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United States of America v. Billy Lee Banks

October 25, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BILLY LEE BANKS, TROY M. BISHOP, AND TINA FLEISHER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Presently pending before the Court is Defendant Billy Lee Banks's motion to suppress evidence that law enforcement officers seized from a vehicle during the course of a traffic stop. (Doc. No. 43.) On September 1, 2011, the Court held a hearing on this motion. For the reasons that follow, Banks's motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2010, at approximately 11:07 a.m., Pennsylvania State Trooper Mark Gray observed a green Chevy Tahoe traveling eastbound in the left lane of travel on Pennsylvania State Route 76 at 85 miles per hour, in violation of the speed limit. (Doc. No. 67 at 1; Doc. No. 68 at 4.) Trooper Gray followed and observed the vehicle's rate of speed for a minimum of one mile before initiating a traffic stop by activating his vehicle's emergency lights at approximately 11:08 a.m. (Doc. No. 67 at 1; Doc. No. 68 at 5.) For about one minute, the vehicle continued traveling in the left lane, which prompted Trooper Gray to employ his vehicle's siren. (Doc. No. 67 at 1; Doc. No. 68 at 8.) About one minute later, the driver of the vehicle moved to the right lane of travel and then pulled over and stopped on the shoulder of the road. (Doc. No. 68 at 8-9.)

Before approaching the vehicle, Trooper Gray noticed movement inside the vehicle. (Id. at 10.) Specifically, he noticed that the passenger seated in the front seat was looking back at him repeatedly. (Id.) At approximately 11:12 a.m., Trooper Gray approached the driver's window of the vehicle and spoke with the vehicle's occupants. (Doc. No. 67 at 1.) The driver, Defendant Tina Fleisher, presented a New Mexico identification card to Trooper Gray. (Doc. No. 68 at 11.) The vehicle's registered owner, Defendant Troy Bishop, who was seated in the left rear seat, also presented identification to Trooper Gray. (Id.) Banks, who was seated in the front passenger seat, informed Trooper Gray that he had lost his identification during their trip. (Doc. No. 67 at 1-2.) Fleisher then explained that they were traveling from New Mexico to New Jersey. (Id. at 2.)

At approximately 11:14 a.m., Trooper Gray asked Banks for his name. (Id.) Banks identified himself as "Robert Lee Williams" and provided Trooper Gray with his alleged height, date of birth, and age, which Trooper Gray recorded in a notebook. (Id.; Doc. No. 68 at 12.) According to Trooper Gray, Banks paused for a significant length of time before stating his age, as if he were "trying to figure out how old he was." (Doc. No. 68 at 12.) Banks told Trooper Gray that he was born on November 4, 1981. (Id.) Trooper Gray then asked Banks to exit the vehicle and display his pockets. (Doc. No. 67 at 2.) Banks cooperated and reentered the vehicle after Trooper Gray found no identification on him. (Id.) Banks explained that he did not have a driver's license, but that he did have a New Jersey identification card. (Id.)

After Banks reentered the vehicle, Trooper Gray asked Defendants questions concerning their trip. (Id.) They informed Trooper Gray that they had traveled from New Jersey to New Mexico, where they stayed for one-and-a-half to two days, visiting Fleisher's daughter, and were now traveling back to New Jersey. (Id.; Doc. No. 68 at 13.) Trooper Gray testified that the duration of this stay in New Mexico struck him as "unusual," that the vehicle had a "very, very strong odor of . . . air deodorizer or air freshener," and that he noticed multiple cell phones and two gas cans in the interior of the vehicle. (Doc. No. 68 at 13-16.) According to Trooper Gray, after making these observations, he began to suspect "the possibility of criminal activity." (Id.)

At approximately 11:17 a.m., Trooper Gray returned to his vehicle and began to conduct database searches on Defendants to determine whether they had valid identifications and whether they were wanted by law enforcement in connection with any criminal activity. (Doc. No. 67 at 2; Doc. No. 68 at 17.) Within three minutes, he found that Fleisher's license had been suspended. (Doc. No. 67 at 2; Doc. No. 68 at 17.) However, neither he nor his dispatcher, who he contacted via radio, were able to verify any of the information that Banks provided despite running Banks's alleged name and date of birth "geographically, regionally, [and across] multiple states." (Doc. No. 68 at 18-19.)

