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United States of America v. James E. Wright

April 2, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.


The Defendant in this case, James E. Wright, filed a motion to suppress any evidence obtained by government agents from the search of his residence and certain post-arrest statements obtained by government agents. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion is denied in all respects.


In or about March 2008, Wright recruited a confidential witness ("CW") to assist him in what was suspected to be his cocaine and crack business. On several occasions, the CW and the Defendant went to a residence located at 1 Vanderbilt Drive, Apt. E-81, Mineola, New York (the "Subject Premises"), to retrieve narcotics for use in pre-arranged drug transactions. The Government contends that the Subject Premises was a stash house for narcotics, cash and firearms. According to the Government, the Defendant gave the CW his own key to the Subject Premises and told him to stay there at his leisure, which the CW did approximately five times, staying as long as one week on one occasion.

On May 17, 2008, the CW and the Defendant were arrested in Hempstead, New York, while in the process of making a drug transaction. According to the Defendant, at the time of his arrest, he was seated alone in the driver's seat of a 2009 Pontiac rental vehicle in the parking lot of a 7-11 store. The officers allegedly forcibly removed him from the vehicle, searched him, and handcuffed him. Wright was then placed in a law enforcement vehicle and driven to a Nassau County Police Precinct. He arrived at the precinct around 6:00pm and was placed in a locked interrogation room. The Defendant alleges that over the course of the next ten hours, he repeatedly asked the police officers to allow him to call his lawyer, but the officers refused to allow him to make any calls.

As for the CW, later in the day after his arrest, he advised police officers of the location of the Subject Premises and that he possessed a key to the residence. The CW then led the police officers to the location, while informing them that he knew the code to disarm the burglar alarm and providing them with specific details as to the layout of the apartment. As promised, the key in the CW's possession unlocked the front door to the Subject Premises and the CW was able to disarm the burglar alarm. Once inside, the officers observed narcotics in plain view.

On May 18, 2008, at approximately 3:30am, the police informed the Defendant of the search and what they had uncovered. The officers also told the Defendant that the CW had given them permission to search the Subject Premises and that he had given the police both the key to the residence as well as the code for the alarm. According to the Defendant, the CW did not have the key to the residence nor did he know the alarm code. Moreover, the Defendant also alleges that the CW had no authority, either actual or apparent, to authorize a consent search of that apartment.

The Defendant claims that he never made any oral statements to the police, except to repeatedly request permission to call an attorney. He does not remember the police ever giving him his Miranda warnings. According to the Government, the Defendant was advised of his Miranda rights before he made inculpatory statements.


A.As to Whether the CW Properly Gave Consent to Search the Subject Premises

In general, a warrantless police search of a defendant's private premises will not violate a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights if it is conducted pursuant to the consent, voluntarily given, of another person who has authority to consent by reason of that person's "common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises." United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171, 94 S. Ct. 988, 39 L.

Ed. 2d 242 (1974); see United States v. McGee, 564 F.3d 136, 138-39 (2d Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court's decision in Matlock sets forth the test for actual authority. Under Matlock, "common authority" is not based on the law of property but rather on mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control for most purposes, so that it is reasonable to recognize that any of the cohabitants has the right to permit inspection in his own right and that the others have assumed the risk that one of their number might permit the common area to be searched.

Id. at 171 n. 7, 94 S. Ct. 988.

In United States v. Davis, 967 F.2d 84, 87 (2d Cir. 1992), the Second Circuit stated that a third-party may validate a search by giving the authorities consent to search "if two prongs are present: first, the third party had access to the area searched, and, second, had either: (a) common authority over the area; or (b) a substantial interest in the area; or (c) permission to gain access." The permission to gain access may be express or implied. See United States v. Gradowski, 502 F.2d 563, 564 (2d Cir. 1974) (per curiam) (finding consent to search a car valid where the consenting party was in possession of car and keys); United States v. Buettner-- Janusch, 646 F.2d 759, 765 (2d Cir. 1981) (finding consent valid where the consenting party was a co-worker who had been given keys to the area searched and had standing permission to use the premises); United States v. Pravato, 505 F.2d 702, 703 ...

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