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United States v. Watson

May 6, 2010


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



On October 30, 2007, Defendant Roderick Watson was charged in a Superseding Indictment with one count of conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (Count One); four counts of interference with interstate commerce by robbery, and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951(a) and 2 (Counts Two, Three, Four, and Six); two counts of using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 2 (Counts Five and Seven); and one count of interstate transportation of stolen goods, and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2 (Count Eight).

On January 23, 2009, the Honorable Bruce W. Kauffman, a retired Judge of this Court, issued a Memorandum and Order denying Defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Three Men's Rolex Watches) (Doc. No. 62). In a footnote to the Memorandum, Judge Kauffman explained:

After the December 17, 2008 suppression hearing, Defendant filed a second Motion to Suppress in which he argues that the contents of a black duffel bag were seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Motion to Suppress the duffel bag and its contents, as well as Defendant's pending Motion to Sever, will be addressed in a subsequent Memorandum and Order.

Doc. No. 62, at 8 n.6.

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Black Duffel Bag recovered on August 30, 2007) (Doc. No. 60). On December 24, 2008, Defendant filed the Motion at issue as an addendum to the Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Three Men's Rolex Watches) (Doc. No. 50). On January 20, 2009, the Government filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant's Addendum (Doc. No. 61). On April 5, 2010, the Government filed a sealed supplemental Opposition Brief (Doc. No. 88).

Also before the Court is a Motion to Sever (Doc. No. 55) filed by Defendant on June 6, 2008. On November 20, 2008, the Government filed an Omnibus Response in Opposition to Defendant's Pre-Trial Motions, which included a Response to the Motion to Sever (Doc. No. 58). On April 14, 2010, the Court held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Black Duffel Bag) and the Motion to Sever. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny both Motions.


On August 30, 2007, Defendant was inside a residence at 120 North Felton Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when several agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officers of the Philadelphia Police Department arrived at the residence with an arrest warrant for Defendant.*fn1

Special Agent Stephen J. Heaney, a nineteen-year veteran of the FBI and seven-year veteran of the bank robbery/violent crimes squad, was a leader of the investigation of Defendant Watson that led to his arrest. (Hearing Transcript, April 14, 2010 ("Tr.") at 30:20-31:5). The investigation included surveillance of different locations based on Defendant's phone records. (Id. at 53:20-24.)

On the afternoon of August 30, 2007, Agents knocked and announced their presence at 120 North Felton Street, after which Defendant stated that he would open the door and come onto the porch. (Id. at 39:24-40:2.) Upon being arrested, Defendant asked to go back into the house. Once inside, he was searched and jewelry was removed from his person. (Id. at 40:6-11.) Subsequently, Defendant was removed from the residence and transported to the local FBI office. (Id. at 40:11-12.)

After the arrest, several FBI Agents remained inside the house. Agent Heaney stayed to interview Tiffany McGeth, a female resident of the home who was coming downstairs as Defendant was being escorted out of the house. (Id. at 40:15-16; 62:14-25.) Agent Heaney and Ms. McGeth sat at the dining room or kitchen table where they had a conversation about Defendant's arrest. (Id. at 40:16-25.) Agent Heaney explained that the FBI wanted to search the residence, and he presented her with a consent to search form. (Id. at 41:12-15.) Agent Heaney read the consent form to Ms. McGeth, and Agent Heaney explained to her that she had the right to refuse to sign the form. (Id. at 42:25-43:14.) Ms. McGeth signed the consent form, as did Agent Heaney and Special Agents Kevin McShane and William Shute. (Id. at 42:4-9.) Additionally, Ms. McGeth orally granted permission to the Agents to search the home. (Id. at 42-22-43:14.) After Ms. McGeth signed the consent form, a black duffel bag was found behind the table in the dining room area and was seized. (Id. at 44:16-22; 72:1-13.) Ms. McGeth admitted that she did not own the black duffel bag, nor had she ever seen the bag before. (Id. at 119:2-19.)


A. Motion to Suppress Standard

The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Whether a search is reasonable will depend upon its nature and all of the circumstances surrounding it. United States v. Whitted, 541 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir. 2008). As a general rule, on a Motion to Suppress evidence obtained during a search and seizure, the movant bears the burden of proof. United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). "However, once the defendant has established a basis for his motion, i.e., the search or seizure was conducted without a warrant, the burden shifts to the government to show that the search or seizure was reasonable." Id.; see also United States v. Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 261 (3d Cir. 2005). Generally, warrantless searches are presumed to be unreasonable and suppression of all evidence obtained from an unreasonable search is the appropriate remedy. United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 278-79 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 654-55 (1961) (describing the exclusionary rule of criminal procedure)).

Here, the Government concedes that the Agents seized the evidence at issue during a warrantless search. The Government contends, however, that the seizure of the black duffel bag from Ms. McGeth's home falls squarely within an exception to the warrant requirement. Specifically, the Government argues that Ms. McGeth consented to a search of the premises, thus negating the requirement to obtain a search warrant. In contrast, Defendant Watson claims that Ms. McGeth did not offer valid consent to the Agents to search her home, and that the black duffel bag is the product of a warrantless search and seizure that is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

B. Defendant Has Legal Standing to Challenge the Search

As a preliminary issue, the Government argues that Defendant Watson lacks legal standing to contest the reasonableness of the search of Ms. McGeth's residence.*fn2 As the oft-quoted adage notes, the "Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347, 351-52 (1967). In other words, "[t]o invoke the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule, a defendant must demonstrate that his own Fourth Amendment rights were violated by a challenged search or seizure." United States v. Stearn, 597 F.3d 540, 551 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 132-34 (1978)). A defendant's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated by the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of a third party's rights. Rather, Fourth Amendment rights are "personal," and the defendant "bears the burden of proving not only that the search... was illegal, but also that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in [the place searched]." Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 104 (1980); see also United States v. King, 2010 WL 438417, *5 (3d Cir. Feb. 8, 2010) ("To establish standing, the party contesting the legality of the search bears the threshold burden of establishing that he or she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the property searched and the item seized.").

In certain circumstances, a person may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the home of someone else. United States v. Perez, 280 F.3d 318, 337 (3d Cir. 2002). For example, the Supreme Court has held that a co-resident of a shared dwelling or overnight guest in a home may claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment. See Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 90 (1998); Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 110 (1990).

At issue here is whether Defendant Watson has standing to challenge the search of Ms. McGeth's residence by virtue of being a co-resident or an overnight guest. The Government argues that Defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in Ms. McGeth's residence because he was merely an occasional visitor. (Govt. Supplemental Brief, at 5). The Government contends that though Defendant Watson was involved in a romantic relationship with Ms. McGeth, he is married to and resides with another woman, and that Ms. McGeth lived in her residence solely with her mother and daughter. The Government also maintains that at the grand jury hearing dated October 17, 2007, Ms. McGeth explained that she had not seen Defendant for approximately one month before he appeared at her home on August 30, 2007. (McGeth Grand Jury Testimony Transcript, 24:13-16). Finally, the Government submits that Judge Kauffman found in the Memorandum dated ...

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