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United States v. Greene

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2017



          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

         Before me are three (3) motions to suppress filed by Defendant Tyrone Greene. (Docs. 75, 77, 79). For the reasons that follow, I will deny the motions.

         I. Background

         On November 20, 2014, at approximately 9:15 p.m., Officer Mark Stefanowicz of the Hanover Township Police Department observed a white van allegedly traveling without its headlights or taillights activated. (Doc. 90, at 53-54). As a result, Officer Stefanowicz initiated a traffic stop of the van on Knox Street in Hanover Township. Id. at 58. He approached the driver's side of the vehicle and asked the driver, Jennifer Manley, for her driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Id. at 56. Ms. Manley did not produce any of those documents; instead, she handed Officer Stefanowicz a New York state benefits card and a Hertz rental car agreement. Id. The rental car agreement was in the name of "Kevin Hurtudo-Moreno." Id. at 57. The front seat passenger, Defendant Tyrone Greene, stated that Mr. Hurtudo-Moreno was his brother. Id. The rental agreement did not list any other authorized drivers. Id.

         As Officer Stefanowicz was speaking with the occupants of the van, he allegedly detected what he recognized to be an odor of unburnt marijuana in the vehicle. Id. At 58-59. Moreover, according to the Officer, Mr. Greene

exhibited a number of suspicious behaviors, including, but not limited to, the following: repeatedly seeking to leave, and attempting to leave, the scene of the traffic stop and enter a residence located at 29 Knox Street, purportedly to bring food inside, despite being advised by Officer Stefanowicz that he was required to stay; initially standing up and then sitting back down in the passenger seat when ordered out of the vehicle; and standing up and reaching for his waistband, as though trying to conceal something on his person.

(Doc. 83, at 3; see also doc. 90, at 59-60).

         In light of the above, Officer Stefanowicz conducted a "Terry frisk" of Mr. Greene, and located a bag of marijuana. (Doc. 90, at 63-65). Having placed Mr. Greene under arrest for possession of marijuana, Officer Stefanowicz attempted to turn Mr. Greene around to conduct a further search but apparently noticed that Mr. Greene was bending over and walking "in a manner as if to conceal something on his person." (Doc. 83, at 4; Doc. 90, at 65-66; 69). Mr. Greene then vomited on the ground. (Doc. 90, at 16). He was told to remain on the sidewalk with an officer who had responded to the scene. Id. at 67. In the meantime, Officer Stefanowicz conducted a search of the van and located .40 caliber bullets in the glove box. Id. at 68. The Officer also located .40 caliber bullets in Ms. Manley's purse, along with a marijuana “blunt.” Id.

         When Mr. Greene was being escorted to a police car, he apparently continued to walk "in a strange, unusual manner, consistent with attempting to conceal something in his clothing or on his person." (Doc. 83, at 6). Mr. Greene was then searched by an assisting officer, who located a handgun on Mr. Greene's person. (Doc. 90, at 70). Subsequent investigation revealed that the weapon - a Beretta, Model 90, .40 caliber handgun, serial number "TY00129" - was reported stolen in New York state and that Mr. Greene is a previously convicted felon who is prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition. (Doc. 83, at 35-36). Mr. Greene was also found to be in possession of $4, 000. (Doc. 90, at 74).

         As a result of the incident, Ms. Manley was charged with driving without a license, driving after dark without lights on, and possession of marijuana. (Doc. 83-1).

         On February 3, 2015, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Mr. Greene with Count 1 - Convicted Felon in Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922 § (g)(1); and Count 2 - Possession of Marijuana, a Schedule I Controlled Substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). (Doc. 1). The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation. Id.

         In light of the foregoing, Mr. Greene has filed three pretrial motions, including (1) "Motion to Suppress Stop of Vehicle" (Doc. 75); (2) "Motion to Suppress Seizure of Defendant" (Doc. 77); and (3) "Motion to Suppress Statements of Defendant." (Doc. 79). A hearing on the motion was held on April 10, 2017. The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition. I will address each in turn.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV; see also 48 U.S.C. § 1561 (“The right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.”). “Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable and are therefore prohibited under the Fourth Amendment, unless an exception applies.” United States v. Mundy, 621 F.3d 283, 287 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 580 (1991)). “[U]nder the exception to the warrant requirement established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), the Supreme Court has held that police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot even if the officer lacks probable cause.” United States v. Mathurin, 561 F.3d 170, 173-74 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581(1989)).

         The Third Circuit has held that “the Terry reasonable suspicion standard applies to routine traffic stops” based on suspected traffic offenses. United States v. Delfin-Colina, 464 F.3d 392, 397 (3d Cir. 2006). As the Supreme Court has found, “in a traffic-stop setting, the first Terry condition-a lawful investigatory stop-is met whenever it is lawful for police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation.” Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 327, 129 S.Ct. 781, 784 (2009).

         As a general rule, the burden of proof is on a defendant who seeks to suppress evidence. Unites States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995). However, once the defendant has established a basis for his motion, such as establishing that the search or seizure was conducted without a warrant, “the government bears the burden of showing that each individual act constituting a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment was reasonable.” United States v. Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 261 (3d Cir. 2002). The applicable burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 178 n.14, 94 S.Ct. 988, 996 (1974).

         III. Discussion

         1. Motion to Suppress the Traffic Stop (Doc. 75)

         Mr. Greene's first motion seeks to suppress the traffic stop of the van by Officer Stefanowicz. Mr. Greene argues that "the seizure of the vehicle was unlawful as it was conducted without articulable and reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot." (Doc. 75, at 2). Mr. Greene believes that Officer Stefanowicz stopped “the vehicle on an unverified hunch of criminal activity, " and the failure to use headlights and taillights was a mere pretext to initiate the stop. (Doc. 76, at 2). Attached to the m otion is a “Verification in Support of Motion to Suppress” signed by Mr. Greene, which argues that “[t]he officer followed the vehicle for far longer than would have been safe if the headlights and taillights were not operating.” (Doc. 75-2, at 1).

         “It is well-established that a traffic stop is lawful under the Fourth Amendment where a police officer observes a violation of the state traffic regulations.” United States v. Moorefield, 111 F.3d 10, 12 (3d Cir. 1997). “[A]ny technical violation of a traffic code legitimizes a stop, even if the stop is merely pretext for an ...

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