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United States v. Santiago

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

May 25, 2017

UNITED STATES of AMERICA,
v.
ALEXANDER SANTIAGO, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter came before the Court upon Alexander Santiago's (''Defendant's") Motion to Suppress, filed April 14, 2017, wherein Defendant requests that the Court suppress "all evidence recovered from searches of Mr. Santiago's person, his phone, and his residences as such statements and evidence were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Doc. 14. The Government filed a Response on April 20, 2017. Doc. 17. On May 10, 2017, the Court convened a hearing, heard evidence and argument on the Motion, and ruied from the bench. The Court DENIED Defendant's Motion and now issues this Opinion and Order setting forth the reasons for its ruling in further detail.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Detective Eric Kempf of Newport News, currently assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") task force in Hampton, testified that he was the case agent for the DEA's surveillance of Defendant, lie monitored phone calls related to two (2) undercover buys of heroin from Defendant and related to arranging a third buy. After the first and second purchases, his informant arranged for a delivery of eight (8) ounces of heroin to Williamsburg Outlet Mall on January 5, 2017. Detective Kempf testified that the task force arranged for a traffic stop on 1-64 on January 5, 2017, because they were unsure when Defendant would have the heroin on him. They believed that once he was past 1-295 in New Kent County, he was committed to heading toward Williamsburg and likely had the heroin on him. Detective Kempf testified that the purpose of using a traffic stop was to ensure safety because Defendant was less likely to react in an unsafe manner to a traffic stop on the highway.

         Officers Jeffrey Turlington and David Phillips of the same task force testified regarding their surveillance of Defendant in Richmond on January 5, 2017, including observing him leaving Richmond as a passenger in a beige Chevy Tahoe. They briefed Sergeant Mason Edwards ("Sergeant Edwards") and Trooper Christopher Page ("Trooper Page") of the Virginia State Police regarding Defendant's background, including the prior purchases and the arranged third purchase. Virginia State Police ("VSP") Trooper Kyle Jackson ("Trooper Jackson") testified that Sergeant Edwards relayed that information to him, Trooper Page, Trooper Jamal Johnson ("Trooper Johnson"), and Trooper Heath Miller. Trooper Page confirmed he was at the task force briefing, and Trooper Johnson confirmed he was at a later briefing.

         Trooper Johnson stopped the beige Chevy Tahoe in which Defendant was a passenger for a traffic infraction around mile marker 212 on 1-64 on January 5, 2017. The driver was a man named Andrew Brydie ("Brydie"), and Defendant was a passenger. Trooper Johnson was seeking to stop Defendant because he knew about the two (2) prior sales and that Defendant was en route to Williamsburg to sell heroin. He testified that he stopped the vehicle when he saw it following a silver pick-up in front of it too closely, in violation of Va. Code § 46.2-816 (2017).

         When he approached the vehicle, Trooper Johnson smelled marijuana in the vehicle, and he asked Brydie to exit the vehicle and accompany him back to the patrol car, which Brydie did. While Trooper Johnson and Brydie were talking, Trooper Page brought a narcotics dog to the vehicle, and the dog gave a positive alert for drugs between the doors on the passenger's side of the vehicle on the second pass. One of the troopers then asked Defendant to exit the vehicle.

         Trooper Jackson arrived on scene after Trooper Johnson had pulled the vehicle over on the side of the road. He searched the vehicle for any hidden compartments. After not finding any heroin but knowing that Defendant intended to sell heroin, he decided to search Defendant directly. He testified that he found a large bulge between Defendant's two rear pockets. He shook Defendant's waist band, at which point the bag fell lower in the pants. Fearing that the heroin had fentanyl, he decided to remove it right then before it could harm Defendant or one of the officers involved. He obtained latex gloves from one of the other troopers, unzipped Defendant's pants, and reached in where he found a pocket on the bottom of the underwear, underneath the genitalia region of the underwear, that contained a large bag with three smaller bags inside of it. He then gave the bags to Detective Kempf. He testified that he did not perform a cavity search, both because it would be improper on the side of the road and because he did not need to perform such a search after locating the drugs.

         Trooper Jackson also testified that he performed an additional search, which was not a strip search, of Defendant at a rest stop subsequent to the initial search on the side of the road. This additional search was a search for weapons before taking Defendant to prison. He found nothing additional on Defendant.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Warrantless Arrest and Probable Cause

         "It is well-settled under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that a police officer may lawfully arrest an individual in a public place without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime." United States v. Dickey-Bey. 393 F.3d 449, 453-54 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). This extends to circumstances where an officer has probable cause to believe that "even a very minor criminal offense" was committed in his presence. Atwater v. City of Laeo Vista 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001) (finding sufficient probable cause to uphold warrantless arrest for Defendant who failed to wear seatbelt, as required by Texas law).

         Probable cause to justify an arrest exists where "facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense." Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979) (listing cases); see also Dickey-Bey, 393 F.3d at 453.

         B. Search ...


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