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United States v. Spencer

decided: July 9, 1982.


Appeal from a judgment of conviction, upon a five count indictment charging defendant with two armed robberies in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and receiving stolen government property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641, entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Thomas C. Platt, Judge, after a jury trial. Affirmed in part; reversed and remanded in part.

Oakes, Cardamone and Winter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

The question before us is whether the police -- armed with a bench warrant issued on an unrelated misdemeanor charge -- may enter a defendant's dwelling to search for him and, in his absence, legally seize the evidence used at his trial for bank robbery. We believe the answer is "yes" and thus affirm defendant's conviction.


Lorenzo Spencer was charged in a five count indictment with two armed bank robberies involving separate branches of the Astoria Federal Savings and Loan Association in Queens, New York. The first two counts, arising from the May 5, 1981 robbery of the Kissena Boulevard Branch, charged defendant with violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and (d). Count five charged him with illegal receipt of 34 United States savings bonds taken during the same robbery, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641. Counts three and four charged defendant with violating the same subdivisions of § 2113 on May 14, 1981 in connection with the robbery of the Stratton Street Branch. Defendant was tried and convicted on all counts.

Testimony was adduced at trial that Spencer bore some resemblance to one of two individuals seen leaving the Kissena Boulevard Branch immediately after the May 5 robbery. Government exhibits included a fingerprint, lifted from the top of the vault barrier at the Stratton Street Branch shortly after the May 14 robbery, which fingerprint was identified as being defendant's. The strongest evidence against defendant, however, was that seized by the police when they entered his room in an apartment and there discovered ski masks, gloves, guns and ammunition and the savings bonds taken on May 5, 1981. This evidence was the subject of a suppression hearing before the district court; Judge Platt's denial of a motion to suppress is the single issue on appeal.


The facts in this case as they pertain to the suppression issue may be simply stated. In the late afternoon on May 19, 1981, Thomas Van Pelt, a uniformed New York City Police Officer was on patrol in Queens when he was flagged down by a young female who identified herself as Dena Hogan. Hogan told the officer that she and her baby were living in a room with a male friend who kept guns there. She asked Officer Van Pelt if he would remove the guns because she was afraid her baby might accidentally be injured. After further inquiry by the officer Hogan said that her friend "had something to do with banks." She told the officer that her friend "Lorenzo Spencer" was about 21 years old and was at home "right now." She informed the officer that they lived at 155-64 116th Drive, only a short block from where the conversation took place.

Before going to Spencer's room Officer Van Pelt went first to the police station where he ran the defendant's name through a computer. In doing so he discovered that there was an active bench warrant outstanding against Spencer. Van Pelt then proceeded to the address given him earlier by Hogan. From the time he spoke to Hogan about 35 minutes elapsed before he and two other uniformed officers arrived at defendant's home.

Spencer lived in a two-family building. He occupied a bedroom with Hogan and her daughter in the upstairs apartment which he shared with his grandfather, Bokin Boyd. The ground floor door to the apartment was unlocked and the officers proceeded up the stairs. Officer Van Pelt testified that he saw an elderly man, whom he identified at trial as Boyd, asked him whether Lorenzo Spencer lived there, and was told that he did. Boyd added, however, that he was not sure if Spencer was at home. When the police asked which room Spencer lived in, the elderly man pointed toward the rear of the apartment and indicated that the last bedroom was the defendant's.

The police searched the room for Spencer, looking under the bed and in the closet, but did not find him. When the closet door was opened by Officer Van Pelt, he observed a black plastic trash bag on the floor of the closet. He saw what appeared to be gun barrels sticking out through a hole in the black bag and therefore brought the bag out of the closet and over to the bed. He opened it and found a.30 caliber carbine, a.22 caliber revolver, a.32 caliber semi-automatic, two ski masks and four rubber gloves. Several of the guns were loaded. He also found 34 $50 United States savings bonds; the bonds were in numerical order with no name or address typed in where the owner's name would ordinarily appear. All of these items were seized and brought to the station house for inventory.

While looking in the closet, Van Pelt also observed a large opening leading to an attic crawl space. Other officers were summoned and an unsuccessful search was made of the attic to see if Spencer had hidden there. On June 25, 1981 Spencer was arrested by the ...

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