United States District Court, S.D. New York
November 15, 2005.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
JOSE SALDANA, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PATTERSON, District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
On April 26, 2005, Defendant Jose Saldana filed a motion before
Judge Cedarbaum seeking to suppress a .38 caliber gun and other
property recovered from a vehicle Mr. Saldana was driving on
October 9, 2000. At the October 21, 2005 suppression hearing,
Judge Cedarbaum denied the motion with respect to the property
found in a bag in the car on the grounds that the police had
probable cause to search the car (Supp. Hearing Tr. at 41-44),
but reserved judgment on the gun, which was found during a
subsequent search of the car at the police precinct. (Id. at
19.) This case has subsequently been assigned to this Judge. For
the following reasons, Defendant's motion to suppress the
evidence is denied.
Jose Saldana is charged in Counts One, Two, Three, Five and Six
of Indictment 04 Cr. 1012 with 1) conspiracy to commit robbery
(Count One); 2) committing robbery (Counts Two and Three); and 3)
Possessing and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence
(Counts Five and Six).
At the hearing on October 21, 2005, the government established
the following facts: On October 9, 2000, acting on a tip from a confidential
informant regarding a conspiracy to commit robbery by men who
impersonated police officers, New York City Police Department
(NYPD) officers stopped Defendant in his vehicle, and arrested
him and his passengers in the Bronx, New York. The police
officers conducted an immediate search of the defendant and
vehicle, and recovered a duffle bag in the vehicle containing
masks, duct tape, radios, a police scanner, police hat, a book
for police frequencies, and mace, according to testimony of the
police detective responsible for the stop. (Supp. Hearing Tr. at
30-31.) On the orders of a supervisor, the police officers than
moved the vehicle to the 48th Precinct. (Id. at 18, 30-32.) The
vehicle was again searched at the Precinct, by police officers
and a narcotics expert specializing in traps, which are
compartments built into a car to hide contraband and firearms.
(Id. at 18.) This search, which occurred several hours after
the initial arrest, recovered a .38 caliber firearm. (Id. at
19, 33.) At the suppression hearing, the police detective
testified that at the time of the stop Saldana had not obeyed an
order to place his hands in view but had leaned over as if he was
doing something with them around the floor of the car. (Id. at
15.) The police detective also testified that the confidential
informant had advised him that the persons he was involved with
used traps in their cars to conceal guns and contraband (id. at
19), and that on this day the persons were armed. (Id. at 15.)
Judge Cedarbaum declared at the suppression hearing that she
found "the officer's testimony reliable and credible." (Id. at
The Court has already determined that the initial stop and
search of Defendant's vehicle and bag on October 9, 2000, was
lawful and conducted with probable cause. The question before
this Court is therefore whether police officers must obtain a
search warrant to search a vehicle once it has been brought back
to the police station or precinct, when presumably any "exigent circumstances" do not exist. This question has been
decided conclusively by the Supreme Court in Chambers v.
Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970).
In Chambers, the police acted on a tip in a robbery case in
stopping a vehicle matching the informers' description. (Id. at
44.) The police arrested the occupants and took the vehicle to
the police station, where they searched it and "found concealed
in a compartment under the dashboard two .38-caliber revolvers"
and some other property. (Id.) Chambers was indicted and
convicted of the robberies, and on habeas review he claimed that
the search of the vehicle at the police station was unlawful, as
it occurred after the arrest and could not be justified as a
search incident to an arrest. (Id. at 46-47.) The Supreme Court
held that where there is probable cause to make an initial search
of a car, "the probable-cause factor still obtained at the
station house." (Id. at 52.)
This "automobile exception" to the warrant clause of the Fourth
Amendment has been held to justify warrantless searches performed
even after any "exigent circumstances" have lapsed, provided
there was initial probable cause to search the vehicle. See
Chambers, 399 U.S. at 52; Michigan v. Thomas, 458 U.S. 259,
261 (U.S. 1982) ("the justification to conduct such a warrantless
search does not vanish once the car has been immobilized; nor
does it depend upon a reviewing court's assessment of the
likelihood in each particular case that the car would have been
driven away, or that its contents would have been tampered with,
during the period required for the police to obtain a warrant.");
United States v. Harwood, 998 F.2d 91, 97 (2d Cir. 1993)
(upholding the search of a van at a police command post several
hours after the arrest of the occupants and seizure of the
vehicle.) The "automobile exception" applies as well to the facts
in this case, wherein police officers arrested Defendant Saldana,
and took the vehicle back to the police precinct where it was
subsequently searched. Considering the officers' belief from the informant that the
defendants were armed, Saldana's actions at the time of the
arrest, and the informant's tip regarding the traps, it was
reasonable for the police officers to search the entire car, and
the front passenger area near Saldana where they found the gun.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant's motion to suppress
evidence is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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