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United States v. Seay

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

April 4, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DARRYL MARSHALL SEAY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          RAYMOND A, JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Darryl Seay's Motion to Suppress. Defendant moves this Court to suppress all physical evidence seized as a result of what he alleges was an unconstitutional search and seizure of a bag, and, specifically, a firearm that law enforcement discovered. ECF No. 17. He also seeks to suppress all statements made following the alleged illegal discovery. Id.

         On October 16, 2017, Defendant was indicted on one count for being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ECF No.l. Defendant filed this Motion to Suppress on November 29, 2017. The Government filed a response in opposition, ECF No. 18, and the Defendant filed a reply, ECF No. 20. On January 10, 2018, the Court held a hearing on this matter and ruled on the motion from the bench ECF No. 30. For the reasons stated on the record and discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Suppress is DENIED IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART. The firearm is admissible, but any statements Defendant made subsequent to discovery of the firearm are inadmissible.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 27, 2016, officers of the Hampton Police Department were dispatched to the Spring Hill Suites in Hampton, Virginia in response to a trespassing complaint. Upon arriving at the .hotel, hotel staff informed officers that Devin Bracey ("Ms. Bracey") was no longer welcomed on the premises because she repeatedly switched rooms and had behaved in an aggressive and confrontational manner towards staff members. Officers went to Ms. Bracey's room to escort her from the room and premises. When officers arrived at the room, the occupants refused to open the door for approximately six minutes. Officers advised Ms. Bracey and Defendant that they had been asked to leave the premises and no longer had rights to the room. Ms. Bracey and Defendant packed their belongings and exited the room. Defendant left the room with a clear, plastic bag. After leaving the room, officers began to search the room and recovered a glass smoking device/crack pipe and gun ammunition in the toilet. Upon finding these items, officers ordered Defendant and Ms. Bracey back into the room and officers continued to search the room. Officers recovered additional contraband items, including four "push pods" and a metal spoon with burn marks and apparent cocaine residue.

         Officers separated Defendant and Ms. Bracey, read them Miranda rights, and individually interviewed them in the hotel bathroom. An officer began searching the bags that Defendant and Ms. Bracey had placed on the beds while Defendant was in the bathroom for his interview with officers. Inside the plastic bag, officers removed a red jacket and discovered a handgun that matched the ammunition found in the hotel toilet. After the search, both suspects were placed in handcuffs and taken to the police station. Subsequent to Defendant's arrest, Defendant made several statements to the officers about the firearm found in the plastic bag and his knowledge about the possession of the firearm.

         On February 24, 2017, a Special Agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, examined the firearm recovered from the bag, and determined it had been manufactured in Utah and had travelled in interstate commerce to Virginia. Additionally, a criminal history check revealed that Defendant had previously been convicted of a felony.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In deciding a motion to suppress, the district court is empowered to make findings of fact, and conclusions of law. United States v. Stevenson, 396 F.3d 538, 541 (4th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). "At a hearing on a motion to suppress, the credibility of the witness and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge." United States v. McKneely, 6 F.3d 1447, 1452-53 (10th Cir. 1993); see United States v. Massey, 257 Fed.Appx. 662, 664 (4th Cir. 2007); Columbus-Am. Discovery Group v. Atl Mut. Ins. Co., 56 F.3d 556, 567 (4th Cir. 1995). As a general rule, the burden of proof is on the defendant who seeks to suppress the evidence. United States v. Dickerson, 655 F.2d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 1981). Once the defendant establishes a basis for his suppression motion, the burden shifts to the government. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177-78 n.14 (1974).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Whether The Search And Seizure Of Defendant's Bag Violated The Fourth Amendment

         Defendant's first contention is that law enforcement seized and searched his bag without a warrant, and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. See ECF No. 17. As a result, Defendant argues the firearm should be suppressed because police officers discovered the firearm based on an illegal seizure and search. Id. In opposition, the Government argues that at the time of the search, there was probable cause to arrest Defendant, and the subsequent search of the bag was therefore conducted incident to a lawful arrest. ECF No. 18 at 4. Finally, the Government argues in the alternative that the search was justified as a safety precaution pursuant to an investigatory stop of Defendant. Id. at 8. Having reviewed the parties' filings and arguments, the Court finds that the search and seizure of Defendant's bag violated the Fourth Amendment.

         The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend. IV. The United States Supreme Court ("Supreme Court") has held that "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967). Accordingly, a search under the Fourth Amendment occurs when the government invades a person's "constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy." Id. at 360-61, (Harlan, J., concurring). A warrantless search and seizure is "per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions" to the warrant requirement. Id. at 357. In examining a Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claim, the Court must first determine whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched, and if so, whether the search is reasonable. See United States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 873-74 (4th Cir. 1992).

         1. Defendant Had No Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy In Hotel Room

         The Court finds Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the hotel room at the time Hampton police officers entered because the hotel terminated the occupancy. Generally, a guest in a hotel room has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 490 (1964). However, this expectation is not unlimited. On the contrary, a guest does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his hotel room after his rental period has terminated. United States v. Jackson, 585 F.2d 653, 658 (4th Cir.1978); see also United States v. Rahme, 813 F.2d 31, 34 (2d Cir.1987) ("[W]hen a hotel guest's rental period has expired or been lawfully terminated, the guest does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the hotel room.").

         Here, the hotel staff terminated Defendant's occupancy of the room, and therefore his expectation of privacy also terminated when officers entered. See Hr'g Tr. at 7-8.

         2. Police Officers Had Probable Cause To Arrest Ms. Bracey And Defendant

         The Court also finds that officers had probable cause to arrest Ms. Bracey and the Defendant.

         Probable cause is an "objective standard" and analyzes the "totality-of-the circumstances." See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230 (1983); United States v. Gray, 137 F.3d 765, 769 (4th Cir. 1998). "In dealing with probable cause, ... as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act." Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175 (1949). Thus, seemingly innocent activity, though not conclusive of probable cause, "may 'provide the basis for a showing of probable cause' when considered in the context of all of the surrounding circumstances." United States v. Thomas, 913 F.2d 1111, 1116 (4th Cir.1990) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 244 n. 13 (1983)). An officer has probable cause for arrest when, at the time the arrest occurs, the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge would warrant the belief of a prudent person that the arrestee had committed or was committing an offense. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964).

         In this case, there was probable cause to arrest Ms. Bracey for possession of narcotics. Officers discovered drug paraphernalia that included a glass pipe with suspected cocaine residue, and push rods and metal spoons wrapped in women's underwear. See Hr'g Tr. at 28, 38, 115-16. Moreover, officers verified with hotel management that the room had been cleaned, and that the Defendant and Ms. Bracey were the first to occupy the room following this cleaning. Id. at 45. The Court also heard testimony that the occupants delayed answering the door and took an estimated five to six minutes to open the door for officers. Id. at 9. Considering these facts and the "totality of the circumstances, " the Court finds there was probable cause to arrest Ms. Bracey for possession of narcotics.

         Second, the Court also finds there was probable cause to arrest Defendant for possession of ammunition.[1] At the hearing, the Court heard testimony that upon entering the room, officers observed the Defendant leaving the bathroom with a clear plastic bag. Id. at 55-56, 75. Shortly after, officers observed ammunition in the toilet. Id. 19-21, 26. Officers learned that Defendant was a convicted felon having served seven to eight years for drug related offenses. Id. at 31. Considering the totality of the circumstances and the facts present, the Court finds there was probable cause to arrest Defendant for being a convicted felon in possession of ammunition. See Va. Code Ann. ยง ...


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