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United States v. Fields

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 15, 2017

LAMAR FIELDS, Defendant.


          Slomsky, J.


         Before the Court are two Motions to Suppress filed by pro se Defendant Lamar Fields: (1) a Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained on March 29, 2013 (Doc. No. 149); and (2) a Motion to Suppress Blank Prescription Pads (Doc. No. 163).

         In his first Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 149), Defendant asserts that items obtained from a March 29, 2013 traffic stop of a rental vehicle which Defendant was driving should be suppressed because the evidence resulted from an unlawful search and seizure of the vehicle. Defendant was not an authorized driver listed on the rental agreement. (Id. at 1.) In his second Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 163), Defendant moves to suppress blank prescription pads seized by Philadelphia Detective Thomas DiLauro on March 29, 2013 during the execution of a search warrant for a room occupied by Defendant at the North American Motor Lodge.[1]

         The Government filed two separate Responses in Opposition to both Motions to Suppress. (Doc. Nos. 155, 167.) The Court held hearings on the Motions on October 6, 16, and 30, 2017. For reasons that follow, the Court finds that the seizure of items from both March 29, 2013 searches were lawful. Accordingly, Defendant's Motions to Suppress (Doc. Nos. 149, 163) will be denied.


         Defendant Lamar Fields is charged with one count of conspiring to knowingly and intentionally distribute oxycodone, six counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing and aiding and abetting the distribution of oxycodone, [2] and six counts of knowingly and intentionally acquiring and aiding and abetting the acquisition of oxycodone by fraud, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a), and 842(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. (Doc. No. 134.) As part of its case-in-chief, the Government sought to admit evidence obtained from the search and seizure of a vehicle and motel on March 29, 2013. At the hearings held on the Motions to Suppress, the Government presented the testimony of Philadelphia Police Officers Michael Haas and Kevin Palmer. In addition, Detective Thomas DiLauro of the Philadelphia Police Department, Officer David LaRosa of the Lower Merion Township Police Department, and Detective Bryn Garner of the Lower Merion Police Department also testified.

         A. March 29, 2013 Traffic Stop

         Officer Michael Haas testified that on March 29, 2013, at approximately 11:15 a.m., he and Officer Kevin Palmer observed a gray or silver Ford Taurus vehicle driving southbound on 66th Street, approaching Lansdowne Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 206 at 17.) Both officers testified that from their marked police vehicle, they observed the Ford Taurus make a right-hand turn without signaling before heading westbound on 6600 Lansdowne Avenue. (Id. at 18.) When the Taurus entered the 6800 block of Lansdowne Avenue, it crossed over the yellow lines on the street, in violation of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3309(1).[3] (Id.) At this point, the officers turned on their car lights and siren to signal the Taurus to stop. (Id.) The Taurus then stopped. (Id. at 19.)

         The officers approached the vehicle, with Officer Haas going toward the driver's side and Officer Palmer the passenger's side. (Id.) Officer Haas testified that Defendant was the only occupant of the vehicle. (Id.) Officer Haas asked him for his driver's license, registration, and insurance. (Id. at 20, 50.) Defendant gave him a driver's license with the name, “Lamar Cooper, ” and car rental agreement from Budget, a rental car company. (Id.) Defendant's name was not listed on the rental agreement.[4] (Id. at 21.) Meanwhile, Officer Palmer looked around the vehicle for any suspicious items in plain view. (Id. at 50.) Officer Haas then asked Defendant his date of birth or his age. (Id. at 21.) Defendant's response, however, did not match the date of birth listed on the driver's license he produced. (Id. at 21, 51.) At this time, both officers noticed that Defendant was nervous and shaking. (Id. at 22, 52.) Defendant was also wearing sunglasses, which he did not remove while speaking with Officer Haas. (Id. at 22-23.)

         After reviewing the rental agreement, the officers notified Budget that an unauthorized person was driving its rented vehicle. (Id. at 23.) Budget requested that they seize the vehicle so that a representative of the company could later repossess it. (Id. at 25, 53.) For this reason, the officers seized the vehicle. They also seized the car because Defendant was an unauthorized driver of the vehicle pursuant to 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1574(a).[5] (Id. at 23, 25.) In compliance with Philadelphia police procedures following such a seizure, the officers conducted an inventory search of the car to ensure there were no weapons or contraband inside. (Id. at 23-24, 54-55.) Before the search commenced, Defendant was frisked by Officer Haas, who did not find anything on Defendant's person. (Doc. No. 206 at 32; Doc. No. 207 at 128.) During the search of the Taurus, Defendant remained either outside of the vehicle or in the police car. (Id.)

         Inside the glove box of the vehicle, a large sum of money was located by the officers. (Doc. No. 206 at 24.) The cash was loosely contained inside a purple Crown Royal liquor bag. (Id. at 28, 55.) There were no receipts or vouchers accounting for, or otherwise accompanying, the money. (Id. at 28.) When Officer Haas asked how much money was inside the bag, Defendant replied that it was approximately $7, 000. (Id.) Because of the considerable value of cash involved, Officer Haas contacted his supervisor, Sergeant Marlana Caprara, to come to the scene in order to have an additional witness view the money seized. (Id. at 24, 57-58; Doc. No. 207 at 116.)

