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United States of America v. Jerome Mario Britton

May 2, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


In this criminal case, Defendant was charged with four counts related to his alleged possession of two firearms and narcotics in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Presently before the court is Defendant's motion to suppress, in which he seeks to suppress physical evidence that was seized pursuant to a search of his home while he was on parole. (Doc. 20.) For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion to suppress will be denied.

I. Background

On January 30, 2013, Jerome M. Britton ("Defendant") was charged with four counts arising out of his alleged possession of firearms, one of which was allegedly stolen, and narcotics while he was on parole. (See Doc. 1.)*fn1 On March 6, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to suppress and brief in support, which requested that the court suppress any evidence seized from the person or residence of Defendant as a result of a search on December 17, 2012. (Doc. 20.) The basis for Defendant's motion was succinctly stated as follows:

On December 17, 2012[,] parole officers did not have grounds to support a reasonable suspicion that the Defendant had committed any violation of his parole. The parole search conducted at the Defendant's residence therefore violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and the two search warrants subsequently secured by the Harrisburg Police Department were tainted by the illegality of the original parole search.

(Id. at ¶ 13.) On April 23, 2013, the court conducted a suppression hearing on Defendant's motion.*fn2 Based upon the following facts established at the hearing, the court finds that the totality of the circumstances, as they existed at the time of the search, supported the parole agent's reasonable suspicion that Defendant was committing a violation of his parole, and therefore, the initial entry by parole agents did not violate Defendant's constitutional rights.

II. Findings of Fact

It is well-settled that at a hearing on a motion to suppress, the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions, and conclusions to be drawn therefrom, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge. United States v. Staten, 181 F. App'x 151, 156 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Gov't of V.I. v. Gereau, 502 F.2d 914, 921 (3d Cir. 1974) ("[A] fact-finder's determination of credibility is not subject to appellate review."). At the April 23, 2013 suppression hearing, the Government presented the testimony of Sergeant Detective Thomas Carter ("Sgt. Carter"), Parole Agent Michael Welsh ("Agent Welsh"), Parole Agent Supervisor Peter Hans ("Supervisor Hans"), Parole Agent Aaron Geedey ("Agent Geedey"), Harrisburg Detective Donald Heffner (Det. Heffner"), and Harrisburg Detective David Lau ("Det. Lau"). In addition to his own testimony, Defendant presented the testimony of his mother, Deidre Walker ("Walker"), and his girlfriend, Raquel Blackston ("Blackston"), who is also the mother of his child, J.B. Based upon the witnesses' testimony presented at trial and for the reasons that follow, the court found the testimony of the parole agents more credible than that of Defendant or Blackston. Thus, the credible evidence offered at the suppression hearing established the following facts.

On September 19, 2002, Defendant was convicted in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, and was thereafter convicted in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas on October 12, 2006. Defendant was released from incarceration on his state convictions on June 30, 2011, at which time he was placed under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Defendant was subject to strict conditions while on parole. Among these conditions, Defendant agreed to: comply with all municipal, county, state, and federal criminal laws (Gov. Ex. 1,¶ 4)*fn3 ; abstain from the unlawful possession or sale of narcotics, dangerous drugs, controlled substances, and drug paraphernalia (Id. at ¶ 5a); refrain from the possession of firearms, ammunition, or other weapons (Id. at ¶¶ 5b, 7); refrain from the possession of alcohol or regularly visiting establishments that dispense alcohol (Id. at ¶ 7); refrain from contacting or associating with persons who sell or use drugs (Id.); refrain from assaultive behavior (Id. at ¶ 5c); and submit to urinalysis testing, and achieve negative test results for the presence of controlled substances or other drugs (Id. at ¶ 5a). In addition, Defendant expressly agreed to warrantless searches of his person, property, and residence by parole supervision staff. This condition stated that:

I expressly consent to the search of my person, property and residence, without a warrant by agents of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Any items, in the possession of which constitutes a violation of parole/reparole shall be subject to seizure, and may be used as evidence in the parole revocation process. (Gov. Ex. 1,p. 1.)

Defendant was supervised by parole agents from the Harrisburg District Office of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the office which handles cases in the area of Defendant's approved residence. Agent Geedey of that office began to supervise Defendant in 2012. Agent Geedey also supervised Defendant's brother, Dion Britton.

The search at issue in this matter arose following the death of Dion Britton ("Dion").*fn4 On Saturday, December 15, 2012, Dion sustained two gun shot wounds. An individual, who was with Dion at the time of the shooting, called Dion's mother, Walker, for assistance. Walker contacted Defendant, and she and Defendant transported Dion to the hospital.

Unfortunately, Dion's injuries resulted in his death. Sgt. Carter of the Harrisburg Police Bureau met Defendant and Walker at the hospital. Defendant was uncooperative with Sgt. Carter's inquiries, inasmuch as Defendant refused to identify an individual, who Sgt. Carter represented was a person of interest, in a photo array.*fn5

During his preliminary investigation, Sgt. Carter received information that Defendant threatened the well-being of the unidentified individual who shot his brother via a post on the social media website, Facebook.*fn6 Sgt. Carter also learned that the person of interest was being supervised by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. On Monday, December 17, 2012, Sgt. Carter went to the parole office for the purpose of furthering the investigation of Dion's death. Sgt. Carter testified that he spoke with Agent Welsh, who was the supervising agent for the person of interest. Agent Welsh and Sgt. Carter exchanged information before Sgt. Carter left the parole office.

Agent Welsh testified that, following his encounter with Sgt. Carter on December 17, 2012, he received an anonymous phone call on his work-related mobile phone. The unidentified caller indicated that Defendant was "next." Agent Welsh interpreted the call as a threat against Defendant, which caused Agent Welsh to have concern for Defendant's safety. Agent Welsh testified that he did not recognize the ...

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