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United States of America v. Keena J. Stanton

October 10, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KEENA J. STANTON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court is a motion to suppress evidence filed by Defendant Keena J. Stanton ("Defendant") on February 21, 2012.*fn1 (Docket No. 54). Defendant seeks to suppress:

(1) a Mossberg .20 gauge shotgun wrapped in clothing that was thrown from a vehicle he was driving on July 31, 2010 during a vehicle pursuit with Pittsburgh police; (2) statements he made while being taken into custody following that same vehicle pursuit; and (3) a quantity of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia recovered during a search of a residence at 310 Broadway Avenue, Pitcairn, where Defendant was present on September 9, 2010. Id. Defendant generally complains that such evidence was collected illegally or improperly and should therefore be ruled inadmissible. Id. The Government opposes Defendant's motion, arguing initially that he lacks standing to make these evidentiary objections, and alternatively, that the Government will present sufficient facts to justify its collection of the challenged evidence at a suppression hearing. (Docket No. 61).

Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the transcript of the hearing, (Docket No. 77), the Court rules that Defendant lacks standing to challenge the admission into evidence of the shotgun from the incident on July 31, 2010. Because he has demonstrated standing to challenge the use of his statements concerning his gang affiliation into evidence and the evidence gathered during the September 9, 2010 search of the residence, however, a suppression hearing will be ordered.

I.BACKGROUND

On January 31, 2012, a grand jury returned a five count superseding indictment against Defendant. (Docket No. 37). Therein, Defendant is charged with two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Id. at 2-3. At Count Three he is charged with Maintaining a Drug Involved Premises, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1). Id. at 4. Count Four charges Defendant with Possession with Intent to Distribute Crack Cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). Id. at 5. In Count Five, he is charged with Possession of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). Defendant was arraigned on February 7, 2012 at which time he pled not guilty. (Docket No. 42).

On June 7, 2012, Defendant filed this Motion to Suppress the evidence gathered on July 31, 2010 and September 9, 2010.*fn2 (Docket No. 54). Specifically, Defendant claims that on July 31, 2010, he was pursued by plain-clothed police officers in an unmarked police vehicle while he was driving a white Buick Regal in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. Id. at 2. The officers were patrolling the area due to violent shootings in the area. Id. During the pursuit, officers observed a large weapon being thrown from the passenger side of the Buick Regal. Id. After Defendant's vehicle was stopped, another officer retrieved a .20 gauge shotgun wrapped in a pair of jeans. Id. While being taken into custody, Defendant allegedly shouted that he was a Crip and that "this ain't nothing." Id. At that time, the police had not given him any warnings regarding his constitutional rights, nor did he waive those rights prior to interrogation. Id. at 3.

As to the September 9, 2010 search, Defendant alleges that officers with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department, Pitcairn Police Department, and Allegheny County Adult Probation Office attempted to serve a bench warrant on him by conducting a warrantless entry into a residence at 310 Broadway Avenue, Apartment 3 in Pitcairn. Id. He avers that this address was not listed with probation as his address. Id. at 4.

After entering the premises but prior to locating Defendant, officers saw a digital scale and a knotted plastic bag containing crack cocaine in the living room. Id. at 3. Defendant was then found in the bedroom and his person was searched. Id. An officer conducting the pat-down felt a lump in Defendant's pocket, and after searching the pocket, a knotted plastic bag containing crack cocaine fell out. Id. Another unknown person in the residence later gave police consent to search the premises. Id. Two pistols were subsequently recovered. Id.

The motion also references a police report for at least one of these incidents. Id. A number of police reports have already been filed with the Court, see Docket No. 34-1, and the facts contained in the reports both parallel Defendant's allegations and shed light on the underlying incidents. These reports confirm that on July 31, 2010, Defendant was involved in a vehicle pursuit, which was initiated after Pittsburgh Police observed Defendant failing to stop at a stop sign. Id. at 1. Although the officers activated their lights and quickly pulled the vehicle over, Defendant pulled away when the officers approached his car on foot. Id. at 2. Eventually, Defendant pulled over and was ordered to lay on the ground. Id. As he was being placed into a police transport vehicle, the reports confirm that Defendant shouted "I'm a Crip! This ain't nothing! I'm a Crip!" Id. The reports do not mention whether he was advised of his constitutional rights prior to making such statements, nor do the reports provide any additional contextual facts relating to the reason why those statements were made. With respect to the September 9, 2010 search, the police reports confirm all the facts Defendant provided in his motion. (Docket No. 34-3).

A hearing regarding Defendant's standing to bring his motion to suppress was attempted on July 13, 2012. (Docket No. 69). Because Defendant's witness was unavailable to testify that day, a continuance was granted upon his attorney's oral motion. (Docket No. 70). At the second hearing on August 15, 2012, Defendant's attorney again reported that she was unable to secure her witness's presence at the proceeding and told the Court that there were no other witnesses who would testify with respect to the standing issue. (Docket Nos. 73, 77). In light of the fact that Defendant produced no witnesses for the hearing, the Government declined to call witnesses or provide further argument. (Docket No. 77, at 5). Following the hearing, the Court ordered the transcript and closed the evidentiary record as to the Government's challenge to Defendant's standing to bring the motion to suppress. (Docket No. 74). That issue is now ripe.

II.DISCUSSION

Rule 12(b)(3)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits a defendant to file a motion to suppress evidence before trial, but an evidentiary hearing on such a motion is not compulsory. See FED. R. CRIM. P. 12(c) (stating "The court ... may also schedule a motion hearing") (emphasis added). To require a suppression hearing, "a suppression motion must raise 'issues of fact material to the resolution of the defendant's constitutional claim.'" United States v. Hines, 628 F.3d 101, 105 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Voigt, 89 F.3d 1050, 1067 (3d Cir. 1996)). In addition, the suppression motion must be "sufficiently specific, nonconjectural, and detailed to enable the court to conclude that (1) the defendant has presented a colorable constitutional claim, and (2) there are disputed issues of material fact that will affect the outcome of the motion to suppress." Hines, 628 F.3d at 105 (citing Voigt, 89 F.3d at 1067; United States v. Brink, 39 F.3d 419, 424 (2d Cir. ...


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