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United States v. Alcorn

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

January 13, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CASEY GLENN ALCORN. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACKSON L. KISER, Senior District Judge.

On January 19, 2013, police officers with the Martinsville Police Department arrested Defendant Casey Glenn Alcorn ("Defendant"). In the Indictment filed in this Court on July 2, 2013, Defendant was charged with one count of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) [ see ECF No. 13]. Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress on November 25, 2013, arguing that the evidence against him was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment [ECF No. 25]. On December 16, 2013, I held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion. After careful review and consideration, and for the reasons stated below, I will DENY Defendant's Motion to Suppress. Although Defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy, I find that the police conduct at issue did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After hearing arguments from counsel and testimony from the arresting officers and Defendant's wife, Ms. Delberia Bradley-Alcorn, I find as follows:

On January 19, 2013, Sergeants Robert Jones and Chad Rhoads of the Martinsville Police Department responded to a call regarding a disturbance in the parking lot of an apartment complex located at 807 Barrows Mill Road in Martinsville, Virginia.[1] (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress 1 [ECF No. 25] (hereinafter "Def.'s Mot."); Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Suppress 1 [ECF No. 31] (hereinafter "Resp. in Opp'n").) The officers found no disturbance in the parking lot upon arrival, and proceeded to walk around the perimeter of the apartment complex twice. (Def.'s Mot. 1; Resp. in Opp'n 1.) As they returned to their cars, the officers heard "loud, muffled voices" coming from one of the five apartments in the building. (Def.'s Mot. 1.) Sergeant Jones approached the front door to investigate, and "someone opened the door and then slammed it closed and locked it." ( Id. ) Sergeant Jones knocked at the entrance, and Defendant's wife, Delberia Bradley-Alcorn, opened the door.[2] (Def.'s Mot. 1; Resp. in Opp'n 2.)

When Ms. Bradley-Alcorn answered the door, she yelled, "He stole my phone! He stole my phone!" (referring to Defendant) and swung the door all the way open. Defendant, who was standing in or near the living room, took off running toward the rear entrance of the apartment.[3] (Def.'s Mot. 1; Resp. in Opp'n 2.) Sergeant Jones immediately entered the residence, apprehended Defendant, and placed him under arrest.[4] (Def.'s Mot. 1-2; Resp. in Opp'n 2.) Meanwhile, Sergeant Rhoads circled around the apartment to approach the rear entrance from the outside. (Def.'s Mot. 2; Resp. in Opp'n 2.) Sergeant Rhoads heard, but could not see, Sergeant Jones engaged in a struggle inside the apartment. Finding the back door unlocked, Sergeant Rhoads entered the residence to assist Sergeant Jones. (Def.'s Mot. 2; Resp. in Opp'n 2.)

After placing Defendant in handcuffs, Sergeant Jones searched his person and found some marijuana, a.45 caliber magazine containing ammunition, and a cell phone belonging to Ms. Bradley-Alcorn in Defendant's front pants pocket. (Def.'s Mot. 2; Resp. in Opp'n 2-3.) Sergeant Jones removed Defendant from the apartment while Sergeant Rhoads remained to take a statement from Ms. Bradley-Alcorn. (Def.'s Mot. 2; Resp. in Opp'n 3.) Once Defendant and Sergeant Jones were out of the apartment, Ms. Bradley-Alcorn gestured with her eyes and forehead toward the living room sofa, prompting Sergeant Rhoads to search and discover a firearm located behind the sofa in the gap between the sofa and the wall.[5] (Resp. in Opp'n 3.) to have informed the officers, "That's my phone! That's my phone!" She testified that she never claimed it was stolen. Ms. Bradley-Alcorn told Sergeant Jones that Defendant had thrown the firearm behind the sofa when the officers approached the apartment. The officers confirmed that the magazine and ammunition recovered from Defendant's pocket fit the firearm found behind the sofa.

On June 7, 2013, the government filed a Complaint against Defendant in this Court. ( See Compl.) In the Indictment, filed July 2, 2013, the government alleged that he "did knowingly and unlawfully possess a firearm... and ammunition... in and affecting interstate or foreign commerce." (Indict. 1.) Defendant was charged with one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ( Id. ) On November 25, 2013, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress, arguing that the evidence against him was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. ( See Def.'s Mot. 3.) Both sides have filed written briefs, and on December 16, 2013, I held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion. The matter is now ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When examining a Fourth Amendment claim, a court must first determine whether the defendant "had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched or the item seized." United States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 873-74 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 106 (1980); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 140-50 (1978)). The defendant bears the burden of proving that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy. See United States v. Ramapuram, 632 F.2d 1149, 1154 (4th Cir. 1980). If the defendant "manifested a subjective expectation of privacy... that society accepts as objectively reasonable, " then his claims fall within the ambit of the Fourth Amendment. California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 39 (1988).

The Fourth Amendment requires that the police have a search warrant, exigent circumstances, or some other recognized, constitutionally permissible justification for their presence in or on the defendant's home or protected property. See U.S. Const. amend. IV (guaranteeing "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches or seizures...."). If the defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a particular item or area, and thus may invoke the protection of the Fourth Amendment, a court must then determine the reasonableness of any search or seizure. See Rusher, 966 F.2d at 874.

If the government argues that a search was consensual, it must demonstrate that consent was voluntary. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 248 (1973). In order to demonstrate that consent was "voluntary, " the government is not required to establish that it was knowing and intelligent (although these are factors that a court may properly consider), but only that it was "not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied." Id. at 249. "[M]ere acquiescence to lawful authority" cannot validate a warrantless search. United States v. Ocampo, 492 F.Supp. 1211, 1236 (E.D.N.Y. 1980) (citing Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 222, 228-29). The question of whether consent to a search was voluntary is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of the circumstances. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 248-49.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant moves to suppress the evidence against him on the grounds it was obtained as the result of a search and seizure which violated his constitutional rights. As a preliminary matter, I must first determine whether Defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the Martinsville apartment and the items that were searched or seized. If Defendant is able to properly invoke the Fourth Amendment, there are at least four significant issues that may affect the ultimate admissibility of the evidence against him. These issues include: (1) whether the police lawfully entered the apartment without a warrant; (2) whether the police lawfully seized Defendant's person once inside the apartment; (3) whether the police lawfully searched Defendant's person incident to arrest, ...


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