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United States v. Brooks

January 8, 2010


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


Attended by experienced and conscientious counsel, but without a plea agreement with the Government, Willie Brooks pleaded guilty on January 26, 2009, just as his oft-continued trial on two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g) and as an armed career criminal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §924(e) was about to commence.

The charges against Mr. Brooks emanated from a early morning July 13, 2007 car chase when Newtown Township Police Officer Deppi observed a minivan, driven by Mr. Brooks, speed through a red light. Officer Deppi, joined by fellow Officer Christopher Joseph, gave chase, ultimately cornering and stopping the Brooks minivan, but not before Mr. Brooks had run into both patrol cars. Once stopped, Mr. Brooks refused to put his hands up, and, with alarm, the officers observed him reach toward the passenger seat. This prompted Officer Joseph to hasten to the passenger side of the minivan with his gun drawn. Because the mid-chase collision had damaged the minivan passenger door mechanism, Officer Joseph had to break the passenger window, injuring himself in the process. Meanwhile, Officer Deppi's use of a Taser to stun the uncooperative Mr. Brooks only partially subdued the Defendant as the police removed him from the van and handcuffed him.

During the ensuing search of Mr. Brooks' person, the police found a screwdriver, flashlight and gloves. The minivan, registered to Mr. Brooks, was towed while a search warrant for the vehicle was sought. During that process, the police simultaneously learned that Mr. Brooks was on county probation and had a lengthy criminal history of convictions for residential burglaries.

In the course of the search of the minivan pursuant to the issued warrant, detectives seized a black duffle bag in which they found a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun registered to Mr. Brooks' live-in girlfriend. The gun was loaded with 15 rounds, including one in the chamber. The duffle bag also produced a Pennsylvania car registration plate that police ultimately determined was stolen, a camouflage mask, an orange character mask of "The Thing," a buck knife, binoculars, two pairs of gloves, another magazine containing 11 rounds for the handgun, a back pack and a collection of maps of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Elsewhere in the minivan, the police retrieved a wallet containing a driver's license and credit card all in the name of Willie Brooks, a vehicle registration also in his name, $25 in U.S. currency, a fourth pair of gloves and a cell phone.

The Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab later determined that the handgun was a ballistics match to bullets fired at police during a December 6, 2006 incident in Radnor Township. The Radnor event involved police response to a 3:30 a.m. 9-1-1 call concerning a prowler in a residential area. Fleeing, the prowler shot at police. Within an hour of the shooting Mr. Brooks had made a cellular phone call to his girlfriend from nearby Wynnewood, during which he made arguably incriminating statements. Mr. Brooks' girlfriend later pled guilty to being a straw purchaser of the gun for Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Brooks was indicted for both the Newtown and Radnor incidents. The Federal Division of the Defenders Association of Philadelphia was appointed to represent Mr. Brooks. Kai Scott, Esq. entered her appearance on Mr. rooks's behalf. In the course of her representation of Mr. Brooks, Ms. Scott filed and pursued a motion to suppress evidence seized during the searches described above. Ultimately, following an evidentiary hearing during which both counsel vigorously examined the witnesses and ably argued their respective positions, the suppression motion was denied. Trial was scheduled and rescheduled, finally for January 26, 2009.

Instead of selecting a jury, on January 26, 2009 Mr. Brooks, with Ms. Scott at his side, pled guilty in a 50 minute hearing. Among other matters, during the ensuing colloquy, Mr. Brooks, who has a full high school and vocational training school education, having been sworn,

* acknowledged that he was under oath, was obliged to tell the truth and was at risk for a perjury prosecution if he told the Court untruths

* stated that he had counsel, had sufficient time to confer with his counsel and was satisfied with his attorney's advice and representation

* stated that he fully understood the charges against him and fully understood that pleading guilty would mean he was voluntarily and deliberately giving up his myriad of important constitutional and statutory rights relating to the charges, the prosecution and appellate options

* acknowledged that he had no agreement with or promises from the Government in exchange for the guilty plea

* acknowledged that he knew he had an absolute right to proceed to trial if he chose not to plead guilty, with or without a jury, at which he would have all of his guaranteed rights

* listened to the Assistant U.S. Attorney recite the alleged facts of the case as known by the Government and, with the exception of admitting wholesale his armed career criminal status at the time or as part and parcel of the Newtown and Radnor events, admitted to having committed the acts alleged, ...

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