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United States v. Pride

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 3, 2019

ANDRAE PRIDE, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is an Amended Motion to Suppress Evidence (Docket No. 192) filed by Defendant Andrae Pride (“Defendant”). The Government filed its Response in opposition thereto, and the Court held a motion hearing on March 5 and 18, 2019, the official transcript of which has been filed of record and considered by the Court. (Docket Nos. 196, 202, 203). At the Court's direction, the parties submitted post-hearing proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, (Docket Nos. 204, 207), but did not file responses thereto by the established deadline of June 3, 2019. (Docket No. 201). After careful consideration of all of the parties' submissions and the credible evidence of record, and for the following reasons, Defendant's Amended Motion to Suppress is denied.

         II. Background

         A. Procedural History

         On March 29, 2016, Defendant was charged in a three-count Indictment with the following: possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), all for conduct occurring on or about March 17, 2016. (Docket No. 1).

         Attorney Melvin Vatz, who was Defendant's second court-appointed counsel, filed numerous pretrial motions on his behalf, including two suppression motions. (Docket Nos. 87-94, 126-128). Following a hearing and additional briefing, the Court denied Defendant's suppression motions, ruled on the other pretrial motions and scheduled trial to begin on October 10, 2018. (Docket Nos. 84, 85, 103, 105, 114, 116, 117, 139, 144, 159). At Defendant's request, the trial was rescheduled on December 3, 2018. (Docket Nos. 149, 153, 156).

         In October 2018, the Court received correspondence from Defendant, which was forwarded to Attorney Vatz, who then filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. (Docket No. 162). Following a status conference held on October 25, 2018, the Court granted Attorney Vatz's motion to withdraw. (Docket Nos. 163, 166). Attorney William McCabe, who is Defendant's current counsel, was appointed to represent him on October 30, 2018. (Docket No. 167).

         After Attorney McCabe's appointment, the Court held several status conferences to get the case back on track and reschedule a trial date. (Docket Nos. 170, 175, 183, 188). At the conference held on January 15, 2019, Defendant expressed his intent to file an amended motion to suppress to which Government counsel objected. (Docket No. 183). The Court granted Defendant's oral motion for extension of time to file pretrial motions and ordered that the amended suppression motion must be filed by February 15, 2019. (Docket No. 185). As stated, the Court held oral argument on Defendant's motion and all supplemental briefing is complete, thus the matter is ripe for disposition.

         B. Facts[1]

         As discussed in more detail below, at issue here is whether Defendant was given Miranda warnings before he made statements in response to questioning by law enforcement.[2] At the hearing, the Government called City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Detectives Matthew Lebedda and Victor R. DiSanti, Jr., who testified that Defendant was provided with Miranda warnings and waived his Miranda rights. The Government also entered into evidence the Miranda warning card carried by Detective Lebedda and used by Detective DiSanti. (Docket No. 200-7). Defendant cross-examined those witnesses and also called Parole Agent Martin Vojacek and entered into evidence a number of exhibits. (Docket Nos. 200-2, 200-3, 200-4, 200-5, 200-6, 201-2, 201-3). In this Court's estimation, based on their demeanor and testimony in response to the questioning of the attorneys and the Court at the suppression hearing, Detectives Lebedda and DiSanti and Agent Vojacek offered credible testimony concerning their versions of the events that unfolded on the date in question, despite the defense's efforts to impeach them. See United States v. Garcia, 521 Fed.Appx. 71, 73 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 575 (1985)) (“‘[w]hen findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses ... for only the trial judge can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding of and belief in what is said.'”). In addition, both Detectives Lebedda and DiSanti and Agent Vojacek presented as experienced officers. In that regard, Detective Lebedda testified that he has been employed as a Pittsburgh Police officer for 25 years, including 15 years as a detective, Detective DiSanti previously testified that he has 21 years of law enforcement experience, including 17 years with the City of Pittsburgh, and Agent Vojacek previously testified that he has 19 years of experience in law enforcement, serving the past 12 years with the Board of Probation and Parole. (Docket Nos. 111 at 7-8, 88-89; 202 at 4).

