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United States v. Jackson

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 20, 2014



SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Presently before the court is Defendant's motion to suppress, which seeks exclusion of all evidence obtained by parole officers as the result of a warrantless search of his vehicle. Upon consideration of the testimony and evidence presented at the suppression hearing, the court concludes that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle and that Defendant did not consent to the search. The court will therefore grant the motion to suppress in its entirety.

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

On February 26, 2014, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment charging Defendant Donald Jackson Jr. with possession of cocaine base with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(C). (Doc. 1.) On March 4, 2014, Defendant pleaded not guilty to the indictment. (Doc. 10.) On July 7, 2014, Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence (Doc. 22) and brief in support (Doc. 23), wherein he argued that the cocaine base should be suppressed because state parole officers did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the search of the vehicle and that he did not consent to the search. (Doc. 22, ¶ 24.) On September 25, 2014, the court held a hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress, and on October 20, 2014, the Government filed a brief in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 47.) Therefore, the motion is ripe for consideration.

B. Factual Background

The court makes the following findings of fact based upon the evidence and testimony presented at the suppression hearing.

On December 17, 2013, Defendant, who was a parolee under the supervision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ("Parole Board"), borrowed his sister's 2005 Volvo to drive to Harrisburg Area Community College's ("HAAC") Midtown Campus, which is located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania, for his initial appearance at "Reentry Court" due to his history of parole violations, including testing positive for marijuana, violating curfew, and failing to retain employment. (Doc. 45, Hearing Transcript ("N.T.") at pp. 6-8, 53-55, 86, 98-100, 104-105.) At this time, Defendant possessed a valid Pennsylvania driver's license, permitting him to lawfully operate a vehicle.

Although the Parole Board directed Defendant to report to HACC's Midtown 2 Campus ("Midtown 2"), [1] Reentry Court is actually held at HACC's Midtown 1 Campus ("Midtown 1").[2] Uncertain as to where he was going, Defendant drove along Fourth Street and stopped at a crosswalk in front of Midtown 1 to allow Parole Agent Peter Hans ("Agent Hans") and Parole Agent Georgia Latsha ("Agent Latsha") to cross the street. (N.T. at pp. 12, 56, 100.) As he was stopped, Defendant looked to his far right toward Midtown 2 to assess his whereabouts. ( Id. at p. 100.)

Agent Hans and Agent Latsha have over thirty years combined experience as parole officers. ( Id. at pp. 6, 12, 52.) Agent Latsha had supervised Defendant in the past and recognized him as the driver of the Volvo. ( Id. at 56.) Agent Latsha identified Defendant to Agent Hans, who had never met Defendant, and both officers noticed that Defendant had turned his head away from them, which they testified was aimed at concealing his identity. ( Id. at pp. 13, 57.) At the hearing, Agent Hans testified that Jackson was "craning [his] head... all the way to the right, " and "appeared evasive, from [his] experience." ( Id. at p. 13.) Agent Latsha "found it odd that [Defendant] was trying to look away from her... [and] surmised from... [her] experience that perhaps he wasn't supposed to be driving." ( Id. at p. 57.)

Agent Hans and Agent Latsha proceeded to a second floor classroom to make preparations for that day's session. ( Id. at p. 15.) Other members of the Parole Board were also present, including Central Regional Director Kelly Evans ("Director Evans"), Chairman Potteiger, Parole Agent Matthew Shaffer ("Agent Shaffer"), and Parole Manager Yarnell Gorba. ( Id. at pp. 17-18.) Prior to bringing the parolees into the classroom, the officials discussed the parolees' case files. ( Id. at p. 15.) Defendant's parole history was discussed at this case file meeting. ( Id. at pp. 15, 59.)

After parking approximately one and a half blocks from Midtown 1, [3] Defendant entered the building and waited on the first floor with the other parolees. ( Id. at 17, 25, 110.) Still suspicious by Defendant's apparent evasiveness at the crosswalk, Agent Hans volunteered to go downstairs to accompany the parolees up to the classroom so that he would have a moment to speak alone with Defendant. ( Id. at 18.) As the group proceeded up the stairs, Agent Hans approached Defendant and introduced himself. ( Id. at pp. 18, 102.) He then asked Defendant to empty his pockets, and Defendant complied. ( Id. at p. 102.) Defendant pulled several belonging out of his pockets, including a cell phone, car keys, and cash. ( Id. ) Agent Hans took the car keys and instructed Defendant to proceed to the clas sroom with the other parolees.[4] ( Id. )

Defendant was the first parolee called to address the panel of parole officials. ( Id. at p. 103.) As he stood before them, his car keys sat visibly on the panel's table. ( Id. at pp. 61, 81, 87, 103.) In response to the panel's questions regarding his parole violations, Defendant was defensive but acknowledged his violations. ( Id. at pp. 62-63; Gov. Exh. 1, p. 3 of 4.) At some point during the panel's questioning, Agents Hans and Shaffer, acting at the direction of Chairman Potteiger, removed Defendant's car keys from the table and proceeded to leave the classroom to search his vehicle.[5] ( Id. at pp. 45-46, 77, 78.) Before they exited, however, Director Evans asked for Defendant's consent to the search. ( Id. at p. 77.) She first asked Defendant if there was anything in the vehicle that the officers needed to be made aware of prior to searching it, and he replied in the negative. ( Id. at p. 77; Gov. Exh. 7.) She then asked Defendant if he would consent to the search, to which Defendant refused, reasoning that he could not provide consent because it was not his vehicle. ( Id. at pp. 21, 24, 77, 93, 104-105; Gov. Exh. 7.) Director Evans explained to Defendant that he could, in fact, lawfully provide his consent to the search because the vehicle was under his control. ( Id. at p. 77, Gov. Exh. 7.) She then probed further for his consent, and Defendant reiterated that he could not provide it but suggested the officers contact his sister, the vehicle's owner, to ask for her consent. (N.T. at pp. 88, 104-105.) Agent Latsha stated that there was no reason to belabor the issue and advised Agents Hans and Shaffer to go search the vehicle.[6] ( Id. at p. 105.)

Agent Hans and Agent Shaffer "eventually found" the Volvo in an apartment complex on Reily Street. (N.T. at p. 25.) In the vehicle, they located hundreds of dollars in cash in the driver's side door and a plastic bag containing what appeared to be crack cocaine in the glove box. ( Id. at p. 26.) Pursuant to established procedure, they immediately secured the car and notified the Harrisburg Police Department. ( Id. at pp. 26-27.) Agent Shaffer then returned to the ...

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