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United States v. Traylor

January 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


This Court referred all pretrial matters in this criminal case to United States Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Defendant, Marvin Traylor, was arrested by members of the Rochester Police Department on June 19, 2007. The officers searched him and found keys to the premises in which he was found, as well as $310 in cash. Defendant moved to suppress those items. The Government defended the motion on the grounds that the items were seized incident to a lawful arrest. Defendant, on the other hand, claims that there was no probable cause to arrest him.

Magistrate Judge Payson held a suppression hearing at which one of the arresting officers, Daniel Zimmerman, testified. Defendant did not testify. Magistrate Judge Payson issued a detailed Report and Recommendation (Dkt. #32) recommending that defendant's motion to suppress be denied. Defendant duly filed objections to that Report and Recommendation (Dkt. #35).

I have reviewed the Report and Recommendation, the objections and the transcript of the suppression hearing (Dkt. #24). I accept and adopt the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Payson. I agree with her analysis and assessment and conclude that the police did have probable cause to arrest Traylor on the day in question and that the seizure of the items found on his person was proper. Defendant's motion to suppress is therefore denied.

The facts surrounding defendant's arrest are largely undisputed. In fact, as Magistrate Judge Payson noted in her Report and Recommendation, the parties entered into a stipulation in which they agreed to most of the operative facts. See Dkt. #27.

That stipulation, and Magistrate Judge Payson's Report and Recommendation, familiarity with both of which is assumed, set forth the relevant facts known to the police at the time of the events in question. In short, on June 19, 2007, the officers executed a search warrant issued by a state court judge, at 100 Chili Avenue, Apartment 1, in Rochester, New York. The search warrant had been obtained because drugs had been sold to informants at that address on two occasions within a few weeks of the June 19 date.

Inside the house (which the officers entered with the use of a battering ram), the officers found Traylor and his female companion, Jessica Hernandez. No one else was present.

The apartment was, to say the least, sparsely furnished. There were no dressers, no clothes to be found, and little or no furniture or other amenities typically associated with a dwelling place.

On a shelf in the bathroom of the apartment, the officers found twenty-five baggies containing crack cocaine, a number of empty baggies, and a scale. These were found in a closed "Clorox Wipes" container. No other drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the apartment.

The police had not seen Traylor previously at the apartment, and he did not match the description of the very large man (estimated at 260 to 300 pounds) whom the informants had identified as the person who had distributed drugs to them at the apartment. Additionally, the officers had learned from Traylor's companion, Ms. Hernandez (who was not arrested), that Traylor had brought her to the apartment that day to "celebrate" her birthday.*fn1

Defendant contends that the evidence shows no more than that Traylor was present at a scene where drugs were found during the execution of the search warrant. Traylor did not testify at the suppression hearing and there is no evidence that he said anything to the officers on the scene to explain why he was there. It was only Ms. Hernandez who explained, to some extent, the couple's presence there.

The issue before me, then, is whether the officers on the scene had probable cause to arrest Traylor. Determining whether probable cause exists requires an examination of the "totality of the circumstances." See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230-31 (1983). As stated by Magistrate Judge Payson, "probable cause requires no more and no less than a 'reasonable ground for belief of guilt.'" Report and Recommendation at 8 (quoting Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, at 371 (2003) (additional internal quotes omitted).

Of course, stating the applicable rules does not resolve the question. Each case is unique and must be judged on its own facts. Based on the facts before me, I agree with Magistrate Judge Payson's conclusion that the officers had an objectively reasonable basis to arrest Traylor.*fn2

Based on the facts before me, I find that the officers were justified in concluding, first, that the premises were being used as a drug house, i.e., a location from which illegal drugs were dispensed. For one thing, the officers knew that drug sales had occurred there ...

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