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United States v. Hodge

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 21, 2017



          SYLVIA H. RAMBO United States District Judge.

         Before this court are Defendant Tajie Reshane Hodge's motions (Docs. 28 & 31) to suppress statements made to law enforcement during a traffic stop and a subsequent search of her home several hours after the stop. In her first motion, Defendant argues that her statements to police while executing a search warrant of her home should be suppressed because she was subject to custodial interrogation without being informed of her Miranda[1] rights; alternatively, she argues that, if she was advised of her Miranda rights, she did not waive those rights knowingly, voluntarily, or intelligently. (Doc. 29 at 3-4). In that motion, Defendant also seeks suppression of the fruits of law enforcement's search of her cell phone and vehicle, arguing that she did not voluntarily consent to those searches. (Doc. 29 at 9). In her second motion, Defendant argues that her statements during a preceding traffic stop should be suppressed because police impermissibly extended the stop. (Doc. 32 at 3). After careful consideration of these arguments, the court will deny Defendant's motions in their entirety.

         I. Background

         On August 24, 2016, Defendant and her husband, Carl Theodore Hodge, were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(iii), 846 (Count 1), and four counts of distribution of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(iii) (Counts 2-5). (Doc. 1 at 2-5). The charges stem from controlled drug transactions occurring between Defendant's husband and a confidential informant from July 25, 2016, to July 27, 2016. (Id.) Defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges against her on October 4, 2016. (Doc. 15).

         On November 18, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements made to law enforcement during the execution of a search warrant of her home. (Doc. 28). On November 30, 2016, Defendant filed a supplemental motion to suppress videotaped statements from a traffic stop preceding the home search. (Doc. 31). On May 17, 2017, [2] a suppression hearing was held on the motions. (Doc. 53). At the conclusion of the hearing, the court requested the Government file a response to Defendant's motions. On June 6, 2017, the Government filed its opposition brief, arguing that Defendant was advised of her Miranda rights and voluntarily waived those rights prior to making statements to law enforcement. (Doc. 61 at 6-7). On June 20, 2017, Defendant filed her reply. (Doc. 73).

         II. Findings of Fact

         At the suppression hearing, the court heard testimony from three law enforcement officers who were part of a York County Drug Task Force (“Drug Task Force”) that was investigating Defendant's husband for drug transactions: Detectives Scott Nadzom and Andrew Shaffer of the York City Police Department (“YCPD”), and Special Agent Ryan Anderson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”). The court gleans the following facts from their testimony, the evidence introduced at the hearing, and Defendant's own motions.[3]

         After receiving information from a confidential informant about suspected drug transactions, the Drug Task Force, under Detective Nadzom's direction, began investigating and surveilling Defendant's husband. The Drug Task Force conducted controlled drug transactions between the informant and Defendant's husband on July 25 and 26, 2016. When those transactions took place, Detective Nadzom and other YCPD officers also observed Defendant, who was operating a Nissan Altima. Based on these transactions, at 10:55 a.m. on July 27, 2016, Detective Nadzom obtained a search warrant for Defendant's and her husband's home. At 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. that day, Detective Nadzom conducted two more controlled drug transactions with Defendant's husband.

         The next morning, at approximately 3:27 a.m., YCPD Officer Vincent Monte, who was not part of the Drug Task Force investigating Defendant's husband, observed Defendant driving her Nissan Altima with an inoperable license-plate lamp. Officer Monte performed a traffic stop of the vehicle. Although the initial stop was not recorded by his motor vehicle recording device (MVR), which was non-operational at the time, Officer Monte's subsequent interactions once he approached Defendant's vehicle were videotaped by his body camera. The videotape, which was introduced into evidence at the suppression hearing, reveals the following.

