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United States v. McNeil

January 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court are defendants' motions to suppress evidence (Docs. 19, 48).


October 13, 2009, a grand jury in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania returned an indictment naming the defendant on six counts. Count I accuses the defendant of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute in excess of one hundred kilograms of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B). Count II charges defendant with violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 by possessing marijuana with intent to deliver. Count III alleges that defendant used a communications facility in the commission of a felony under the Controlled Substances Act in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b). Count IV charges defendant with possession of a firearm while being an unlawful user of controlled substances in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Count V contends that defendant violated 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 by using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes. Count VI seeks forfeiture of property used in the alleged crimes pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 853.

Defendant filed the instant motion to suppress his statements on December 17, 2009. He filed the instant motion to suppress evidence on January 6, 2010. On January 7, 2010 the court held an evidentiary hearing on these motions. At the end of that hearing the court denied the defendant's motions. This memorandum explains the reasons for those decisions.


Defendant seeks suppression of any statements obtained from him during a traffic stop on April 12, 2008. Additionally, defendant seeks suppression of any physical evidence and statements seized from the April 12, 2008 search of 90 Penn Ave, Kingston, PA and 97 Metcalf, Wilkes Barre PA, obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of any unlawfully warrantless search, an invalid search warrant, failure of law enforcement to provide a copy of the search warrants to the defendant and fruit of the poisonous tree.

This case surrounds an investigation of drug trafficking in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area. The events that led to the instant motions occurred on April 11-12, 2008. On April 11, 2008, Illinois State Police stopped a car loaded with seventy pounds of marijuana in that state. An interview with the driver revealed that he had arranged to deliver the drugs to Steve McNeil, defendant's brother, in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania. An investigation discovered that McNeil had connections to the two homes that were the subject of the searches here at issue. Police arranged a controlled delivery of the drugs to Steve McNeil the next day. They also prepared to obtain and execute search warrants at both houses. The evidence seized in those searches is the subject of these motions.

a. Defendant's Statements

Defendant seeks suppression of any statements he made to police during a traffic stop on April 12, 2008. He contends that he was in custody at the time he made his statements. Since the statements were made without the benefit of Miranda warnings or the presence of counsel, they should be suppressed. The government argues that defendant was not arrested, but merely subjected to a routine traffic stop or an investigatory stop. Since the law is well-settled that a person detained for a traffic stop or an investigatory stop is not in custody for Miranda purposes, the statements should not be suppressed.

Trooper William Langman testified at the hearing on these issues. (Transcript of Proceedings Held January 7, 2009 (hereinafter "N.T.") at 52-61). Langman reported that at the time of the events in question, he had been a Trooper for fifteen years. (Id. at 53). On April 12, 2008, Langman worked as a narcotic dog handler and was summoned to Troop P in Wyoming, Pennsylvania for a meeting on the case. (Id.). After the meeting, Langman traveled to the Penn Avenue home in Kingston in his marked car to assist after Steve McNeil's arrest. (Id.). At some point thereafter, Langman was dispatched to the Metcalf Street address. (Id. at 54). Langman arrived at that residence and noticed that surveillance had been set up by other officers. (Id.). He soon heard a report over his police radio that Adolphus McNeil was leaving the residence. (Id.). He was directed to stop the car. (Id.). The order came by radio and relayed that Adolphus McNeil lacked a driver's license. (Id. at 55). Langman stopped McNeil's car, got out of his own vehicle, and approached McNeil's car to ask to see his driver's license. (Id.). Langman did not recall whether McNeil actually had a license, and could not recall whether he asked for or procured any identifying information from the defendant. (Id. at 56, 59). At that point, Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") Agents approached the car. (Id. at 56). Langman moved his car, which was behind McNeil's vehicle, to the opposite side of the street. (Id.). He stayed with the car while the agents spoke with McNeil. (Id.). Langman testified that he never placed McNeil in handcuffs, drew his gun, or placed McNeil in a police car. (Id.). He also testified that the stop took place on a busy street in the City of Wilkes-Barre. (Id.). Langman never issued McNeil a citation, and did not have further contact with him. (Id. at 57).

Willliam Langan, a Special Agent with the DEA working out of Scranton, Pennsylvania, also testified. (Id. at 61-70). He reported that on April 12, 2008 he had been assigned to surveillance at 97 Metcalf Street in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, one of the two houses connected to Steve McNeil and a place where he might be expected to bring the marijuana he received in the controlled delivery. (Id. at 61). Police, Langan testfied, had information that tied Steve McNeil to the residences at Penn Avenue and Metcalf Street and had staked out both residences because they were unsure where he planned to bring the marijuana he would receive. (Id. at 62-3). After Steve McNeil's arrest, Langan traveled to the home on Penn Avenue, noted the large police presence there, and returned to 97 Metcalf Street. (Id. at 63). He noticed a green S.U.V. on a side street near the house. (Id.). A young girl exited the car. (Id.). Langan drove around the corner. (Id.). When he returned, the S.U.V. was gone. (Id.). On his police radio, Langan heard that the car had been stopped in the area of East North Hampton Street and Park Avenue in Wilkes-Barre, PA. (Id. at 64).

Langan stopped his vehicle near where Langman stopped McNeil. (Id. at 64). He remained in the car. (Id.). At some point, Adolphus McNeil walked on foot to Langan's car, accompanied by an unidentified DEA agent or agents. (Id. at 64, 69). Langan remained in the vehicle because he had injured his knee. (Id. at 64). When defendant walked up to the car, Langan told him that police were obtaining a search warrant for the home at 97 Metcalf. (Id.). He asked defendant if there were any drugs, guns or large sums of money in the home. (Id.). Defendant replied that there was marijuana in the house, for personal use. (Id.). When asked how much, defendant told Langan that there was about half a pound of marijuana there. (Id.). Langan testified that defendant was not in handcuffs at the time he made this statement. (Id.). No one, as far as Langan recalled, had told defendant he could not leave. (Id. at 65). Defendant had not been placed in a patrol car, but made his statement on a public street while Langan sat in his car. (Id.).

The Supreme Court has held that the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment "[bars] the introduction in federal cases of involuntary confessions made in response to custodial interrogation." Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 688 (1993). Courts have found that "a statement is involuntary when the suspect's 'will was overborne in such a way as to render his confession the product of coercion.'" Choi Chi Lam v. Kelchner, 304 F. 3d 256, 264 (3d Cir. 2002). There is no dispute here that defendant was not advised of his rights before he made his statement. At issue, however, is whether defendant was actually in custody when he spoke with police after the traffic stop. "[C]ustodial interrogation" is "'questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.'" Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 494 (1977) (quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966)). Though the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that normally "the principles of Miranda have been held not to apply to the traffic stop context" United States v. Anderson, 859 F.2d 1171, 1177 (3d Cir. 1988), the Supreme Court has found that "[i]f a motorist [who] has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders him 'in custody' for practical purposes, he will be entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda." Berkemer v. McCarthy, 468 US. 420, 440 (1984); see also, United States v. Elias, 832 F.2d 24, 26-27 (3d Cir. 1987). The court must therefore inquire into "how a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood his ...

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