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United States v. Robinson

October 22, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMES ROBINSON



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court is defendant James Robinson's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence Obtained in Violation of the Fourth Amendment. An evidentiary hearing was held on October 8, 2010. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

This case arises out of the arrest of defendant, James Robinson, on February 22, 2009 for knowingly possessing with intent to distribute 55 grams of cocaine base ("crack cocaine") in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) et seq. Defendant moved to suppress the drug evidence, arguing that a Philadelphia police officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights in obtaining the crack cocaine. Specifically, defendant argues that (1) the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot at the time he detained defendant, (2) the officer's frisk of defendant was not justified by a reasonable belief that defendant was armed and dangerous, and (3) the officer's frisk was excessively intrusive and thus violated the plain feel doctrine. (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress; Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp.)

The relevant facts for purposes of this motion are as follows: At approximately 1:45 p.m. on February 22, 2009, Officer James Robertson of the Philadelphia Police Department received a radio call based on an anonymous 911 call reporting an assault of a pregnant female by a light-complexioned black male wearing a tan shirt and blue pants at the intersection of 27th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia. (Suppression Hr'g Tr. 6, 29, 42, Oct. 8, 2010.) Officer Robertson drove his patrol car to the intersection, arriving approximately thirty seconds after receiving the radio call. (Id. at 8.) As he approached the intersection, Officer Robertson observed the defendant standing at the southwest corner of the intersection dressed in a tan shirt and blue pants. (Id. at 10, 16.) He did not observe a pregnant woman in the vicinity. (Id. at 31.)

Officer Robertson exited his patrol car, announced himself, and approached the defendant. (Id. at 10-11.) As he approached the defendant, Officer Robertson observed that the defendant was sweating despite being dressed lightly for the cold weather. (Id. at 12.) Officer Robertson asked the defendant "what was going on," to which the defendant responded that "nothing was going on." (Id.) The defendant refused to provide the officer with his name and stated that he did not have any identification. (Id.) Officer Robertson then took the defendant aside and performed a pat-down to check for weapons. (Id. at 16-17.) In the course of the pat-down, Officer Robertson felt a bulge in defendant's left front pocket, which Officer Robertson believed to be small plastic vials containing narcotics contraband. (Id. at 19-20.) Officer Robertson removed the suspected narcotics from defendant's pocket and placed defendant in handcuffs. (Id. at 20.) He then conducted a further search and recovered additional suspected narcotics and cash but no weapons. (Id. at 20-21.) The suspected narcotics later tested positive for crack cocaine. (Id. at 25.)

B. Defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence

In his Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence and his Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of His Suppression Motion, defendant makes three arguments for the suppression of the crack cocaine. First, defendant contends that he was detained by Officer Robertson before the officer had corroborated the anonymous tip sufficiently to establish reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress at 3-4.) Second, defendant contends, citing Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51-52 (1979), that Officer Robertson's frisk was unsupported by any specific, objective facts that Officer Robertson could point to as indicating that the defendant was armed. (Id. at 4.) Third, in his Supplemental Memorandum, defendant argues that the officer's frisk was excessively intrusive and thus went beyond what is allowed under the plain feel exception to the warrant requirement. (Def.'s Supplemental Mem. of Law at 2.) The Court will treat these arguments in the order presented.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"On a motion to suppress, the government bears the burden of showing that each individual act constituting a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment was reasonable." United States v. Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 261 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995)). The applicable burden is proof by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164 (1974).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Officer Robertson's Terry Stop Was Supported by Reasonable Suspicion

1. Legal Standard -- Anonymous Tips and Reasonable Suspicion

Because the impetus for Officer Robertson's investigation of the defendant came from an anonymous tip, the question of whether his detention of the defendant passes Fourth Amendment scrutiny hinges on whether Office Robertson observed sufficient information to corroborate the tip before he detained the defendant. In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court announced an exception to the probable cause requirement whereby an officer may temporarily detain a citizen where the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot. 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 30 (1968). In subsequent cases, the ...


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