         Defendant provided Officer Monte with her vehicle's insurance information, but stated that she left her identification in her husband's vehicle. Defendant recalled her driver's license number from memory and provided Officer Monte with her name, license number, and current address. Officer Monte then explained that he stopped Defendant because “the license plate lights on the vehicle are out, ”[4] and asked Defendant where she was coming from and going to. Defendant initially said she was coming from her home and headed to a friend's house, but immediately after this statement, Defendant revealed that she was “actually . . . looking for [her] husband, to be honest, ” and said that her husband was “doing something he ain't supposed to be doing.” Officer Monte did not inquire further, but returned to his vehicle for six minutes, during which time he inputted Defendant's information in his computer, learned that Defendant's license was suspended, and wrote a traffic citation. Officer Monte returned to Defendant's vehicle, handed back her insurance card, and asked if she was aware that her license was suspended. Defendant responded that she was unaware, at which point she answered an incoming cell phone call. When Defendant's brief phone conversation ended, she explained to Officer Monte that she had traffic tickets, but thought that her license was not suspended because she had paid a fine. Officer Monte issued Defendant a citation for driving with a suspended license, but explained that, if she resolved the issue with Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation, he would request the citation be dismissed.

         Officer Monte then asked whether Defendant was able to get in contact with her husband; she responded that she was not. Apparently familiar with Defendant's husband, Officer Monte inquired if her husband's name was Carl, to which Defendant responded affirmatively. Officer Monte said that he had not seen her husband that night. Unprompted by any further questioning from Officer Monte, Defendant then asked, “Can I tell you something?” Officer Monte indicated that she could, and Defendant proceeded to give Officer Monte detailed information regarding her husband's involvement in drug transactions.

         Defendant told Officer Monte that her husband was selling “a lot of drugs, ” specified an amount of approximately 100 grams, and indicated that she was trying to report it to Detective Nadzom. Defendant also provided Officer Monte with her husband's three cell phone numbers and the contact information of persons with whom her husband was buying and selling. Officer Monte asked if Defendant's husband kept the drugs on him, to which she responded affirmatively. Defendant detailed that her husband primarily sold crack and disclosed that he bought a .40 caliber firearm, which he kept at a friend's home. Defendant also indicated where, and who, “cooks up” the drugs for her husband, as well as what kind of vehicle her husband drives. Officer Monte said that he appreciated Defendant's willingness to give him the information about her husband, and, based on the information, said that he would “see what [he] could do” regarding the suspended license citation. It is unclear when the traffic stop precisely terminated, as the body camera video footage ended shortly after these statements. The total videotape lasted approximately twenty minutes.

         About two hours after the stop, at 5:42 a.m., Officer Monte emailed Detective Nadzom about the information Defendant had provided. At the time of the email, Detective Nadzom was staking out Defendant's residence in preparation for executing the previously obtained search warrant. At 6:05 a.m., Detective Nadzom and a “conglomerate” of approximately eight other officers from the Drug Task Force, including Special Agent Anderson and Detective Andrew Shaffer, executed the search warrant at Defendant's-and her husband's-residence.

         The officers knocked and announced their presence, and, with firearms unholstered, entered the home and performed a protective sweep of the premises. The officers brought the home's occupants, consisting of Defendant, who was in the second floor hallway, as well as her five-year-old daughter and a nineteen-year-old female friend, who were sleeping on a couch in the first floor's front room, to the home's living room. Defendant was handcuffed[5] and read the search warrant, which identified her husband as the owner of the premises. Detective Nadzom advised Defendant of her Miranda rights and asked Defendant if she understood her rights. Defendant verbally acknowledged that she understood her rights.

         While officers searched the home, Defendant requested to speak with Detective Nadzom. Defendant was brought to the kitchen in the rear of the home and initially spoke only with Detective Nadzom, but, at times, Special Agent Anderson and Detective Shaffer joined the conversation. During the conversation, which lasted approximately thirty minutes and during which time the officers' firearms were holstered, Defendant made incriminating statements. No threat or use of force was utilized. Special Agent Anderson and Detective Shaffer both testified that Defendant was cordial, candid, and cooperative, was able to maintain “intelligent conversations, ” did not ...

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