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United States v. Stevenson

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 4, 2019



          Nora Barry Fischer Senior U.S. District Judge.


         This Court issued a Memorandum Opinion on April 4, 2019 denying pro se Defendant Zaamar Stevenson's (“Stevenson”) motion to suppress evidence and his corresponding request for an evidentiary hearing. (Docket Nos. 158; 159). In addition, the Court separately entered an Order disposing of a number of additional pretrial motions filed by Stevenson. (Docket No. 160). The Court initially set this motion for a hearing and oral argument but entered an order cancelling the hearing because the matter could be resolved on the briefs. (Docket No. 174). Presently before the Court are Stevenson's motion for reconsideration, his objections to the Court cancelling the argument, the Government's responses in opposition to same, and Stevenson's reply. (Docket Nos. 172; 173; 175; 178; 186). After careful consideration of the parties' positions and for the following reasons, Stevenson's motion [172] is denied and his objections to the Order cancelling the hearing [175] are overruled.


         The Court initially turns to the governing legal standard. The purpose of a motion for reconsideration “is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Kabacinski v. Bostrom Seating, Inc., 98 Fed.Appx. 78, 81 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985)); United States v. Kalb, 891 F.3d 455, 467 (3d Cir. 2018). Because “federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, ” United States v. Hoey, Cr. No. 09-200, 2011 WL 748152, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 2011) (citation omitted), the standard that must be met to prevail on a motion for reconsideration is high, see Berry v. Jacobs IMC, LLC, 99 Fed.Appx. 405, 410 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The Court may grant a motion for reconsideration if the moving party shows: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence which was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent a manifest injustice. United States v. Banks, Crim No. 03-245, 2008 WL 5429620, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 31, 2008) (citing Max's Seafood Café by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)). Motions for reconsideration are not a tool to re-litigate and reargue issues which have already been considered and disposed of by the Court, see Hoey, 2011 WL 748152, at *2 (citation omitted), to express disagreement with the Court's rulings, see United States v. Perminter, Cr. No. 10-204, 2012 WL 642530, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 2012), or for addressing arguments that a party should have raised earlier, see United States v. Dupree, 617 F.3d 724, 732-33 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted); Kalb, 891 F.3d at 467. Rather, such a motion is appropriate only where the court misunderstood a party or where there has been a significant change in law or facts since the Court originally ruled on that issue. Hoey, 2011 WL 748152, at *2. At least at the District Court level, motions for reconsideration should be sparingly granted. See Cole's Wexford Hotel, Inc. v. UPMC and Highmark, Inc., 2017 WL 432947, *2 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 2017).


         In support of his motion for reconsideration, Stevenson has not cited any changes in the controlling law or the availability of any new evidence which is material to the Court's initial decision. (Docket Nos. 172; 186). Rather, he submits that the Court erred by considering facts which allegedly were not admitted into the record and wrongly concluded that the suppression motion was without merit given those admissions. (Id.). He also reargues matters which were previously rejected by the Court including his positions that probable cause could not be formed prior to law enforcement recovering the narcotics from the confidential informant who executed the controlled buy within the vehicle he was driving and that chain-of-custody issues with the narcotics evidence justify suppression. (Id.). Stevenson further objects to the Court cancelling the hearing on this motion for reconsideration because he was allegedly misunderstood by the Court and is not receiving “due process.” (Docket No. 175). The Government counters that Stevenson has failed to meet his burden to demonstrate that the Court should reconsider its denial of his motion to suppress or that the Court erred by cancelling the hearing. (Docket Nos. 173; 178). The Court agrees with the Government on these issues and will deny Stevenson's motion for reconsideration and overrule his objections to the Court's Order cancelling the hearing because the Court held oral argument on the initial motions and Stevenson has not raised any issues on reconsideration which require further proceedings.

         At the outset, Stevenson does not challenge the well-settled Third Circuit jurisprudence setting forth the defense's burden to demonstrate that an evidentiary hearing is required on a suppression motion. As this Court stated in its Memorandum Opinion,

[t]o require a suppression hearing, “a suppression motion must raise ‘issues of fact material to the resolution of the defendant's constitutional claim.'” United States v. Hines, 628 F.3d 101, 105 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Voigt, 89 F.3d 1050, 1067 (3d Cir. 1996)). “In addition, the suppression motion must be ‘sufficiently specific, non-conjectural, and detailed to enable the court to conclude that (1) the defendant has presented a colorable constitutional claim, and (2) there are disputed issues of material fact that will affect the outcome of the motion to suppress.'” United States v. Stanton, Crim. No. 11-57, 2012 WL 4815402, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 10, 2012) (quoting Hines, 628 F.3d at 105). The burden of proof is on the defendant and is not shifted to the Government unless the defendant establishes a colorable basis for the claim. United States v. Johnson, 63 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995).

         (Docket No. 158 at 5-6). This Court exercised its discretion and denied the suppression motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing because Stevenson submitted an affidavit, motions and briefs containing declarations providing his version of the events in question as well as a preliminary hearing transcript and police reports which contain law enforcement's version of the case.[1] (Id. at 6-11). The factual disputes Stevenson pointed to in his submissions and at oral argument on the initial motion were simply not material to the Court's ultimate conclusion that law enforcement had sufficient information to establish both reasonable suspicion and probable cause that he was engaged in criminal activity prior to conducting the stop of Stevenson's vehicle, ordering him out of the car, subjecting him to a patdown search, and searching the vehicle. (Id.).

         Again, he was under investigation by law enforcement for narcotics trafficking and a controlled buy was executed within the vehicle he was driving prior to the stop, arrest and seizures. (Id. at 10). As was referenced in the Memorandum Opinion,

[w]hile Defendant has offered a slightly different version of the events in that he alleges his passenger Wise was the narcotics distributor, these disputes are not material because he admits that he was driving Wise around in a vehicle when she completed that sale to the CI, providing reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and probable cause to search it. United States v. Persinger, 284 Fed.Appx. 885, 887 (3d Cir. 2008) (“if the difference in facts is material, that is, only if the disputed fact makes a difference in the outcome.”). Further, the alleged inconsistencies in the evidence are for the trier of fact to resolve at trial and do not demonstrate any violations of Defendant's constitutional rights.

(Id. at 11). The same principles apply here and lead this Court to reaffirm its ruling denying an evidentiary hearing given the robust record and the lack of any material factual disputes. UnitedStates v. Jackson, 363 Fed.Appx. 208, 210 (3d Cir. 2010) (district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing because the defendant “did not offer any version of events contrary to the version contained in the police reports he attached to his motion. He based his request for an evidentiary hearing only on alleged discrepancies in the reports, which he argued raised questions about ...

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