         Next, the officers prepared a property receipt for the money which stated the following:

Below recovered from Lamar Cooper during a vehicle investigation at 6600 Landsdown [sic] Street, taken 20 $100 bills totaling $2, 000; six $50 bills totaling $300; 346 $20 bills totaling $6, 920; fourteen $10 bills totaling $140; fourteen $5 bills totaling $70; and seven $1 bills totaling $7 for a total of $9, 437.

(Id. at 28.)

         After Sergeant Caprara arrived at the scene, the officers continued to search the vehicle.[6] (Id. at 29.) In the trunk, they discovered several items of designer clothing, all of which appeared new. (Id. at 29, 31.) Officer Palmer testified that some of the clothing still had tags on them. (Id. at 56.) He prepared another property receipt to catalog the clothing. (Id.) The receipt stated as follows:

Eleven Nike shoe boxes, . . . one pair of Puma shoes with box, . . . three Gucci shoes with box, two Addidas [sic] shoes with box, three leather belts, one Gucci belt, five True Religion shorts, seven multi-colored Polo shorts, four cargo shorts and five pairs of Polo socks.

(Id. at 30.)

         Officer Palmer testified that Defendant had told the officers that the money was from a stand he had on 52nd or 57th Street in Philadelphia, and that the clothing items were for a friend who owned a store. (Id. at 55.) Officers Haas and Palmer also testified that Sergeant Caprara, speculating about the source of the items, told the officers that there were recent burglaries in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, which borders the district in which the officers were assigned that day. (Id. at 31, 60-61.) The burglaries involved high-end clothing and jewelry. (Id.)

         After completing the search of the vehicle at approximately 12:30 p.m., Officer Haas told Defendant that the officers were going to retain his money and take it back to the Nineteenth District's station. (Id. at 33.) Officer Haas further informed Defendant that if he wanted to receive his money and the property receipt, he should come to the station. (Id.) Defendant obliged and voluntarily accompanied Officer Haas in the police vehicle back to the station. (Id.; Doc. No. 207 at 121.) Meanwhile, Officer Palmer drove the Taurus back to the station. (Id.) Defendant was never handcuffed and was never ordered to go to the police station. (Doc. No. 206 at 33, 35, 62.)

         B. Events at the Nineteenth District Police Station

         After they arrived at the station, the officers counted the money in front of Defendant in an open area. (Id. at 34-35.) Though the officers did not place Defendant under arrest, Officer Haas instructed him to stay close to the money to ensure that it was being counted accurately. (Id. at 36.) Defendant complied. (Id. at 37.) As the officers counted the money, Defendant remained quiet and kept his sunglasses on. (Id. at 36, 64.) The officers typed up the property receipts they had prepared at the scene, as well as a report of the vehicle search. (Id. at 34.) The receipt then was signed by Defendant as the person from whom the property was taken, by Officer Haas as the preparer of the receipt, and by Officer Palmer as a witness. (Id. at 38, 39.) Officer Haas also testified that Defendant was told several times that he could leave and pick up the receipt later. (Doc. No. 207 at 120.)

         Next, the officers contacted Detective Larry Fong of the forfeiture unit because they had seized money without making an arrest. (Doc. No. 206 at 34.) Sergeant Caprara also contacted the Philadelphia Police Department's Major Crimes Unit to have the clothing items found in the rental car examined. (Id. at 31, 61.) The Major Crimes Unit then contacted Lower Merion police to view the items.[7] (Id.)

         Detective David LaRosa of Lower Merion testified that he, along with Detective Bryn Garner and Detective William Lane, [8] arrived at the Nineteenth District station in order to meet Defendant to determine whether he “had any involvement in the series of thefts in [Lower Merion] at the time.” (Doc. No. 207 at 6-7.) Detectives LaRosa, Garner, and Lane spoke with Defendant in a small office for approximately half an hour. (Id. at 7, 16.) Defendant was not placed in handcuffs nor was he ordered not to leave, and he never attempted to do so. (Id. at 8.)

         At some point, the detectives learned that Defendant was occupying a room at the North American Motor Lodge. (Id. at 16.) Detective LaRosa testified that he and the other detectives believed that the room where Defendant was staying could be used to store stolen merchandise from the thefts which had taken place in Lower Merion Township. (Id. at 24.) They relied on the information provided to them by the Philadelphia police officers, who had stopped Defendant in close proximity to the location where the thefts occurred and had uncovered the large amounts of cash and brand new clothing. (Id.) Detective LaRosa prepared and gave to Defendant a “consent to search” form, which stated:

I, Lamar Cooper, do hereby authorize Detectives LaRosa, Garner, and Lane to conduct a complete search of my hotel room, Room Number 317, located at North American Motor Lodge, 4444 City Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I have been informed of my constitutional rights not to have these premises searched without a Search Warrant, and then my right to refuse to consent to such a search. I nevertheless authorize the police officer(s) named in Section A of this consent form to conduct a complete search of the premise.
I hereby authorize the above-named police officer(s) to take from my: Hotel room #317 @ 4444 City Ave, any letters, papers, materials, or ...

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