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United States of America v. Nathaniel Pitts

March 15, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATHANIEL PITTS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Nathaniel Pitts ("Defendant" or "Pitts") was charged in a five count indictment with three counts of knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); one count of knowingly possessing a firearm and ammunition in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1); and one count of having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and knowingly possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

Defendant filed a motion to suppress all physical evidence obtained from a search of his GMC Envoy, his house, his bank account, a black Infiniti M45 registered to the Defendant at his home address, and a Volkswagen Jetta registered to Pitts Automotive LLC. Defendant argues that this evidence stems from an illegal seizure of his person and his GMC Envoy; therefore, all evidence should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Government opposes the motion arguing that law enforcement officers were justified in seizing Defendant and his GMC Envoy for approximately two hours because they had probable cause to believe Defendant was engaged in illegal activity or, in the alternative, they initially had reasonable suspicion which elevated into probable cause.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendant's motion to suppress all physical evidence.

II. BACKGROUND

On September 13, 2010, Drug Enforcement Task Force Officer Oswaldo Toledo ("Agent Toledo") and other officers conducted surveillance on Defendant. (Hearing 16:12-14.) This surveillance was prompted by information received from a confidential informant who indicated that Defendant was drug trafficking in Philadelphia. (Id. at 18:8-18.) Agent Toledo testified that this informant described the vehicles Defendant was operating, the location of hidden compartments in the vehicles, the location of Defendant's residence, and the fact that Defendant previously did federal time for drug trafficking. (Id. at 19:18-25; 21:5-25.) Agent Toledo testified that he relied on this informant because the informant previously provided reliable information, and Agent Toledo was able to corroborate the information provided by the informant. (Id. at 19:1-16.)

On the day of the search, the surveillance was coordinated by an air wing unit. (Id. at 17:9-16.) At 3:00 p.m. officers observed Defendant arrive at his residence in one of the vehicles described by the informant-a GMC Envoy. (Id. at 22:15-20.) Defendant then entered his residence, but he exited fifteen minutes later and changed the battery in a white Volkswagen Jetta. (Id. at 23:1-6; 43:10-12; 44:10-18.) Once the battery was changed, Defendant entered his GMC Envoy, "circled the block," and parked the GMC Envoy directly across from his residence. (Id. at 23:7-12.) At the hearing, Agent Toledo explained that "circling the block" is a "counter-surveillance technique that a lot of drug traffickers use to identify if any law enforcement officers are conducting surveillance on them." (Id. at 23:8-12.)

After Defendant parked his GMC Envoy in front of his home, he entered his house. (Id. at 23:19-20.) On a couple occasions, Defendant was observed exiting his house, looking around, and going back into his house. (Id. at 53:2-5.) At one point, Defendant exited his house and entered his GMC Envoy. (Id. at 56:1-5.) Surveillance followed Defendant to a Deals parking lot. (Id. at 24:5-8.) Once at the parking lot, a black SUV parked behind Defendant. (Id. at 24:14-20.) The driver of the black SUV exited the SUV and went to the passenger side of Defendant's GMC Envoy. (Id. at 24:17-20.) The driver of the SUV and Defendant were in the GMC Envoy for approximately sixteen minutes. (Id.) The driver of the SUV then exited the GMC Envoy and went back into his car. At this point, Defendant and the driver of the SUV simultaneously exited the parking lot and went in separate directions. (Id. at 25:1-2.)

Once the cars exited the Deals parking lot, at approximately 5:15 p.m., Agent Toledo contacted Philadelphia Police and requested that the black SUV and Defendant's vehicle be stopped. (Id. at 25:12-14.) Defendant stopped, but the black SUV led the officers on a high-speed chase. (Id. at 26-27.) The air wing lost the SUV, and Agent Toledo called off the chase; however, the black SUV was located and searched within five to ten minutes after the chase was terminated. (Id. at 27:13-24; 71:24-25; 72:22-25; 73:1-14.) No drug paraphernalia was found inside the SUV, but ammunition was found. (Id. at 73:1-14.)

After calling off the black SUV chase, Agent Toledo went to where Defendant was stopped. When Agent Toledo arrived at Defendant's location, Agent Toledo talked with the officers on the scene and was informed that Defendant had been compliant and provided his driver's license, insurance card, and registration. Additionally, Agent Toledo was told that Defendant was acting nervous. (Id. at 29:3-10.)

After receiving this information, Agent Toledo approached Defendant and advised Defendant that he was part of an investigation. (Id.) Agent Toledo asked Defendant for consent to search his vehicle, but Defendant denied consent. (Id. at 87:1-10.) Ten to fifteen minutes after Agent Toledo arrived on the scene, he requested that a drug sniffing dog be brought to the scene. (Id. at 30:17-25.) Once Agent Toledo was informed that a dog had been called, Defendant was ordered out of his car, frisked, placed in handcuffs, and placed in the back of a squad car. (Id. at 89:11-25; 90:1-25.) Agent Toledo testified that, at this point, Defendant was not free to leave because he was being detained. (Id. at 90:25; 91:1-7.)

Defendant was detained in the back of the police car for approximately two hours until the K9 unit arrived.*fn1 (Id. at 97-99.) K9 Blackjack arrived at approximately 7:15 p.m. and performed an exterior sniff of Defendant's vehicle to which the dog alerted to the smell of narcotics. (Hearing 99:3-20; 101:14-15.) After the car sniff, Agent Toledo sought and received a search warrant for the vehicle. A search of the GMC Envoy was executed and officers uncovered a black briefcase containing cocaine, U.S. currency, cocaine in tupperware, and cocaine in a clear plastic bag. Following this search, Agent Toledo received a search warrant for Defendant's home and executed it that evening. Inside Defendant's home, the officers found a loaded handgun underneath a table, a black bag with $84,600.00, marijuana, crack cocaine, a kilo press, and tires that had been cut off at the rims. After the search of the home, Agent Toledo sought and obtained two federal search warrants for Defendant's bank account and two other cars associated with Defendant.

Before the Court is Defendant's motion to suppress all physical evidence seized from the searches of Defendant's GMC Envoy, his home, his bank account, and the two other automobiles associated with Defendant. Defendant claims that this evidence is ...


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