensalem Police Department's in-house offender registry, referred to as the CODY system, he learned that Valentine was a known offender with contacts involving weapons violations, domestic violence, and harassment. (Id. at 55-56.) He then called for more information and was told by Officer Michael Brady that Valentine had an extensive criminal history, including arrests for violent felonies and gun possession. (Id. at 56.) Officer Brady also reported that Valentine had been known to flee. (Id. at 79-80.) After hearing that report, Officer Gansky called for backup. (Id. at 57.) Officer Ganksy admitted that he did not shine his flashlight on the windows of the Civic, request a tint-meter, or otherwise investigate the alleged violation of the Pennsylvania window tint statute. (Id. at 76.)

When backup officers arrived, Gansky briefed them on the situation.*fn5 (Hr'g Tr. 57.) He informed the other officers that Valentine was a known offender with arrests for gun possession, that he had no license, no registration, and no insurance. Officer Gansky also told the other officers that the defendant "wouldn't open the glove box." (Id. at 57, 83-85; Gov't 2d Supp. Resp., Exh B at 1, 4.) Officer Michael Sheehy responded to this information by stating, "[t]ow him."*fn6 (Hr'g Tr. 85, 108; Gov't 2d Supp. Resp., Exh B at 1.) When asked during the hearing why he sought the tow, Officer Ganksy stated that "[t]he vehicle was towed due to the suspended license, no insurance and no registration paperwork." (Hr'g Tr. 69, 98.) However, Officer Gansky also admitted on cross examination that he "indicated to other officers that [Valentine] wouldn't let [him] search the vehicle but [he] wanted to get into the vehicle." (Id. at 80-81.)

In accordance with BPD procedure, Officer Gansky called his supervising officer, Corporal George Price, for authorization to impound the Civic. (Hr'g Tr. 57.) Officer Ganksy's portion of the conversation was audio recorded and played during the hearing. He stated the following: "I'm on a car stop. [T]hey're telling me [the driver is] a violent guy with a lot of stolen guns . . . [H]e's got a suspended license and no insurance. [H]e won't open the glove box, so [I'm] trying to get permission to tow on that." (Gov't 2d Supp. Resp., Exh B at 2.) Corporal Price authorized the impoundment of the Civic, after which Gansky stated, "[W]e'll tow the car and see what's going on." (Id.; Hr'g Tr. 86.) Officer Ganksy confirmed that when he said "we'll . . . see what's going on," he meant "[we'll] see what we're going to find inside the car" and that he was looking for "guns or drugs or something that matches [Valentine's] previous history." (Hr'g Tr. 86-87.) Corporal Price testified that his decision to authorize the impoundment of the Civic was based solely on the fact that Valentine was driving on a suspended licence and without insurance; he did not consider the other information provided by Officer Gansky as part of his impound decision. (Id. at 15, 26.)

During the above-described exchanges, Valentine remained in his vehicle. (Hr'g Tr. 58.) After receiving authorization to tow the car, Officer Gansky returned to the Civic and requested that Valentine exit the vehicle; Valentine complied. (Id.) Officer Ganksy patted Valentine down for officer safety and, at Valentine's request, retrieved a cell phone and an undetermined amount of money, both of which he gave to Valentine. (Id. at 58.) Officer Gansky then proceeded to inspect the vehicle for damage and inventory its contents, liability measures required by the BPD impoundment procedure. (Id. at 59-60, 89-90.) Officer Gansky searched first the interior of the Civic, then the glove compartment, and then the trunk.

In the interior of the car, Officer Ganksy found loose change and assorted compact discs ("CDs"). (Hr'g Tr. 90.) In the glove compartment, which was unlocked according to Officer Gansky's recollection, Officer Gansky found two prescription pill bottles containing pills.*fn7 (Id. at 59-60.) There were no labels on the bottles. (Id.) Officer Gansky then opened the trunk using the trunk door release latch in the car. (Id. at 60.) At this point, Valentine "jumped and ran towards" the back of the Civic and "slammed" the trunk. (Id.) Officer Ganksy placed Valentine in handcuffs for officer safety and informed Valentine that the BPD's inventory procedure required a full search of the vehicle, including the trunk. (Id. at 61.) According to Officer Gansky, Valentine responded by saying, "You can have the car, you can arrest me, but you cannot search the trunk." (Id.)

Officer Gansky then re-opened the trunk of the Civic and continued his inventory search. (Hr'g Tr. 61.) The trunk contained: (1) various items of clothing, including shoes, (2) two clear bags of a white powdery substance which fell out of the pocket of a pair of jeans,*fn8 (3) a black digital scale with white powdery residue on it, (4) a Jennings Model 25 automatic pistol, loaded with four live rounds of .25 caliber ammunition, and (5) a second magazine loaded with four live rounds of .25 caliber ammunition. (Id. at 62.) After finding the gun, ammunition, and bags containing the white powdery substance, Officer Gansky placed Valentine under arrest. (Id. at 62.) Valentine was not issued a citation for any vehicle code violations. (Id. at 99-100.)

At some point after the car stop and search, Officer Ganksy completed a BPD form entitled "Vehicle Impound and Inventory Record." (Hr'g Tr. 63; Gov't Hr'g Exh. C.) Under "Reason Impounded," Officer Ganksy mistakenly entered "Knights Collossion," the towing company used to tow the Civic. (Hr'g Tr. 97; Gov't Hr'g Exh. C.) In the space provided for "Personal Property in Vehicle," Officer Ganksy listed "clothes, shoes, socks, license plate, silver hand gun, pants, cell phone." ...

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