The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS PLATT, JR., Senior District Judge
Defendant Charles Wyche moves pursuant to Rules 12 and 41 of the
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth
Amendments of the United States Constitution, to suppress the physical
evidence offered against him, his identification by a witness at the
scene of the alleged crime, and also the written statement elicited from
him by the police subsequent to his arrest. For the following reasons,
Wyche's motions are DENIED.
Nassau County police officers arrested Wyche in the early morning hours
of November 29, 2002 at the Courtesy Motel in Hempstead, New York.
According to the police, an unnamed witness approached one of the
policemen, Sergeant Donald Kunst, who responded to a report of a minor
automobile accident in
the motel's parking lot. The witness stated to Sergeant Kunst that
a man involved in the accident earlier tried to sell him a silver-colored
.380 caliber semi-automatic pistol in the hallway of the motel.
See the Government's Memorandum in Opposition to Wyche's
Motions to Suppress at 3-4; Wyche's Post-hearing Memorandum of Law in
Support of his Motions to Suppress at 1-2.
The witness described a black male wearing a yellow jacket and a "bell
hat." The witness recounted that after the unsuccessful attempt to sell
him a handgun, the man returned to a third-floor room of the motel.
Authorities subsequently learned that Room 330 had been registered to
Wyche. See the Government's Memorandum at 3; Wyche's Memorandum
Meanwhile, a second witness involved in the accident, Francis Combs,
was talking with another officer who responded to the scene, Officer John
Bailey. While speaking with the officer, Combs unfortunately dropped a
receipt for his recent purchase of a nine-millimeter semi-automatic
pistol at the feet of Officer Bailey. Informed by the officer that the
possession of an unlicensed firearm was a felony in New York State, Combs
admitted that he placed a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol under a
mattress in Room 330 of the motel. See the Government's
Memorandum at 3; Wyche's Memorandum at 3.
Combs stated that he rented this room along with Wyche, with whom he
traveled from West Virginia the day before. Combs stated to Officer
Bailey that the police could "go up to the room and get the gun." Combs
then gave Officer Bailey a key to the motel room, and consented to a
search. See the Government's Memorandum at 3; Wyche's
Memorandum at 3, 9.
En route to Room 330, the police encountered Wyche, a black man,
wearing a yellow jacket and a bell cap, as he emerged from the motel's
elevator. The police placed Wyche under arrest. Wearing handcuffs, and
standing between a brace of officers in the glare of a police cruiser's
turret and search lights, the original, unnamed witness identified Wyche
as the man who attempted to sell him a pistol. See the
Government's Memorandum at 3; Wyche's Memorandum at 3-4, 6.
Contemporaneously, upon entering Room 330, police discovered Wyche's
girlfriend, Kelly Garner, and placed her under arrest. An immediate
search of the room by Sergeant Kunst and an Officer Douglas produced the
nine-millimeter pistol located under the mattress, as described by Combs,
and also a box of nine-millimeter ammunition on the floor. See
the Government's Memorandum at 3; Wyche's Memorandum at 4.
A further search of the room revealed a closed yet un-zippered duffel
bag laying on the windowsill. The police searched this bag, and
discovered the silver-finished .380 caliber High Standard semi-automatic
pistol mentioned by the original witness, a loaded .22 caliber Arcadia
revolver, and a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun. The bag, and its contents,
belonged to Wyche. See the Government's Memorandum at 3;
Wyche's Memorandum at 4-5.
After Wyche's arrest, at the Fifth Precinct's detective squad, Wyche
signed a statement in which he admitted, to Detective Joel Mitchell of
the Nassau County Police, his ownership of the firearms found in his bag
in his motel room. The statement, typewritten by Detective Mitchell,
included a waiver of Wyche's rights as provided for in Miranda v.
Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). See the Government's
Memorandum at 4, and at Exhibit A; Wyche's Memorandum at 7-9.
The authorities then learned that Wyche was a felon. On March 11, 2003,
a federal warrant issued for his arrest, and on March 14th the Government
charged Wyche with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which forbids felons to possess, receive, ship
or transport firearms or ammunition.
A grand jury indicted Wyche on this single count on April 10, 2003, and
he was arraigned before this Court on April 24th, at which time he
entered a plea of not guilty. A suppression hearing was held on October
27th. Wyche and the Government finished exchanging papers on February 26,
2004. This decision follows.
On August 1, 2003 Wyche moved to suppress (i) the weapons found in his
bag in his motel room, (ii) his identification by the witness at the
motel, and also (iii) his statement to Detective Mitchell, on the bases
of FED. RS. CRIM. P. 12 and 41,*fn1 and
U.S. CONST. AMENDS. IV, V and VI.*fn2
Wyche claims (1) that Combs lacked the authority to consent to the
search of Room 330, that whatever authority Combs may have given he gave
involuntarily, and that the police exceeded the scope of any such
authority, and that the search therefore violated of the Warrant Clause
of the Fourth Amendment; (2), that his
identification at the motel is unreliable, as it was conducted in
an unduly suggestive manner, in violation of the Due Process Clause of
the Fifth Amendment; (3) that the police coerced his incriminating
statement from him while he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs,
in violation of the Fifth Amendment's safeguards against
self-incrimination; and (4) that the police denied his requests for the
assistance of an attorney during his custodial interrogation, in
violation of the right-to-counsel provisions of the Sixth Amendment.
A. The Government's legal burden
On a motion to suppress evidence in a criminal trial, once Wyche
establishes a basis for his motion, the burden rests upon the Government
to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the legality of the actions
of its officers. See, e.g., United States v. Gotti,
244 F. Supp.2d 120, 124 (E.D.N.Y. 2003); United States v. Dickerson,
113 F. Supp.2d 324, 326 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).
B. Fourth Amendment claims regarding the physical evidence
Wyche moves to suppress the physical evidence offered against him on
the theory that the police lacked his consent to conduct a warrantless
search of either his motel room or his bag. Wyche's argument is not
sufficient to merit the suppression
of the evidence. Even if Combs lacked actual authority to consent
to a search of his and Wyche's motel room, Combs had apparent authority
to do so. And there is no evidence that Combs was coerced into giving
this authority. The police were then justified in conducting the
subsequent search of Wyche's bag under the exigent circumstances
exception to the warrant requirement. In any case, the bag would have
been searched and the weapons within it inventoried as seized property,
as Wyche was simultaneously being taken into custody, and the firearms
would therefore have inevitably been discovered.
1. Combs' actual authority to consent to a search of Room
Wyche states that "[u]sing a driver's license as identification, a room
was obtained under his name. Mr. Wyche, alone, signed the registration
form [for] Room 330," and that Wyche "did not give anyone consent to
search Room 330. No one, other than Charles Wyche . . . had the
authority to consent to a search of Room 330." Wyche's Declaration in
Support of His ...