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United States v. Coley

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

October 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ROBERT L. COLEY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. SPENCER, Senior District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Robert L. Coley's Motion to Suppress ("Motion") (ECF No. 15). Coley is charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g)(1). He moves the Court to suppress all evidence seized and any statements made as a result of the seizure of his person on April 28, 2014. A hearing was held on this matter on September 30, 2014. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Suppress is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

At approximately 2:18 a.m. on April 28, 2014, Officer J.L. Miller was on patrol when he heard a female yelling. He turned his car onto Brooke Road where he noticed a female standing outside of her stopped vehicle. Officer Miller initiated what he described in his report as a traffic stop with his blue lights at the intersection of Adams Street and Brook Road. The female, who was also the driver of the vehicle, told Officer Miller that she and her boyfriend had been arguing during their night out together. She repeatedly stated that she did not need the officer's assistance. There were four male passengers still in the car at this time. While the officer talked with the female, two more patrol units, including Officer Robinson, arrived to assist with the traffic stop.

The reports indicate that Officer Miller observed Coley in the backseat of the vehicle. Coley was acting nervous and avoided eye contact with the officer. Officer Robinson then told Officer Miller that he believed Coley matched the general description of a suspect from an armed robbery that occurred at 1105 St. James Street, in Gilpin Court, earlier that night. Gilpin Court is approximately one mile from the intersection of Brook Road and North Adams Street. Officer Robinson had responded to that armed robbery call. A victim had reported that the robbery suspect was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt.[1]

In the backseat between Coley and another passenger, Officer Miller believed he saw a black nylon object, which he thought to be a holster. However, no black nylon object of any kind was seized from the backseat or from any of the occupants of the vehicle.

Officer Miller then ordered Coley out of the car. Officer Miller noticed that Coley kept moving his hands toward his pockets and waistband area. The officer directed Coley to stop making those movements. Officer Miller then asked Coley if he possessed a weapon; Coley denied that he did. Officer Miller then performed a pat down for officer safety. He felt what he believed to be a handgun in Coley's waistband, and shortly thereafter, Coley fled on foot and was pursued by three officers. During the ensuing chase, an officer reported that he saw Coley toss a dark object over a fence. Coley was then caught and subdued by the officers roughly three blocks away from the original traffic stop. The officers subsequently found a handgun lodged in a chain link fenced in the area where they say Coley threw the dark object.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV. For a seizure to be justified, an "officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts, which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion." Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968). The officer must have a "particularized and objective basis for suspecting" that the defendants are engaged in criminal activity. United States v. Cortez , 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981). Similarly, if an officer conducts a "frisk" of the suspect during a seizure, he must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous. Terry , 392 U.S. at 27.

Where a seizure or search is found to be unreasonable, "[e]vidence gathered as fruit of [that] unreasonable search or seizure is generally inadmissible against a defendant, " United States v. Brown , 401 F.3d 588, 592 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Taylor v. Alabama , 457 U.S. 687, 694 (1982); Wong Sun v. United States , 371 U.S. 471, 484-86 (1963)), save for the purpose of impeachment, Walder v. United States , 347 U.S. 62, 64-65 (1954). The Government bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of a search or seizure. Coolidge v. New Hampshire , 403 U.S. 443, 455 (1971).

III. DISCUSSION

For the following reasons, the Motion to Suppress is DENIED.

A. Parties' Arguments

Coley argues that at the time of the seizure Officer Miller lacked the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion to justify a pat-down. According to Coley, Officer Miller merely noticed that Coley was nervous and that there was allegedly a black nylon object between the three passengers in the backseat of the automobile. Furthermore, Coley contends that the general description of an armed robbery suspect wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans also fails to justify the subsequent pat-down because on any given night, a large number of the Gilpin Court housing community may be African American males wearing white t-shirts. ...


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