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United States v. Wade

March 29, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ALEX WADE



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

MEMORANDUM

On July 14, 2009, Alex Wade was charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base (crack), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). On March 17, 2010, Wade moved to suppress the physical evidence recovered the crime scene. He argues that the searches and seizures of his person and the automobile in which he was sitting were unconstitutional. Because the Court finds that the searches and seizures complied with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, Wade's motion to suppress the physical evidence will be denied.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. On May 1, 2009, at approximately 11:30pm, Philadelphia Police Officers Bernard Spain and Thomas O'Brien were traveling west on Westmoreland Street in a marked police wagon. Both officers were in full uniform. Officer Spain was driving and officer O'Brien was sitting in the passenger seat.

2. Officers O'Brien and Spain were assigned to a detail known as "Pressure Point," which was designed to combat criminal activity within a ten block by eight block high crime area in the thirty-ninth police district.*fn1 The area has a high incidence of murder, rape, and drug trafficking.

3. The 1600 block of Westmoreland Street is a residential area that, on May 1, 2009, was poorly lit.

4. As the officers approached the intersection of Westmoreland Street and 17th Street, officer O'Brien observed the brake lights of a car parked on the north side of Westmoreland Street flicker on. The car was parked in front of a vacant lot. The engine of the car was not running and its lights were off.

5. As the officers drove alongside the parked car, officer O'Brien observed an adult male in the driver seat. He had a look of "complete surprise" on his face. Audio Recording: Mot. To Suppress Hr'g, 2:05:55, Mar. 25, 2010. The male was later identified as Alex Hendricks.

6. Officer O'Brien exited the patrol wagon to investigate. As he did so, he kept his gun holstered but immediately turned on his flashlight and approached the driver's side window. In addition to Hendricks, O'Brien observed an adult female, later identified as Kayla Ranier, sitting in the passenger seat. He was unable to see into the rear compartment of the vehicle because it was filled with luggage, clothing, and other such objects.

7. While officer O'Brien approached the parked vehicle, officer Spain moved the patrol wagon backwards so that the front, passenger-side quarter panel of the patrol wagon was aligned with the rear, driver-side quarter panel of the vehicle. Spain testified that he positioned the wagon this way because, if the encounter were to become violent, the front compartment of the wagon would not be in the direct line of fire from the front compartment of the vehicle. Spain then activated the wagon's emergency lights. Parked in this manner, the wagon did not obstruct the vehicle's ability to leave its parking spot.

8. While officer Spain was parking the patrol wagon, officer O'Brien asked Hendricks for his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Hendricks was unable to provide any of the requested documents. The officers later determined that the car belonged to Ranier.

9. When Hendricks was unable to provide the requested documentation, officer O'Brien determined that Hendricks had violated the law by driving without a driver's license.

10. For safety purposes, officer O'Brien asked Ranier to place her hands on the dashboard and Hendricks to place his hands on the steering wheel. Both complied.

11. Officer O'Brien then asked Hendricks and Ranier what they were doing in the car. Only after they put their heads together and quietly conferred did Hendricks state that they were giving someone a ride. Both Hendricks and Ranier were visibly nervous and appeared afraid to answer O'Brien's question. Officer O'Brien testified that he found this behavior "immediately suspicious." ...


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