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United States of America v. Akilah Shabazz

October 5, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
AKILAH SHABAZZ



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Currently before the Court are two pre-trial motions: Defendant Akilah Shabazz's pro se Motion to Suppress Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(C) (Doc. 87) and the United States of America's Motion to Admit Evidence Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) (Doc. 72). Because the seizure of certain items from Shabazz's rental vehicle are justified under the plain view doctrine but others are not, Shabazz's Motion to Suppress will be granted in part and denied in part. Because the evidence of Shabazz's prior bad acts is relevant, is offered for several proper purposes, and its probative value is not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Shabazz, the government's Motion to Admit Evidence Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On June 25, 2011, Defendant Akilah Shabazz was a passenger in a rental vehicle stopped for speeding by Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Michael T. Carroll. Kenneth F. Thompson was driving the vehicle and Shabazz was in the back seat. Corporal Carroll testified in his Affidavit of Probable Cause that he smelled marijuana from inside the vehicle, and he summoned a canine unit to further investigate. Shabazz was removed from the vehicle, and the right rear door was left open. Although consent to search the vehicle was denied, the canine entered the vehicle through the open door while executing an outside air sniff. The dog indicated a positive hit for narcotics and a search warrant was obtained. The warrant specified that the following items were to be searched for: drugs and drug paraphernalia, illegal proceeds and fruits of crime from narcotics activities, documentation of illegal narcotics activities, and weapons. Although no drugs were ultimately discovered, twelve (12) fictitious driver's licenses were found with Shabazz's apparent photograph as well as counterfeit business and personal checks.

The matter was referred to the United States Secret Service. Secret Service Special Agent David Baker presented an affidavit of probable cause in support of the criminal complaint, and Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued a warrant for Shabazz's arrest on November 1, 2011. On March 6, 2012, Shabazz was indicted with Aggravated Identity Theft under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1); Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Identification Documents under 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(3); Fictitious Obligations under 18 U.S.C. § 514(a)(1); and Conspiracy to commit the aforementioned crimes under 18 U.S.C. § 371. (Doc. 22.) Shabazz pleaded not guilty to all counts on March 15, 2012.

A Superseding Indictment was filed on June 12, 2012 for the same four crimes, but expanding the time period to on or about June 1, 2011 through June 30, 2011 and adding additional counts. Specifically, the Superseding Indictment charged Shabazz as a co-conspirator in possessing twenty-three (23) false identification documents, using the social security numbers of ten (10) individuals to unlawfully use such false identification documents, and possessing twelve (12) counterfeit business and personal checks. (Superseding Indictment at ¶¶ 5-7, Doc. 56.) The Grand Jury also charged Shabazz with nine counts of aggravated identity theft for using the identification of nine other individuals, fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, and seven counts of fictitious obligations for possession with intent to negotiate seven counterfeit checks. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-13.) As above, Shabazz pleaded not guilty to all counts. (Doc. 60.)

On August 29, 2012, the government filed its Motion to Admit Evidence Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). (Doc. 72.) In the motion, the government seeks to admit evidence of Shabazz's prior bad acts-prior instances where Shabazz engaged in conduct identical to the criminal conduct he is presently charged with-because such evidence is probative of Shabazz's knowledge, intent, and absence of mistake. Shabazz argues that this evidence should be excluded, as it would be highly prejudicial against him.

On September 12, 2012, Shabazz filed a pro se Motion to Suppress Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(C). (Doc. 87.) He argues that the evidence against him should be suppressed because he was subjected to an unreasonable search and seizure due to a pretextual traffic stop. He also seeks to suppress the evidence against him on the grounds that the items seized from his rental vehicle were not mentioned in the search warrant and were seized without a second warrant particularly describing them. These motions are now ripe for the Court's review and will be considered below.

ANALYSIS

I. Shabazz's Motion to Suppress Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(C)

A. Validity of the Traffic Stop

Shabazz seeks to suppress the fruits of an allegedly illegal search of his rental vehicle on the grounds that the initial traffic stop was pretextual. The Fourth Amendment guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." U.S. Const. amend IV. Because a traffic stop constitutes a seizure, it must be deemed reasonable to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 258 (2007); United States v. Mosley, 454 F.3d 249, 253--54 (3d Cir. 2006). To be consistent with the Fourth Amendment, an officer need only have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a vehicle has committed criminal activity to make a traffic stop. United States v. Delfin-Colina, 464 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2006). Any "technical violation of a traffic code legitimizes a stop, even if the stop is merely pretext for an investigation of some other crime." Mosley, 454 F.3d at 252. The reasonable suspicion standard requires only a "minimal level of objective justification," DelfinColina, 464 F.3d at 396, when looking at the totality of the circumstances as they were available to the officer prior to the stop. United States v. Goodrich, 450 F.3d 552, 559 (3d Cir. 2006). In determining whether the reasonable suspicion standard has been met, deference should be given to an officer's knowledge "of the nature and nuances of the type of criminal activity." United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 458 (3d. Cir. 2003).

Corporal Carroll's Affidavit of Probable Cause attached to the Search Warrant (Doc. 32, Ex. A) contains the following representations. At the relevant time, Corporal Carroll was the Vice-Highway Interdiction/PRT/Intelligence Units Supervisor for the Pennsylvania State Police at Troop "R" in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. On June 25, 2011, while monitoring traffic on Interstate 84 near Exit 1 in Dunmore Bourough, Pennsylvania, Carroll observed a white 2011 Chevrolet Traverse traveling at 74 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone. Carroll stopped the vehicle after it turned on Interstate 81 northbound near mile marker 188. The driver, Kenneth Thompson, was alone in the front and Shabazz was alone in the back.

The Court finds that Corporal Carroll's observation of the vehicle containing Thompson and Shabazz traveling nineteen (19) miles per hour over the posted speed limit supports a reasonable suspicion that the driver was speeding in violation of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. It is of no moment that neither Thompson nor Shabazz were cited by Corporal Carroll for the speeding violation. Because the vehicle was stopped on the reasonable, articulable suspicion that a traffic law ...


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