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United States v. Coachman

January 20, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JAWAN BARNETT COACHMAN A/K/A DARRYL CLARK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pending before the Court is the JAWAN BARNETT COACHMAN'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND STATEMENTS WITH CITATION OF AUTHORITY, filed on behalf of Defendant Jawan Barnett Coachman on November 19, 2009, docket entry number 36 (Doc. # 36), and GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT'S DISCOVERY MOTIONS filed by the United States on December 11, 2009, (Doc. # 37). On November 20, 2009, an evidentiary hearing was ordered to consider the motion, and the hearing was conducted on January 4, 2010. All parties were represented by counsel who presented and argued the issues skillfully and effectively. The motion is now ripe for disposition.

Based on the testimony and evidence presented during the suppression hearing and the applicable law, the Court issues the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(d). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is DENIED.

FINDINGS OF FACT

In the afternoon of January 8, 2008, Defendant was operating a silver Ford Taurus and driving southbound along Blackadore Avenue in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. Blackadore Avenue is a two lane paved road, with space for parking available along both sides of the road. Ferndale Street is an unmarked paved road and generally proceeds in an east-to-west direction. Ferndale Street intersects Blackadore at a four-way intersection controlled by stop signs. There are no lines painted on the surface of Blackadore Avenue to indicate the points where cars are required to stop in compliance with the stop signs. At approximately 2:51 p.m., officers of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Narcotics Division, stopped the Defendant's vehicle. The basis for the stop was due to the Defendant's alleged failure to have made a complete stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Blackadore and Ferndale.

Detectives Charles Higgins, Michael Molitaris, and Jason Moss were the law enforcement officers involved in the stop and subsequent arrest of Defendant. At the time of the alleged traffic infraction, all three were in an unmarked police car, with Detective Higgins driving, Molitaris in the front passenger seat, and Moss in the back seat. The police vehicle was proceeding eastbound along Ferndale Street. By way of general orientation, Ferndale Street is a relatively short cross street that connects Wheeler Street/North Wheeler Drive on the eastern side with Lawndale Street on the western side. The respective ends of Ferndale are at higher elevations than the center portion where the street intersects with Blackadore. The detectives' vehicle entered Ferndale Street from Wheeler Street and was approaching, but had not yet reached, the intersection with Blackadore when they saw Defendant's vehicle slowing as it approached the stop sign and proceeded through the intersection, across their field of vision, without stopping. All three detectives testified that Defendant's vehicle slowed as it passed the stop sign, but failed to stop completely, essentially "rolling through" the stop sign, to use the phrase of choice of the witnesses. While there was no precise measurement of the police vehicle from the intersection at the time Defendant's vehicle was observed, the testimony of each detective placed the police vehicle well within 50 feet of the intersection.*fn1

Beyond the intersection, Defendant continued south along Blackadore Avenue. The police vehicle turned from Ferndale Street onto Blackadore Avenue and began to close the distance between itself and Defendant. Defendant subsequently executed two additional turns, ultimately traveling approximately a half a mile, before being stopped by the detectives.*fn2

After stopping Defendant's vehicle, Detective Higgins approached the driver's side window and asked for Defendant's driver's license. At the same time, Detectives Molitaris and Moss approached the passenger side of the vehicle. Defendant responded that he did not have his license with him. When asked what his name was, Defendant responded "Darryl Clark", which is not his name but that of an acquaintance. When asked whether he had any form of identification with him, Defendant responded that he did not. Defendant was asked to step outside of the vehicle, which he did. As he did so, and without being asked or prompted in any way, Defendant informed the detectives words to the effect of, "I have warrants", and provided his actual name and an expired driver's license. Detective Higgins confirmed that a warrant did exist, and Defendant was arrested. Pursuant to a search of his person incident to the arrest, the detectives seized, inter alia, a plastic bag containing crack cocaine from Defendant's pocket, cash in the amount of $657.00, and a cell phone that rang "continuously" throughout the time of the traffic stop and arrest. Defendant informed the detectives that he also had a "gun" in the vehicle. Defendant was asked for permission to retrieve the weapon from the vehicle, which was given. Detective Moss retrieved the weapon from the map pouch on the backside of the passenger seat, a nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol with thirteen (13) rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber. This weapon is the one forming the basis of the indictment sub judice.

Defendant challenges the basis for the traffic stop. Defendant testified on his own behalf at the evidentiary hearing that he did in fact stop prior to passing beyond the stop sign, and that it is his habit to stop for four seconds at stop signs before proceeding, which he did in this instance. Defendant further testified that upon resuming his forward progress, he proceeded slowly through the intersection to ensure that no other vehicle would cross the intersection and collide with his. The Defendant testified that at the point where he stopped, foliage on the corner to his right completely obscured his view up Ferndale in the direction of the detectives' vehicle, and that it was not until after he proceeded beyond the stop sign that he was able to see the police vehicle.

In support of the his claim that the portion of Blackadore Avenue where he stopped was obscured from the detectives' observation, Defendant admitted a series of photographs of the intersection and video footage taken from the front passenger seat of a vehicle traveling east to west along the entire distance of Ferndale Street, to include traversing the intersection with Blackadore Avenue. To summarize the general content of the footage, admitted as Defendant's Exhibit 16, it was taken from the perspective of a vehicle traveling along Ferndale Street, and was recorded by a camera operator seated in the front passenger seat. With respect to the route, the footage recorded the vehicle as it entered the eastern side of Ferndale from Wheeler Street, proceeding across the intersection with Blackadore Avenue, continuing to Lawndale Street on the western side, turning around, and returning to the eastern side of Ferndale.

With his testimony, Defendant made various admissions, to include: admitting that his driver's license was expired at the time of the stop; admitting that he was aware at the time that he did not have a valid driver's license; admitting that when asked by Detective Higgins whether he had any identification on his person, he falsely responded that he did not, despite knowing that his expired driver's license was in his pocket at the time; admitting that he intended to sell the crack cocaine found in his pocket; and admitting that he was aware of the loaded nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol that was in the map pouch behind the passenger seat of his vehicle. Defendant initially provided a false name to the police because he knew Darryl Clark to have both a valid driver's license and a license to possess a firearm.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

On November 18, 2008, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment against Defendant in which he was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, on or about January 8, 2008, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Doc. # 1. Defendant made his initial appearance on January 7, 2009. Doc. # 7. An arraignment and detention hearing was held the following day on January 8, 2009, before United States Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay, at which time the government requested that the Defendant be detained without bond pending trial in accordance with the Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3141, et. seq. The magistrate judge granted the government's motion and ordered that Defendant be detained pending further disposition of this matter. Doc. # 20.

Defendant has filed the instant motion in which he requests that the Court suppress the evidence seized in the course of the traffic stop on the basis that the police had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. Doc. # 36, Mot. at Part II. In support of this position, Defendant argues, in both his ...


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