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United States v. Moore

January 6, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
EARL MOORE



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sánchez, J.

MEMORANDUM

Police attempted to stop a vehicle driven by Earl Moore, the target of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), while Moore was on his way to purchase drugs from a DEA informant. A brief car chase ensued. Moore was caught and arrested with two bags containing $165,000. He seeks to suppress evidence found after police stopped his car, arguing the reasons for the stop were pretextual and the police lacked probable.*fn1

Findings of Fact

1. DEA agents were conducting a drug-related investigation of Jerome Nixon, a/k/a Earl Moore (Moore), with the help of a confidential informant. The informant told DEA agents Moore sought to purchase a large quantity of cocaine on October 1, 2009.

2. On October 1, 2009, DEA agents briefed Philadelphia Police Officer Brian Newell about their investigation of Moore. Officer Newell informed the agents he knew Moore, and was aware Moore had a suspended driver's license due to unpaid tickets. The agents instructed Officer Newell to stop Moore if he observed Moore driving a vehicle. Officer Newell agreed.

3. Officer Newell knew Moore because he had stopped him for traffic violations two or three times.

4. Later that day, Officer Newell was a passenger in a police car parked near the corner of Oregon Avenue and 6th Street. The car was driven by Officer Newell's partner, Officer Joe McDonald. DEA agents used radio communication to inform the officers Moore was driving down Oregon Avenue in a white Acura, followed by a second vehicle. Officers Newell and McDonald observed Moore driving the Acura. They followed him eastbound on Oregon Avenue, immediately initiating the police car's flashing lights.

5. Moore pulled the Acura into the Whitman Plaza shopping center and stopped the car. The second vehicle, a Pontiac, pulled up next to the Acura, and a passenger exited the Pontiac. Officer Newell exited his car to approach Moore. Moore yelled something to the Pontiac's former passenger, then drove away.

6. Officers Newell and McDonald saw Moore turn westbound into the eastbound lanes of Oregon Avenue. They broadcast Moore's escape on the police radio. Although they pursued Moore on Oregon Avenue, the officers lost sight of Moore's car. By radio, the officers heard Moore's car had been stopped. They joined the other officers at the scene, where Moore was being arrested after exiting his car with two bags.

7. Philadelphia police issued a traffic citation to Moore for driving with a suspended license.

8. At the scene of Moore's arrest, police recovered two bags containing $165,000 and a sheet of paper containing numerical data.

Conclusions of Law

Where searches and seizures are conducted without a warrant, the Fourth Amendment requires the Government show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such searches and seizures were reasonable. United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). Stops are reasonable where police have reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that "criminal activity may be afoot." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). Further, it is reasonable to effect a traffic stop where there is probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1995). In evaluating the constitutionality of vehicle seizures and searches, an officer's subjective intent "does not invalidate the action taken as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify that action." Id. at 813 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

First, even if no traffic violation was made by Moore, the police officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop. The DEA agents informed Officer Newell of facts related to the ongoing investigation of Moore, which included information, provided by a reliable informant, that Moore was on his way to purchase drugs. These facts are sufficient to give Officer Newell reasonable suspicion Moore was engaged in criminal ...


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