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United States of America v. Hikeem Torrence

July 18, 2012


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


Presently before the Court is Defendant Hikeem Torrence's Motion to Suppress. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be denied.

I. Background

On September 22, 2010 and September 7, 2011, a federal grand jury returned a seventy-three count indictment and an eighty-nine count superseding indictment, respectively, charging Defendant, Hikeem Torrence, along with nineteen (19) other Defendants with various crimes occurring on or about October 2001 through approximately October 6, 2010. These criminal acts were committed in and around the Bartram Village Housing Development (BVHD) in Southwest Philadelphia by a criminal enterprise known to law enforcement as the "Harlem Boys." Throughout the course of the investigation, police and federal authorities obtained and executed numerous search and seizure warrants, which led to the recovery of drugs, drug paraphernalia, drug proceeds, firearms, ammunition, fired cartridge casings, documents, photographs, letters and other mail, and other items.

Members of the enterprise committed, attempted, and threatened to commit acts of violence, including murder, assault, and robbery, to protect and expand the enterprise's criminal operations. The members of the enterprise had varying roles. The Government alleges that Defendant Torrence participated in the "Harlem Boys" as a distributor of illegal narcotics and as a gunman for the enterprise. Torrence is charged with nine (9) counts in the superseding indictment. These counts include charges of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); conspiracy to distribute under 21 U.S.C. § 846; and distribution of cocaine base ("crack") under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Torrence has filed five (5) pre-trial motions, which have been briefed by the parties and argued in a pre-trial motions hearing on May 15-16, 2012, where evidence and testimony were provided by the government and counsel on various motions. The motions include a motion to compel discovery (Doc. No. 61),*fn1 a motion to suppress physical evidence and statements and a motion in limine to exclude evidence (Doc. No. 191), a motion to sever (Doc. No. 300),*fn2 a motion to deny the admission of tape recordings (Doc. No. 301),*fn3 and a second motion in limine (Doc. No. 364).*fn4

II. Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence and Statements

On June 2, 2010, officers responded to a radio call of "person with a gun" at 5405 Bartram Drive, they located three FCCs on the ground. Upon arrival, the officers located four (4) .40 caliber shell casings on the step of 5405 Bartram Drive and three (3) in the yard to the immediate left of the property. During the investigation, the officers knocked on the door of 5400 Eastwick Terrace, Apartment 3B, and encountered Torrence coming out of an apartment, almost knocking an officer to the ground and then fleeing. Torrence was apprehended by the officers and he was immediately patted down. The Government claims this pat down was reasonable because they believed the defendant was armed and dangerous. United States v. Gatlin, 613 F.3d 374, 379 (3d Cir. 2010).

During the course of the pat down of his person, officers discovered eleven bags of packaged "crack" under the "plain feel" exception to the warrant requirement. After the arrest, Torrence misidentified himself as "Malik Torrence" and falsely stated that he was fifteen (15) years old.*fn5 The Defendant seeks to suppress the evidence and statements stating that the initial arrest was unconstitutional.

Police can arrest an individual without a warrant if, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had probable cause to conclude that the person being arrested has committed or is committing an offense." United States v. Laville, 480 F.3d 187, 189 (3d Cir. 2007). Probable cause to conduct a search exists "when, viewing the totality of the circumstances, 'there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.'" United States v. Hodge, 246 F.3d 301, 305 (3d Cir.2001) (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983)). Deference is accorded to an "officer's judgment of whether criminal activity is taking place with an understanding that 'whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to warrant a stop . . . is often an imprecise judgment.'" United States v. Ramos, 443 F.3d 304, 308 (3d Cir. 2006).

Officer Henry testified that he was informed by a passerby that the shooter went into the building wearing a white shirt and tan shorts.*fn6 After spotting Torrence, the officers immediately noticed that he matched the description of the "person with a gun." Even if Torrence did not sufficiently match the description, he was in the immediate vicinity of the shooting in a high crime area, and he ran from the police as soon as the officers knocked on the door. Additionally, Officer Henry testified that Torrence reached out and dropped what was discovered to be packets of cocaine, on the windowsill.*fn7

Deferring to the officers' judgment and taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances surrounding the arrest, I find that the stop was constitutional. Therefore, the Defendant's motion to suppress is denied.

III. Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence

Torrence argues that any of the evidence obtained as a result of the arrest on June 2, 2010, should not be permitted during trial under either Rule 401, Rule 403,*fn8 or the

Rules of Hearsay. Specifically, the June 2, 2010, shooting;*fn9 the recorded conversation on June 3, 2010, between a confidential informant and Ramel Moten regarding the shooting and Torrence's subsequent arrest;*fn10 the statement of Defendant Torrence's girlfriend to police on October 6, 2010, regarding being "jumped";*fn11 the September 16, 2010 and September 25, 2010, shooting of D. C. and M. R.;*fn12 and the June 4, ...

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