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United States v. Holmes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 8, 2017



          Yvette Kane, District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Michael Holmes' motion to suppress evidence pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. No. 26.) For the following reasons, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 30, 2017, the Court conducted a suppression hearing on Defendant's Fourth Amendment claim. At that hearing, the Government offered the testimony of Officers Chad McGowan, Matthew Novchich, and Brandon Yeager of the Harrisburg Police Department as to the events surrounding the stop of Defendant's vehicle during the night of January 16, 2016, and offered six exhibits into evidence. Defendant testified on his own behalf and offered the testimony of Monique Serino, an investigator in the Federal Public Defender's Office.

         A. Factual Background

         On January 16, 2016, at approximately 1:20 a.m., Officer Chad McGowan and Officer Matthew Novchich were dispatched to 1353 Vernon Street in Harrisburg, PA, upon report of a domestic disturbance. (Tr. at 6: 2-7.) Both officers were dressed in full police uniform, and were driving a fully marked Harrisburg City Police vehicle. (Id. Tr. at 6: 8-12; 36: 25; 37: 1.) Officer Brandon Yeager also responded to the domestic disturbance call. (Id. Tr. At 6: 16-18; 51: 21-24.)

         While the three officers were on the porch of 1353 Vernon Street speaking with a male individual, [1] Officer McGowan heard a loud “crunch sound that happened, originated right behind me, right to my north.” (Id. Tr. at 7: 2-5; 37: 4-19.) He described it as “the sound of a vehicle hitting another vehicle, ” based on his four-year experience as a police officer and 14 years experience as a driver. (Id. Tr. at 7: 6-10.) After hearing the noise, Officer McGowan turned around and observed one vehicle driving on Vernon Street at the time, a navy blue Chevrolet Impala, which he described as “just passing our position.” (Id. Tr. at 7: 11-14.) Simultaneous with the “crunch” sound, Officer McGowan heard and observed a vehicle car alarm activate. (Id. Tr. at 7: 15-18.) Accordingly, Officer McGowan believed that the blue Chevrolet Impala had struck a parked car on Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 7: 20-22.)

         Officer Novchich heard a “loud bang or crunching sound” coming from behind them while the officers were on the porch, and turned around to see a dark blue sedan moving up the street. (Id. Tr. at 37: 17-21.) Like Officer McGowan, and “based upon being in the city for four-plus years investigating accidents and hearing many accidents happen in front of me, ” Officer Novchich concluded that the sound he heard was a vehicle striking another vehicle. (Id. Tr. at 37: 22-25; 38: 1.) He believed that the dark blue sedan had hit the driver's side of a minivan parked in front of 1353 Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 38: 18-22.)

         Similarly, while speaking with the individual on the porch of 1353 Vernon Street, Officer Yeager “heard a motor vehicle collision directly behind me, ” then “spun around to see a blue-in- color Chevrolet sedan that was traveling eastbound on Vernon Street.” (Id. Tr. at 52: 10-13.) He stated that he had heard the sound multiple times before, and that it “sounded like mirror contact on the vehicle. I believe the passenger side mirror would have made contact with the parked vehicle.” (Id. Tr. at 52: 16-20.)

         While still on the porch, Officer Novchich advised county dispatch of the fact that a hit and run accident had occurred in front of the officers, and offered a description of a navy blue sedan traveling eastbound on Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 39: 17-21; 53: 4-6.) At that time, Officer Yeager called out the license plate information of the suspect vehicle over the radio. (Id. Tr. at 39: 23-24; 53: 6.)

         After ascertaining that Officer Yeager was comfortable being left by himself at the scene of the domestic disturbance, Officers McGowan and Novchich made the decision to get in their police vehicle and attempt to initiate a traffic stop of the vehicle driving up Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 39: 5-11.) Neither Officer McGowan nor Officer Novchich stopped to examine the car they believed to have been hit. (Id. Tr. at 45: 22-25; 46: 1.)

         Officer Yeager stayed on the scene to complete the investigation of the domestic disturbance at 1353 Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 53: 7-9.) He also checked on the vehicle that the officers believed had been struck, and relayed the tag information, make, and model of the vehicle to county dispatch over the radio. (Id. Tr. at 53: 10-14.) Officer Yeager identified the owner through its registration and attempted contact with the owner, who lived on the first floor at 1353 Vernon Street. (Id. Tr. at 53: 16-25.) No one answered the door, despite the fact that someone looked out the window when he knocked. (Id. Tr. at 54: 3-5.) Officer Yeager could not recall seeing any damage to the vehicle, and did not complete a report for the incident. (Id. Tr. at 54: 12-14.) He “confirmed that that was the vehicle that was struck, whether it was by seeing the damage or when I spun around, that was the vehicle that was directly beside the striking vehicle.” (Id. Tr. at 54: 15-17.)

         Officers McGowan and Novchich followed the blue Chevrolet Impala from Vernon Street, onto 15th Street, and then onto Derry Street, ultimately stopping the vehicle in the 1400 block of Derry Street.[2] (Id. Tr. at 10: 23-25; 11: 1-18.) While Officer McGowan drove the police vehicle in pursuit of the blue Chevrolet Impala, Officer Novchich handled the radio transmission in the car.[3] (Id. Tr. at 8: 22-25; 9: 1-13.)

         When the blue Chevy Impala stopped south of 15th Street on Derry Street, Officer McGowan approached the vehicle on the driver's side, and observed the smell of marijuana emanating through the open front driver-side window. (Id. Tr. at 12: 12-20.) At about the same time, Officer Pierce, who was driving the Harrisburg City Police transport van that night and was on the scene, indicated to the officers over the police radio that he observed the ...

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