At approximately 11:30 a.m., Trooper Luke Staniere arrived at the scene. (Doc. Nos. 67 at 2; 68 at 21.) Trooper Gray explained to Trooper Staniere that he had been unable to verify Banks's identity. (Doc. No. 67 at 2.) Troopers Gray and Staniere then conducted another search and found that no individual with Banks's alleged name and date of birth was wanted by law enforcement in connection with any criminal activity. (Id.)

At approximately 11:37 a.m., Trooper Staniere approached the vehicle, asked Banks to exit the vehicle, and conducted a brief pat-down of Banks's person. (Id.) After speaking with Banks for about five minutes, Trooper Staniere returned to Trooper Gray's vehicle and told Trooper Gray that the vehicle had a strong odor of air fresheners. (Id.) At about 11:47 a.m., Trooper Staniere approached Banks and spoke with him for about three minutes. (Id. at 3.) After returning to Trooper Gray's vehicle, Trooper Staniere told Trooper Gray that Banks provided information regarding his education, which conflicted with the information he provided to Trooper Gray regarding his age. (Id.; Doc. No. 68 at 25.) Thereafter, Troopers Gray and Staniere conducted a database search, using the name "Robert Lee Williams" and the birth year of 1980 instead of 1981. (Doc. No. 67 at 3.) This search produced a result, stating that a person with that name and date of birth was armed and dangerous and may have a protection-from-abuse ("PFA") order issued against him. (Id.) Trooper Gray then contacted his dispatcher to verify this information; she indicated that the information was correct. (Doc. No. 68 at 22-23.)

At approximately 12:05 p.m., Trooper Gray approached the vehicle and asked Fleisher to exit the vehicle. (Doc. No. 67 at 3.) He issued her two citations for speeding and driving on a suspended license. (Id.) At about 12:11 p.m., Trooper Gray asked Fleisher for her consent for him to search the vehicle, so that he could locate identification for Banks and any illegal items. (Id.) Fleisher indicated that she did not object to the search, but that consent should be obtained from Bishop since he owned the vehicle. (Id.) Trooper Gray then spoke to Bishop, explaining that he would like to search the vehicle to locate any evidence verifying Banks's identity as well as any illegal items, particularly weapons. (Id.) Specifically, Trooper Gray informed Bishop that he may have to take Banks into custody if he could not verify Banks's identity because he had discovered that a man named "Robert Lee Williams" was listed as armed and dangerous. (Id.)

After giving verbal consent and reviewing a consent-to-search form with Trooper Gray, Bishop signed the form at approximately 12:18 p.m. (Id.) Trooper Gray began his search of the vehicle at about 12:21 p.m. (Id.) At about 12:33 p.m., Corporal Dan Housel, a corporal with the Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations, approached the vehicle and spoke with Trooper Gray. (Doc. No. 67 at 3; Doc. No. 68 at 61.) According to Corporal Housel, after Trooper Gray relayed all relevant information to him:

I went to [Bishop] and explained to him who I was, what my position was, and what I did and told him that I realize that you've already given consent to search the car, to which he agreed, I said, do you have an issue if I place a [police dog] into the car to continue the search, to which he had no issues with. He said it was not a problem if I did that. (Doc. No. 68 at 64.) At about 1:04 p.m., Corporal Housel began to use a certified police dog named Nemo to search the vehicle. (Doc. No. 67 at 3.) The canine search lasted about two-anda-half minutes. (Id. at 4.) According to Corporal House, Nemo worked his way to the front seat area, tried to reach underneath the front seat, stuck his head down, tried to scratch underneath the seat, and then pulled his paw out and sat. (Doc. No. 68 at 65.) This behavior, according to Corporal Housel, indicated that Nemo had detected a particular odor. (Id.)

At approximately 1:07 p.m., three troopers returned to the vehicle and entered the front compartment. (Doc. No. 67 at 4.) They discovered a loaded handgun located underneath the center of the front passenger seat in "a compartment that was manufactured." (Doc. No. 68 at 29-30.) They also discovered a gallon-size package of brown powder, later identified as heroin. (Id. at 30.) The troopers then walked to the side of ...


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