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U.S. v. WYCHE

March 2, 2004.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -against- CHARLES WYCHE, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS PLATT, JR., Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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.

Background

 A. Factual background

  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 Page 2 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 at 1-2.

  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. Page 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. Page 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. Page 5

 B. Procedural background

  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.

 C. Causes of action

  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 Page 6 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 Page 7 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.

  Discussion

 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 against Wyche

  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 Page 8 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 330

  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 ...


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