         By way of background and as set forth in the Court's prior suppression opinion, Agent Vojacek was assigned to supervise Defendant, who was on state parole. (Docket No. 116 at 3). Defendant was authorized to reside at an apartment on Mt. Vernon Road in the Homewood section of the City of Pittsburgh with his then-girlfriend, Sherelle Clausell.[3] (Id.). In March 2016, Agent Vojacek received information from ATF Agent Neil Carman that Clausell had purchased ballistic vests, gas masks and three firearms at the Big Butler Gun Show and that Defendant and another individual were with her and had been observed handling firearms at the gun show. (Id. at 5). Agent Vojacek and ATF Agent Carman believed that the types of firearms purchased by Clausell were not commonly utilized by women of her stature. (Id.). In view of Defendant's criminal history and relationship to Clausell, Agent Vojacek felt that Clausell had purchased the firearms for Defendant and believed that he had reasonable suspicion to search Defendant's residence.[4] (Id. at 6). Agent Vojacek sought and obtained approval from his supervisors to conduct a search and arranged to meet with Defendant at the apartment on March 17, 2016. (Id.). A pat down search of Defendant uncovered more than $2, 400 and a cell phone. (Id.). During Agent Vojacek's search of the two-room apartment, he observed an open gun safe in the bedroom which contained a firearm and a bag of suspected heroin. (Id. at 7). At that point, Agent Vojacek stopped his parole search and contacted Detective DiSanti of the Pittsburgh Police. (Id.; Docket No. 203 at 5).

         Turning to the testimony adduced at the hearings on Defendant's pending amended suppression motion, Agent Vojacek testified that he briefed Detective DiSanti about what he had found after DiSanti arrived on the scene. (Docket No. 203 at 7). Shortly thereafter, numerous Pittsburgh police officers and other parole agents arrived. (Id.). Agent Vojacek testified that he did not recall being in the living room area of the apartment when Defendant was read his Miranda rights, nor could he recall who was present in the room at that time. (Id. at 7, 8, 10, 19). According to Agent Vojacek, six parole agents were at the apartment, four of whom indicated to Vojacek that they did not know whether Defendant was read his Miranda rights because they were in and out of the living room area and in other locations during the relevant time period. (Id. at 23, 24-26). This information is consistent with Agent Vojacek's email dated February 14, 2019, to Government counsel indicating that he “checked with the Agents present during this incident. No. one including myself can recall any Miranda Rights being read while in the residence. The extent of our involvement ended once Pgh PD showed up and Detective DiSanti and crew took over.” (Docket No. 201-2; Docket No. 203 at 13).

         Detective Lebedda testified that he accompanied Detective DiSanti to Defendant's residence after DiSanti received a phone call from state probation and parole about a possible parole violation. (Docket No. 202 at 6). When the detectives arrived, Defendant and Clausell, who were both handcuffed, were sitting near each other on a couch in the living room area of the apartment. (Id. at 8, 16-17). Detective Lebedda unequivocally testified that he was present when Detective DiSanti read Defendant and Clausell their Miranda rights from a card that he had given DiSanti.[5] (Id. at 8-9, 43-44; Docket No. 200-7). The Miranda rights card, which Lebedda carries in his wallet, states the following:

1. You have the right to remain silent.
2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
3. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned.
4. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish.
5. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.

(Docket Nos. 200-7, 202 at 9). Detective Lebedda further testified that after reading each statement, DiSanti individually asked Defendant and then Clausell if they understood and each responded, “yes.” (Docket No. 202 at 11-13, 33-34, 43). Detective Lebedda explained that DiSanti did not move on to the next statement until both Defendant and Clausell responded, and the entire process took approximately five to seven minutes. (Id. at 12, 33, 34, 35). Detective Lebedda testified that Defendant seemed to understand the statements and responded to each one. (Id. at 12-13). Following that process, Detective Lebedda testified that DiSanti read Defendant and Clausell the search and seizure form, which they executed and thereby gave consent to search the apartment. (Id. at 20-21, 35).

         According to Detective Lebedda, he and Detectives DiSanti and Novac, as well as three to five parole agents, were present when Defendant and Clausell were given their Miranda warnings. (Docket No. 202 at 18, 19, 27-28, 35). Detective Lebedda testified that everyone who was in the room remained while the Miranda warnings were administered, but he did not watch to see what everyone was doing. (Id. at 35, 44). Detective DiSanti read the Miranda warnings loud enough loud enough for Detective Lebedda to hear, so he assumed others could hear as well. (Id. at 29).

         Detective DiSanti also testified that he administered Miranda warnings to Defendant in a normal tone of voice when Defendant was seated on a couch in the living room area of the apartment, which occurred after Detective DiSanti advised Defendant that he was under arrest. (Docket No. 202 at 47, 61, 75). Detective DiSanti recalled that Detective Lebedda was present when he gave Defendant his Miranda warnings, and other officers and parole agents were in the vicinity but they came and went. (Id. at 54, 61). Detective DiSanti confirmed that he read Defendant his rights using Detective Lebedda's Miranda rights card. (Id. at 48). Detective DiSanti testified that he read Miranda rights to both Defendant and Clausell at the same time and each acknowledged that they understood ...

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