United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Austin McHugh United States District Judge
Raheem Pleasant stands accused of taking part in four
robberies. He was arrested following an investigation that
involved a number of law enforcement techniques.
pretrial motions have been filed, and following briefing, a
full evidentiary hearing was held, rendering the motions now
ripe for resolution.
Defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical
Pleasant seeks to suppress physical evidence found in his
car-a fake gun, two ski masks, and plastic bags-because he
believes his arrest and the subsequent search of his car
violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from
unreasonable search and seizure.
a bank robbery that occurred on January 2, 2017, police
reviewed the security camera footage from the bank and nearby
businesses. As a result of that review, they were able to
identify a burgundy sedan with two missing hub caps. In
addition to the missing hubcaps, the vehicle had a rear
spoiler, tinted windows, two window visors, and a prominent
Chevrolet Impala logo on the side pillar. A Philadelphia
police detective assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force
pondered the suspects' likely route of travel and,
following his intuition, continued to gather footage from
available surveillance cameras to trace its path. On one
recording, the detective observed an item being thrown from
the suspect vehicle that visually appeared to have fluttered
to the ground. Upon site inspection he recovered a black
scarf. Later, approximately one block away, the detective
recovered two black gloves along the car's route of
description of the car was broadcast, and on January 10,
2017, Philadelphia police officers located the vehicle parked
approximately five miles from the site of the robbery. The
license plate was communicated to the case investigators, who
determined through records that it was owned by Defendant
Raheem Pleasant. They then compared surveillance photographs
from the bank with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicle
photo for Mr. Pleasant, as well as with photos in a law
enforcement database, and positively identified him as one of
the two bank robbers. In the bank surveillance photographs,
one of the robbers can be shown to be wearing a black scarf,
partially covering his face with it, and two black gloves.
agent assigned to the case, Special Agent Percy Giles,
proceeded to the scene where the car was parked. When Mr.
Pleasant returned to the vehicle he was asked to accompany
the agent to the FBI offices in Philadelphia. The Government
does not dispute that this constituted an arrest. As the FBI
was questioning Mr. Pleasant, officers from Upper Darby
Township in Delaware County presented an arrest warrant in
connection with one of the other open bank robbery cases, and
Defendant was remanded into their custody. That same day,
Philadelphia police were instructed to impound the vehicle.
Also on January 10, Mr. Pleasant's girlfriend was shown
photographs from the bank surveillance camera, and positively
identified him as one of the robbers. The Government secured
a federal arrest warrant on January 12, 2017, secured a
warrant to search the car on January 17, and ultimately
conducted the search on January 18, finding ski masks, a fake
firearm that was consistent in appearance with the handgun
seen on the bank surveillance video and as described by
witnesses, and crumpled plastic bags similar to ones used in
these facts, I have a little hesitation in denying the Motion
to Suppress. Thoughtful and diligent police work making use
of surveillance cameras provided investigators with a clear
description of the vehicle. When Philadelphia police located
the vehicle, a comparison of available photographs of Mr.
Pleasant provided convincing evidence that he was one of the
two robbers. For probable cause to exist, there need only be
a “fair probability that the person committed the crime
at issue” and the standard is met when the “facts
and circumstances within the arresting officer's
knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a
reasonable person to believe that an offense has been
committed by the person to be arrested.” Wilson v.
Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 789 (3d Cir. 2000); see also
United States v. Edwards, No. CRIM. 11-735, 2013 WL
2256125, at *12 (E.D. Pa. May 23, 2013), aff'd,
591 F. App'x 156 (3d Cir. 2014) (finding probable cause
on similar facts).
leaves the question whether police had a reasonable basis
upon which to seize Defendant's car. Florida v.
White, 526 US. 559 (1999), is the controlling case.
There, the Supreme Court held that the police have authority
to seize a vehicle from a public street if they have a
reasonable belief that the vehicle “may have been used
at some point in the past to assist in illegal
activity.” Id. at 567. The Court held that a
lesser standard was applicable because police activities such
as towing a vehicle which is parked in a public street does
“not involve any invasion of [the owner's]
privacy.” Id. at 566. The Court further noted
that seizure of a vehicle can be required because of the
nature of automobiles-their inherent mobility creates a risk
that evidence can be lost. Law enforcement concern over
possible loss of evidence is underscored by the facts of this
case, because the defendant sought to have a family member
tow the car after he was arrested.
the police could have searched the vehicle without securing a
warrant, because the United States Supreme Court has given
the automobile exception an expansive interpretation.
United States v. Donahue, 764 F.3d 293, 295 (3d Cir.
2014). Here, however, the agents took the additional
precaution of securing a warrant before searching the
vehicle. Eight days elapsed from the time the vehicle was
seized to the time it was searched, and the defense argues
that in some way this undermined the existence of probable
cause. With the vehicle impounded the evidence was secure.
Furthermore, the investigators continued to accumulate more
evidence, making the case for searching the vehicle that much
stronger. In the context of a warrantless search of a seized
vehicle, the Third Circuit has held that a delay of five days
was “immaterial, ” Donovan, 764 F.3d at
300, and cited with approval one case approving a warrantless
search 38 days after impound, United States v.
Gastiaburo, 16 F.3d 582 (4th Cir. 1994), and another
upholding a search seven days after seizure, United
States v. McHugh, 769 F.2d 860 (1st Cir. 1985). See
also United States v. Jones, 994 F.2d 1051 (3d Cir.
1983) (passage of two weeks between the time of the robbery
and time of the search was not so long as to undermine
probability that perpetrators would still have possession of
the robbery proceeds).
regard, authorities here were investigating an ongoing
series of bank robberies, supporting an inference
that the defendant would likely still possess the handgun
displayed at the various banks or other instrumentalities it
used to carry out the crimes. Once again, the record shows
that such an inference is supportable, because the FBI did in
fact recover the firearm, bags, and masks that appear to have
been used by the robbers. Finally, it bears emphasis that
ultimately the search was conducted pursuant to a warrant
that was based upon a detailed affidavit of probable cause.
The agents performing the search were entitled to rely on the
presumed validity of the warrant. United States v.
Williams, 3 F.3d 69 (3d Cir. 1993). For these reasons,
the Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence will be denied.
Defendant's Motion to Suppress Out-of-Court
witnesses to the bank robberies have viewed photo arrays and
identified Defendant Pleasant as one of the bank robbers.
Defendant now argues that those identifications violated his
constitutional right to due process and, as a result, the