The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)
Before the court for disposition is Defendant Jorge Valdez, a/k/a Roberto Vasquez's (hereinafter "defendant") motion to suppress. The court held a suppression hearing, and the parties filed briefs supporting their positions. The matter is thus ripe for decision.
The government charges defendant with possession with intent to distribute in excess of five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) and carrying and possessing a firearm during and in relation to, and in furtherance of a drug trafficking felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (Doc. 1, Indictment).
The police performed several searches in the instant case. Defendant challenges a search of the property area outside the residence situated at 183 Strawberry Hill Rd., Sciota, Pennsylvania performed on October 14, 2009. Defendant evidently lived at this residence at some point, although someone else leased it. (Notes of Testimony, Apr. 5, 2011 "N.T." at 11 -12).
The lease does not contain defendant's name. (Id. at 12).
The search at issue occurred because the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") received confidential information that a large amount of cocaine and two million dollars in cash could be found on the property.
(N.T. at 6). The informant also indicated that the police should act urgently in searching for the material before the defendant succeeded in obtaining assistance to remove the drugs and money. (Id.)
The police then went to the property and obtained the consent of the residence's landlord, Mary Czekoj-Wilusz, to perform the search. (Id. at 6 - 7). Czekoj-Wilusz indicated that she had leased the house to Jaime Roacho. Although she leased the house, she maintained access to almost five acres of property, a commercial garage and equipment located on the property. (Id. at 8). She and her husband had daily access to the property. (Id.) The DEA did not search inside the residence on this date, but searched on the property, which is where the informant indicated the drugs could be found. (Id. at 9). Under a bathtub-spa unit behind the garage, the police found thirteen (13) kilograms of cocaine, a money counter, a heat sealer, bags and rubber bands. (Id. at 10 - 11, 21). They found the cocaine inside a duffle bag, and the other paraphernalia inside a black garbage bag and a small soft-sided cooler. (Id. at 21).
Defendant seeks to suppress this evidence. He argues that the warrantless search is invalid because the landlord did not have authority or apparent authority to consent to the search. The government's position is that the landlord did have authority because the renter had fled and, at the time of the search, the defendant resided in prison not at the residence. Moreover, according to the government, defendant lacks standing to bring the suppression motion as he was a short-term guest of the residence and actually in jail at the time of the search. The court will address these issues in seriatim.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . ." "The Amendment guarantees the privacy, dignity, and security of persons against certain arbitrary and invasive acts by officers of the Government or those acting at their direction." Skinner v. Rwy. Labor Exec. Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 613 - 14 (1989).By its own terms, the Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures. Whether a search and seizure is reasonable, "depends on all of the circumstances surrounding the search or seizure and the nature of the search or seizure itself." United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985).
The government initially contests defendant's standing to bring the instant motion. A defendant challenging a search and seizure based upon the Constitution's Fourth Amendment bears the burden of establishing that the government violated his rights. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 130 n. 1 (1978).
In order to establish a violation of his rights, the defendant must first establish standing, or in other words, that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place searched. The Third Circuit Court of ...