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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017

ANDREW M. JONES, Defendant,


          Joy Flowers Conti Chief United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Defendant Andrew Jones (“Jones”) filed a motion to suppress evidence (ECF No. 33). The government filed a response in opposition to the motion. On January 5, 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing. The parties were permitted to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The parties filed those post-hearing submissions on March 1, 2017. The motion is ripe for disposition.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Jones is charged in a one-count indictment at Criminal Number 16-27 with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon on January 31, 2016, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922 (g) (1). In his suppression motion, Jones argues that law enforcement agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to an unlawful traffic stop without reasonable suspicion. Jones argues that his subsequent arrest was without probable cause and did not fall within any exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Jones claims, therefore, that the search of his vehicle was not incident to a legal arrest. He seeks to suppress evidence gathered during the search of the vehicle, in particular, the firearm that officers recovered from the vehicle. Jones' motion also sought to suppress any statements made by him as fruits of the illegal arrest, but counsel clarified that he was challenging only the stop and search of the vehicle. (Transcript, ECF No. 55 at 12).[1]

         Findings of Fact

         1. Jones and Pittsburgh Police Officer Gino Macioce (“Macioce”) testified at the hearing. Other than with respect to testimony about Jones' leaning in an effort to conceal something, Macioce offered credible testimony regarding the events that transpired on the evening of January 31, 2016. Jones testified credibly regarding his temporary use of the vehicle. The government submitted two exhibits, a dashboard camera (“dashcam”) video of the encounter (Govt. Ex. 1) and four reports prepared by officers after the incident (Govt. Ex. 2).

         2. Jones obtained permission to borrow his cousin's vehicle to drive to his girlfriend's house approximately four or five hours before the incident. (T. 18). He had not previously borrowed the car. (T. 18).

         3. On the night of January 31, 2016, Macioce and his partner Robert Connors (“Connors”) were patrolling the Zone 5 area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, near the 7300 block of Bennett Street in Homewood in a marked police vehicle. (T. 24-25).

         4. Around 2:50 a.m., the officers observed a silver Nissan Altima stop at a stop sign, proceed, and “abruptly” stop again mid-block. (T. 26, 35).

         5. The driver accelerated at an unusually high rate of speed, seemingly exceeding the 25 miles per hour limit. (T. 35).

         6. Macioce observed the vehicle cross the double center line “two to three times” for “two to three seconds at a time, ” almost striking an oncoming vehicle. (T. 26). He also observed that the vehicle abruptly started and stopped and was not smoothly driven. (T. 26). The vehicle did not maintain a safe distance from the car in front of it. (T. 27). Most of these violations were not captured on the dashcam video, which only began recording thirty seconds prior to activating the lights, which was a standard function of the software. (T. 26-28).

         7. As the officers continued to follow the vehicle, they observed that the center brake light was inoperable (T. 26).

         8. Macioce believed at the time that the inoperable center brake light was a violation of the general lighting requirements of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. (T. 27, 31).

         9. According to Macioce, the “very quick braking, ” the “very quick accelerating, ” the “swaying and going over the line, ” suggested, cumulatively, that the driver was possibly intoxicated. (T. 37).

         10. The officers activated the police lights when the vehicle driven by Jones and another vehicle pulled into the parking lot of the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum. (T. 33-34).

         11. Macioce testified that he observed Jones lean over toward the right side of the vehicle, which he interpreted as an act of concealment. (T. 34, 38). The “lean” is not visible on the dashcam video and the court in not able to credit the testimony of Macioce with respect to the lean. In light of the observations about the erratic driving and the vehicle being turned by Jones into a parking lot, the court concludes that Macioce had a mistaken belief about observing the lean. Under the circumstances, the court does not consider his testimony about that belief to be a deliberate falsehood and will not consider that the mistake tainted his other observations.

         12. After the two cars parked, Macioce approached the passenger side of the vehicle driven by Jones with a flashlight in hand and his gun in the holster. (T. 38-39).

         13. Connors simultaneously approached the driver's side of the vehicle with his gun in the holster. (T. 39).[2]

         14. When Macioce illuminated the backseat of the vehicle with his flashlight, he saw a gun on the floorboard, directly behind the passenger seat. (T. 38-39, dashcam video).

         15. Immediately thereafter, Macioce can be heard on the dashcam video exclaiming, “gun, gun.” Both officers drew their weapons and ordered Jones to remain in place. (T. 39, dashcam video).

         16. Jones was ordered to keep his hands on the steering wheel and to step slowly out of the vehicle while showing his hands. (dashcam video).

         17. The officers handcuffed Jones and frisked his person. (dashcam video).

         18. Jones informed the officers that the car he was driving was his cousin's vehicle. (T. 18). The officers contacted the vehicle's owner, who confirmed that Jones had permission to drive it. (T. 49, dashcam video).

         19. Officers retrieved a firearm from the floorboard behind the passenger seat. (T.39, dashcam video).

         20. Officers checked Jones' identification and informed him they were going to investigate the ...

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