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United States v. Harrison

June 27, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JONATHAN HARRISON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Jonathan Harrison is charged in a one count indictment with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute more than fifty (50) grams of a mixture and substance containing cocaine base (crack), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). Dkt. No. 1. On December 14, 2007, defendant filed a motion pursuant Rule 12(b)(3)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to suppress physical evidence law enforcement obtained as a result of an allegedly illegal seizure. Dkt. No. 8. The government opposed defendant's motion and cross-moved for discovery pursuant to Rule 16(b)(1). Dkt. No. 11. In view of the affidavit defendant submitted in support of the motion to suppress, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on March 5, 2008. Following the hearing, at defense counsel's request, the Court permitted the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Defendant contends that evidence that he possessed crack cocaine must be suppressed because law enforcement discovered it following a police detention that exceeded the bounds of a lawful vehicle and traffic stop. The following, based upon the Court's observations at the hearing and consideration of the credible evidence presented, constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT*fn1

On November 2, 2006, at approximately 10:35 p.m., New York State Police Trooper Joseph Krywalski executed a traffic stop on the New York State Thruway in the Town of Dewitt and pulled over a white Nissan Maxima because its license plate lamp was out. Transcript of Suppression Hearing, p.5. At the time, Trooper Krywalski was on the phone with Trooper Timothy Ryan, who was approximately two miles away. T.18, 55. Trooper Krywalski told Trooper Ryan that he was stopping a car and they hung up. T.18. Because the vehicle was "very close to the white line", Trooper Krywalski approached the passenger's side and asked the driver, Marcos Villegas, for his license and registration. T.6. Trooper Krywalski testified that he immediately recognized Villegas because they had met during two prior traffic stops.*fn2 T.8, 13.

Trooper Krywalski observed that there were four people in the vehicle. T.6. Ronisha McBride was in the front, passenger seat, and Lamar Watson and defendant Jonathan Harrison*fn3 were in the back seat of the vehicle. Trooper Krywalski asked Villegas to step out of the vehicle "for safety reasons" and so he could "talk to him . . . check impairment and speak to him face-to face." T.7. Trooper Krywalski further explained that when there is more than one person in a vehicle, it is his standard practice to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle to speak with him. Id.

Trooper Krywalski met Villegas at the rear of the vehicle. T.8. Trooper Krywalski asked Villegas where everyone was going and where they were coming from. T.13. Trooper Krywalski testified that Villegas told him that "they were coming from Rochester and all four people in the vehicle went from Utica to Rochester for a wedding rehearsal" and that they were on their way back to Utica. T.14.

Trooper Krywalski stated that "[i]n essence", at that point, he had all the information he needed to issue a ticket for an equipment violation. T.36. Trooper Krywalski, however, then "went up and . . . interviewed the front seat passenger and the people in the back seat, I asked where they were going, where they were coming from." T.14. According to Trooper Krywalski, they replied "that the two front seat passengers, McBride and Villegas, came from Utica to Rochester to visit friends, they then picked up the two back seat passengers, Harrison and Watson, and all four of them were driving back to Utica." Id. At this point, to ensure that McBride was not confused or had "just left out the fact that they went to a wedding rehearsal, I asked if there was anything special going on in Rochester, she said no, we just went to go visit friends." T.16.

Because the occupants's story about their travels conflicted with Villegas's, Trooper Krywalski returned to the rear of the vehicle and "asked again where they were coming from to make sure that the stories were conflicting. He told me the same thing, that they . . . went to a wedding rehearsal." T.15. Trooper Krywalski then asked Villegas "for consent to search the vehicle due to conflicting stories." Id. Trooper Krywalski testified that Villegas "got very combative and he told me no." T.17.

Approximately two or three minutes after pulling the vehicle over, and while Trooper Krywalski was talking to Villegas for the second time, Trooper Ryan arrived. T.18. Trooper Ryan testified that he exited his vehicle, and approached Villegas's vehicle. T.55. Trooper Ryan "scanned the vehicle" with his flashlight, and "scanned the back seat, saw there was two occupants in the back seat and one occupant in the front." T.56, 57. Trooper Ryan started to talk to McBride on the passenger's side of the vehicle. T.57. Trooper Ryan stated that as he shined his flashlight into the vehicle, he "observed a marijuana joint, burnt marijuana cigarette on the floorboards next to [McBride's] foot."*fn4 T.58.

After observing the marijuana, Trooper Ryan:

walked to the back of the vehicle, and . . . when Trooper Krywalski was done speaking with Mr. Villegas I asked what was going on with the stop and he stated that he had conflicting stories from several parties in the vehicle and that he had asked for consent to search the vehicle and he stated that it was denied and I said I observe[d] what I believed to be a marijuana cigarette at which point in time I told Trooper Krywalski to go up and confirm that.

T.58. Trooper Krywalski testified that it was five or six minutes after the initial stop of the vehicle when Trooper Ryan ...


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