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United States v. Pitts

August 19, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
CHAY RONDEL PITTS, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

On June 25, 2010, defendant Chay Rondel Pitts ("defendant" or "Pitts") filed, pro se, a motion for a bond hearing. (Docket No. 36.) On July 20, 2010, the court held a hearing and dismissed defendant's motion without prejudice in order to allow his counsel to file the motion. Nonetheless, at the hearing the court heard testimony from witnesses who appeared on that date. On July 23, 2010 defendant's counsel filed a motion for release on bond (the "Motion"). (Docket No. 40.) On July 30, 2010, the government filed a response to the Motion. (Docket No. 43.) On August 4, 2010, the court held a hearing on the Motion at which further testimony and other evidence were presented. After a review of the submissions, arguments of counsel, evidence, and a pretrial services recommendation, this court denied defendant's request for bail on the record and ordered defendant detained without bond pending trial. This memorandum order sets forth the reasons for the court's decision, which were also detailed on the record.

Factual and Procedural Background

On June 23, 2009 defendant was indicted by a federal grand jury of possession of firearms by a convicted felon on or about August 9, 2008, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The indictment reflects that defendant was previously convicted on September 25, 2005, of the crime of criminal homicide*fn1 in a state court (See Docket No. CC2004002989, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Division, Pennsylvania). While incarcerated, defendant pled guilty on April 18, 2006 to the unlawful possession of a weapon or implement for escape by an inmate. (Gov't Resp. ¶ 5.) (Docket No. 43.) On September 10, 2007, defendant was released on parole to a halfway house. The instant offense is alleged to have occurred while defendant was on escape status from the halfway house.

July 21, 2010 Hearing

Defendant filed several exhibits with his motion, including a letter from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, a certificate of completion for a pro-voc course, his resume, and five letters of application for employment. The court denied defendant's motion filed pro se without prejudice to allow defendant's counsel to file the motion. Several family members attended the hearing in support of defendant, including his fiancé, mother, sister, daughter, uncle and cousin. Defendant presented his fiancé, Ebony Caldwell, as a witness, who testified that she would ensure defendant's compliance with respect to any term or condition of bond the court would impose upon defendant. She testified that she would be willing to call pretrial services with a report any time defendant did not come home on time as required by his monitoring conditions.

The government called defendant's parole agent for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Lacey ("Lacey"). Lacey testified that she supervised defendant for the state charge of involuntary manslaughter for which defendant was released from SCI-Somerset to a halfway house on September 10, 2007. Lacey testified that defendant absconded from the halfway house on October 26, 2007. Defendant in August 2008 was arrested by the Pittsburgh police for the instant federal charge. For absconding from the halfway house defendant received a parole violation that resulted in a sentence of nine months back-time. Lacey testified that defendant's new maximum date for release from state detention is September 27, 2010, which is subject to change pending the outcome of the federal case. Lacey was not able to state for certain the date of defendant's release without consulting with her supervisor.

The government called Special Agent Albert J. Maloney ("Maloney"), as a witness. Maloney testified that he was familiar with defendant as a result of the federal adoption of defendant's state court case. Maloney testified that, although he was not personally involved with defendant's arrest in August 2008, he discussed the matter with the Pittsburgh police officers who were involved. Upon review of the police reports, Maloney testified that the police came upon defendant while on patrol of an area they searched after hearing shots fired. The officers noticed defendant approaching a vehicle and tossing something to the ground, which turned out to be a plastic baggie with crack cocaine in it. According to the report, defendant used the name "Brandon Blackman." They placed defendant on arrest, and discovered car keys in his pocket. Defendant gave them verbal consent to look in the vehicle, although the vehicle was not owned by defendant. One of the officers noticed in plain view another plastic corner baggie in the vehicle. When a firearm was discovered in the center console, defendant revoked his consent to search the vehicle any further and the search was stopped. At that point the owner of the vehicle came upon the scene and allowed the search to continue. No additional evidence was recovered.

Maloney testified that as a former police officer he investigated narcotics offenses and that gun violations sometimes go hand-in-hand with drug offenses. He testified that a plastic baggie with a corner ripped off found in a vehicle is significant evidence with respect to trafficking narcotics. Maloney also testified that witnessing a defendant discard a baggie corner that had suspected crack cocaine in it is evidence of drug trafficking, as opposed to individual drug use.

August 4, 2010 Hearing

As an initial matter, defendant presented a letter of a job offer from a retail clothing store. The government objected to the authenticity of letter. Defendant called pretrial services officer, Wendy Brown ("Brown"), as a witness. Brown testified that she based her negative recommendation for release upon defendant's criminal history, among other things. Brown pointed to the involuntary manslaughter conviction, charges of endangering the welfare of children -- which was nol prossed, -- the conviction for introduction of a weapon that may be used for escape by an inmate, a charge of intimidation of a witness, and the instant federal charge which occurred while defendant was on parole supervision. Defendant was on bond release for the involuntary manslaughter charge when he was charged with criminal activity on September 5, 2004 and on October 27, 2004. On October 31, 2005 and October 11, 2006, he respectively pled guilty to those offenses.*fn2

Brown testified that defendant's fiancé would be appropriate for defendant's possible third-party custodian. Defendant testified that, if released, he was planning to keep steady work and to spend some time to get back on track with his family until his trial date. He indicated that he wanted to attend barber school and obtain a CDL driver's license. Defendant testified that he completed a safety course, was awaiting his GED scores, and was interested in becoming certified in HVAC (heating ventilation and air-conditioning). Defendant testified with respect to the recent part-time employment offer at a retail clothing store, he informed the employer that it was possible that he would be returning to prison in a short period of time.

Standard

The structured system of the Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3141 et seq., regarding the release or detention of a defendant before trial seeks to ensure that the interests of the defendant and the public are carefully considered and contemplated before release or detention is ordered. See United States v. Lemos, 876 F. Supp. 58, 59 (D. N.J. 1995). The court is charged with determining whether there exists any "condition or combination of conditions [set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3142(c) that] will reasonably assure the appearance of the [defendant] and/or the safety of the community...." 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f); see Lemos, 876 F. Supp. at 59 ("A condition precedent to detention without bail under subsection (e) is that a hearing be held as provided in subsection (f)."). Section 3142(c)(1)(B) of the Bail Reform Act sets forth a nonexclusive list of conditions that a ...


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