U.S. v. HOMAN

246 F. Supp.2d 89 (2003) | Cited 0 times | D. Maine | February 27, 2003

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

Matthew Homan, charged with robbery in violation of18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), seeks to suppress all evidence seized as theresult of an alleged illegal stop by law enforcement officials on thenight of November 12, 2002. Motion to Suppress (Docket Item No. 5) at 1.Defendant argues that the stop, detention, and subsequent seizure ofproperty were in violation of his rights under the Fourth and FourteenthAmendments to the United States Constitution. Id. An evidentiary hearingwas held before the Court on January 23, 2003, after which counsel filedpost-hearing memoranda. After careful consideration of the record beforeit, the Court finds that both the stop and the seizure of evidence waslegal and will deny Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

I. Facts

On November 12, 2002, at approximately 2:52 a.m., the Saco PoliceDepartment received a report that an armed robbery had just occurred atthe Hampton Inn on Industrial Park Road in Saco, Maine. Specifically, thecaller reported that the robber was a lone male wearing a black jacketand an orange ski mask and that he had left the Hampton Inn on foot.Within thirty seconds of receiving the call, Officer Scott Rochefort ofthe Saco Police Department reached Industrial Park Road in his markedpolice cruiser. Turning onto Industrial Park Road, Officer Rochefortturned off his headlights. Illuminated by the streetlights on the road,Officer Rochefort saw a lone individual riding a bicycletowards him andaway from the Hampton Inn at a distance of approximately 200 yards downthe road. The individual turned across the roadway in front of the policecruiser as the officer approached. At this point, with the bicyclistapproximately 100 yards away, Officer Rochefort turned on his headlights,and the individual, whom the officer noticed was wearing a dark jacket,turned into the empty parking lot of a closed business and pedaled awayfrom the officer. As Officer Rochefort followed the individual into theparking lot, the subject pedaled away faster, glancing backwards at thepolice car. At this time, less than a quarter of a mile away from theHampton Inn, Officer Rochefort ordered the bicyclist to stop, and hecomplied.

Upon approaching the subject, Officer Rochefort noticed a plastic baghanging on the handlebars of the bicycle. The officer drew his firearmand told the individual to raise his hands. Upon taking this action, thebicycle and plastic bag fell, and Officer Rochefort ordered the subjectto fall to the ground and to spread his arms and legs. At that point,another Saco Police Department officer arrived, and Officer Rocheforthandcuffed the subject and stood him up, asking for identification. Thesuspect claimed to have no identification, and he verbally identifiedhimself as Matthew Homan, the Defendant in this case. Officer Rochefortthen performed a pat-down of Defendant and felt what he thought was aweapon in his coat pocket. Instead of a weapon, however, OfficerRochefort found bolt cutters. When he asked Defendant what was in thebag, Defendant answered that he had a gun, but that it was not loaded,and that he had taken the bullets out "before." The two officers thenlooked inside the plastic bag and found a pair of khaki pants, a shirt,socks, a revolver, bullets, a speed loader, money, handwritten notes, andan orange ski mask.

II. Discussion

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures" bythe Government, and requires that any search or seizure be supported byprobable cause that a crime was committed. U.S. CONST. amend. IV. Sincethe Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868,20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), a brief investigatory stop may be undertaken by alaw enforcement officer if based on a reasonable and articulablesuspicion, even if the officer lacks probable cause. See United Statesv. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 1585, 194 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989). Itis not possible to precisely define what constitutes reasonable suspicionand, therefore, courts must determine on a case-by-case basis whether ornot it exists. See United States v. Chhien, 266 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir.2001). In making this case-by-case determination, courts "must look atthe totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether thedetaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspectinglegal wrongdoing." United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273,122 S.Ct. 744, 750, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002). Although an officer may not rely on amere "hunch" to justify a stop, reasonable suspicion requires less thanthat required to find probable cause, and it does not require evidence ofa direct connection linking the suspect to the suspected crime. SeeChhien, 266 F.3d at 6. What is required is "`a practical, commonsensejudgment based on the idiosyncracies of the case at hand' and anassessment whether the officer's actions `were fairly responsive to theemerging tableau.'" United States v. Hornbecker, 316 F.3d 40, 47 (1stCir. 2003) (quoting Chhien, 266 F.3d at 6).

The idiosyncracies of the instant case all point to the existence ofreasonable suspicion. Officer Rochefort was inthe immediate vicinity ofthe place where the alleged robbery took place, and within thirty secondsof receiving the information that a lone male had perpetrated a robbery,he reached the street where the robbery had taken place, and was within200 yards of a single individual riding away from the alleged crimescene. At the time these events occurred, it was nearly 3:00 a.m. on acommercial street where the only establishment open was the Hampton Inn.Upon seeing Officer Rochefort, Defendant cut across the road in front ofhim and entered the abandoned parking lot of a closed business, pedalingin the opposite direction of what he had been when the officer first sawhim and glancing backwards as if fleeing from the police cruiser. OfficerRochefort testified at the suppression hearing that Defendant was theonly person he ever saw after receiving the call and that he saw himwithin one-quarter of a mile from the crime scene. He saw Defendantwithin minutes of being notified that a crime had taken place, andDefendant generally fit the description provided of the perpetrator.Moreover, Defendant was observed attempting to avoid contact with theofficer. All of this provided Officer Rochefort with a reasonable andarticulable suspicion that this individual might have been involved inthe robbery at the Hampton Inn. Officer Rochefort's practical andcommonsense judgment to stop this individual does not violate the Fourthor Fourteenth Amendments.1

Nor do the officer's subsequent pat-down and perusal of the contents ofthe plastic bag held by the Defendant violate any constitutionalmandates. If an officer has a reasonable basis to suspect that thesubject of his inquiry may be armed, he may frisk the suspect. UnitedStates v. Cook, 277 F.3d 82, 85 (1st Cir. 2002). Officer Rochefortencountered the Defendant at 3:00 a.m. in an abandoned parking lot andsuspected that he may have just perpetrated an armed robbery; he was,therefore, justified in conducting a pat-down of the Defendant to ensurethat he had no weapons. Next, Officer Rochefort's actions were "fairlyresponsive to the emerging tableau," Chhien, 266 F.3d at 6, and"reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified theinterference in the first place." Cook, 277 F.3d at 85 (quoting Terry,392 U.S. at 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868.) When asked what was in the plastic bag,Defendant admitted that there was a gun. Such an admission provides allthe justification Officer Rochefort needed to then open the bag andsurvey its contents.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS that Defendant's Motion toSuppress be, and it is hereby, DENIED.

1. The fact that Officer Rochefort did not have any information thathe was looking for someone on a bicycle does not undermine the Court'sconclusion regarding the legality of the stop. It is quite possible thatan individual intending to rob a certain establishment will enter theplace of business on foot, and that he will likewise exit on foot. Theonly witnesses to a robbery taking place at nearly 3:00 a.m. will likelybe those who are working inside the establishment, and it is notimprobable that they will only see the perpetrator walk out of thebuilding and will not witness his subsequent means of getaway. It is justas possible that such an individual will have waiting outside some formof transportation that will make his getaway faster, such as a bicycle.That the officer encountered Defendant alone on a dark and deserted roadat 3:00 in the morning, less than one-quarter of a mile from where therobbery had taken place and within minutes of the alleged crime is morethan enough to give him reasonable suspicion to stop the suspect, whetherhe was on a bicycle or on foot at that time.

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