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United States of America v. Alexander Navedo

September 12, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ALEXANDER NAVEDO, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 10-cr-00359-002) District Judge: Hon. Garrett E. Brown, Jr.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McKEE, Chief Judge:

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued on April 11, 2012

Before: McKEE, Chief Judge, HARDIMAN, Circuit Judge, and JONES, II, District Judge*fn1

OPINION OF THE COURT

Alexander Navedo appeals the denial of a motion to suppress weapons that police discovered in his home after a warrantless arrest. He argues that he was detained without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest and that the weapons that were subsequently recovered from his apartment should therefore have been suppressed. We agree.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 3, 2010, Henry Suarez and Saul DeLaCruz, two Newark Police Department detectives, set up surveillance in front of 315 Park Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. They were in plain clothes and driving an unmarked car. Although they were in front of 315 Park Avenue, they were actually investigating a shooting that had occurred at 323 Park Avenue two months earlier in January. 315 Park Avenue is a multi-unit building located in a mixed residential and industrial neighborhood. The officers arrived at approximately 7:30 to 8:00 pm; street lights were on and the streets were well illuminated when they arrived.

The area is not a "high crime area," and the police did not have a description of anyone involved in the January shooting.*fn2 Before arriving and setting up their surveillance, the police had no knowledge or information whatsoever about Alexander Navedo. Rather, Officer Suarez testified that they set up surveillance in the area and maintained a presence because of concerns that there may be some kind of retaliation for the January shooting. J.A. at 32.

At approximately 8:30 pm, the detectives saw a man (later identified as Navedo) come out of the entrance to 315 Park Avenue and stand on the porch, approximately twenty to thirty feet from their unmarked parked car. Officer Suarez testified that Navedo was not doing anything unusual. Soon thereafter, a person later identified as Co-defendant Pozo, approached Navedo from the street. Pozo was carrying a bookbag, and Navedo walked down to speak with him. According to Officer DeLaCruz‟s suppression testimony, the conversation seemed cordial and friendly, and nobody appeared threatened or threatening. J.A. at 84. After a few minutes, Pozo took the bag he was carrying off his shoulder, reached inside it, and pulled out an object. The officers then observed Pozo holding what looked like a silver gun with a black handle. Navedo never touched or possessed the gun. In fact, it never left Pozo‟s hands, and neither officer observed any conduct that would have suggested that Navedo was doing anything illegal.*fn3 According to Detective Suarez‟s testimony at the suppression hearing, right before the police approached the group, Navedo "was just leaning forward to see what was inside the bag." J.A. at 52.

Upon seeing what they believed was a gun, the officers got out of their car and approached Navedo, Pozo, and Pozo‟s companion. As they approached a fence surrounding the building, the officers identified themselves. The officers were able to clearly see that the object Pozo had in his bookbag was indeed a gun before Pozo quickly threw it back into his bag and ran. Detective Suarez chased Pozo and ultimately overtook him and placed him under arrest.

As Detective Suarez was pursuing Pozo, Navedo ran up the stairs to his home with Officer DeLaCruz pursuing him into the building and up some stairs. DeLaCruz testified that he chased Navedo into the house because he (the detective) thought Navedo was involved in an illegal gun transaction. J.A. at 88. As he chased Navedo, DeLaCruz yelled: "Police. Stop." J.A. at 69. With DeLaCruz in pursuit, Navedo climbed two flights of stairs, reached the third floor, and attempted to open the door to his apartment. As Navedo was opening the front door to his apartment, he was tackled by DeLaCruz. Officer DeLaCruz testified that "the physical contact was as [Navedo] was opening his front door--or his door to his apartment . . . ." J.A. at 92. The following exchange occurred during the suppression hearing:

Q. And as you chased him up to the third floor, the door that he turned towards, when he got there, was it opened or closed?

A. From my vantage point, I saw him turn it open.

Q. Okay. And so when you--when you tackled him, was that door opened or closed?

A. It was opened.

J.A. at 69-70.

After DeLaCruz tackled Navedo, both men fell to the ground and landed inside the apartment. Officer DeLaCruz testified that he handcuffed Navedo, and then observed a shotgun, two long rifles on the bed, one on the floor, and a stock of ammunition on the floor. He explained:

After I detained the defendant, after I detained him, during the small little encounter, that‟s when I observed like a shotgun on the bed, two--two long rifles on the bed, one on the floor, and just an enormous amount of ammunition on the floor. At that point in time, we both stood up, I was able to detain him quickly.

J.A. 70.*fn4

After hearing the testimony of the two detectives, Navedo, and a defense witness, the court denied Navedo‟s suppression motion. The court ruled that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Navedo and to question him because Navedo was looking at a weapon in Pozo‟s bag. The District Court reasoned that Navedo‟s flight elevated the reasonable suspicion that justified the initial approach to "probable cause for arrest and justified entry" into the apartment under the theory of hot pursuit. J.A. at 142. The court ruled that the physical evidence obtained inside Navedo‟s apartment was admissible because there was probable cause to arrest Navedo, based upon his flight. The court explained: "The individuals ran, creating probable cause for arrest and justified entry, hot pursuit into the apartment. There certainly was a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, combined with flight looking at the totality of the circumstances." Id. The Court then summarized: "I do find probable cause here based upon the reasonable suspicion, together with the flight." Id. at 144.

Navedo was charged with illegally possessing the weapons that were recovered from inside his apartment, and those weapons were admitted against him to support the sole count upon which he was tried and convicted. Navedo now appeals the resulting conviction.*fn5

II. DISCUSSION

As we noted at the outset, Navedo‟s sole contention on appeal is that the District Court erred in denying his suppression motion. He claims that the police did not have probable cause to arrest and therefore the evidence that was seized upon their warrantless entry into his apartment should have been suppressed.

A. GOVERNING PRINCIPLES.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States ...


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