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United States v. Pettiway

September 3, 2009


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


The defendant has been charged with making false statements in a United States passport application and aggravated identity theft. He moved to suppress physical evidence seized from a house and a car during the investigation. The government argues, among other things, that the defendant had no expectation of privacy in either the house or the car. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on August 24, 2009. The Court will deny the motion.

I. Findings of Fact

On June 5, 2006, the Pitman New Jersey Police

Department obtained a warrant for the arrest of the defendant for an armed robbery of the Commercial Bank in Pitman, New Jersey, on April 17, 2006. On June 6, 2006, the Pitman Police Department requested assistance from the U.S. Marshal Service in executing the warrant. Deputy Marshal William Degan received the request and opened up an official case concerning the defendant. He obtained a fugitive warrant for the arrest of the defendant on June 14, 2006. Deputy Marshal Degan was in charge of the U.S. Marshal Task Force team responsible for serving fugitive warrants located in Camden, New Jersey.

Deputy Marshal Degan received information through the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office that the defendant had tried to obtain a U.S. passport with his brother's information so he could flee the country. When Deputy Marshal Degan received the information, he contacted Special Agent Alex Zuchman with the Department of State. He asked Special Agent Zuchman to see if there was a passport issued in the name of either Shaheim or Shaun Pettiway. Special Agent Zuchman called Deputy Marshal Degan back and told him that there had been a passport issued in the name of Shaheim Pettiway. They compared photographs between Shaheim and Shaun to see whose photo was actually on the passport. Independently and together they agreed that it was Shaun Pettiway's photograph. He determined with Special Agent Zuchman that Shaun Pettiway had obtained a U.S. passport with his own photograph and his brother's biographical information on the passport.

Thereafter, on July 7, 2006, members of the Task Force went to 6623 Haddington Street to attempt to arrest the defendant. Present were William Degan and Task Force Officers Scott McConnell, Tim O'Brien, Chris Leone, Jerome Scott, George Johnson, and Barry Johnson. Before they went to that location, Deputy Marshal Degan and Detective Johnson conducted a briefing for all the officers. They gave out assignments, described the location where they were going, and Deputy Marshal Degan informed the team about the defendant having obtained a passport.

The search was conducted at 6:00 a.m. Task Force officers surrounded the house. Detective Johnson, Marshal Degan and Chris Leone went up to the front door. They were dressed in tactical gear, wearing vests with visible markings of police. They all had guns and some people had their guns drawn. There was no shield used at the residence. Barry Johnson or Bill Degan knocked at the front door. A woman's voice asked who it was and they identified themselves. A woman opened the door. Detective Johnson asked her to identify herself and to tell them who lives at that residence. She said that she was Latifah Muhammad. They asked her if she knew Shaun Pettiway. She said that she did know him, but that he was not in the house. Detective Johnson asked Ms. Muhammad if it was alright to check to see if anybody else was in the house and she agreed. If Ms. Muhammad had not given the Task Force officers permission to enter the house, they would not have done so.

The officers searched the house but did not find the defendant. Detective Johnson stayed with Ms. Muhammad and questioned her about Shaun Pettiway. Initially, they were in the front room and then ended up in the kitchen area. Detective Johnson told her that she could be charged with criminal charges. He let her know that if she did know anything about the defendant's whereabouts and was withholding information or lying, she could be charged with hindering. He briefly talked to the two children who were present in the house, trying to keep them calm. The officers did not verbally or physically confront or intimidate Ms. Muhammad. She was cooperative. She seemed to understand what was going on.

Detective Leone's role in the search was to clear the second floor. In the master bedroom, he noticed a pair of boots and some jeans laying on the floor next to the unmade bed. He also saw a package from the postal service with the defendant's brother's name on it. He thought that it might have been the passport package that was mentioned during the briefing, so he brought it down to Deputy Marshal Degan. He did that because Shaheim Pettiway was the name that he had been told was related to Shaun. He never looked inside the envelope. The envelope was unsealed when he took it to Deputy Marshal Degan.

Deputy Marshal Degan took the envelope and saw that the return address was "U.S. Government Services." He squeezed the envelope and felt an object in there that appeared to be the same size as what a passport would be. He opened the envelope and retrieved what turned out to be a U.S. passport in the name of Shaheim Pettiway with Shaun Pettiway's photo on it. There were also inside the envelope two standard mailings that accompany a U.S. passport and a birth certificate in the name of Shaheim Pettiway. Before he looked inside the envelope, Deputy Marshal Degan was positive that the passport was inside.

The Task Force had information that Ms. Muhammad was driving a black Nissan Maxima. Deputy Marshal Degan found the car in front of the house at the end of the block at 67th & Haddington. He saw on the rear seat of the car several passport application documents, and what looked like a money order receipt. In the front on the driver's side floor was a Pennsylvania driver's license with a male's photo on it. He went back to the residence and asked Ms. Muhammad for permission to search her car. She said, "yes." He said, "where are the keys?" She said, "the keys are in my purse." Deputy Marshal Degan got her purse in the living room, and handed it to her. She handed him the keys. Deputy Marshal Degan went down to the car and retrieved several items out of the car. One item retrieved was the driver's license, which had Shaun Pettiway's name on it and the address of 5008 McKean Avenue.

Latifah Muhammad has owned a house at 6623 Haddington Street for six years. Ms. Muhammad has a mortgage on the property and had one in 2006. She lives there with her son. In 2006, she lived there with her son and nephew. Ms. Muhammad is thirty years old and graduated from high school in 1997. She attended college in 2002 and last year, began taking courses in accounting. She currently works at TransUnion. In 2006, she worked at NCO Financial and GMAC Bank. She was a supervisor at NCO Financial at the time she left in June 2006 to go to GMAC where she was a customer service representative.

She met Shaun Pettiway at NCO Financial. They worked in the same group. She had a sexual relationship with him that started in April of 2006. It was not a serious relationship. They saw each other at work and then two to three times out of the week. The relationship ended in the beginning of July of 2006. From April to July, they saw each other at her house or at his grandmother's house. At one time, she went to his ...

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