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United States v. Bernacet

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 1, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RONNIE BERNACET, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued: May 1, 2013

Appellant Ronnie Bernacet appeals from a judgment of conviction, entered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Laura Taylor Swain, Judge), of possessing a handgun after a felony conviction in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Bernacet asserts that (1) the search of law enforcement databases at a traffic checkpoint rendered that stop an unreasonable seizure of his person in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) officers lacked probable cause to believe that he was violating his parole; and (3) because a parole violation does not provide a lawful basis for a warrantless arrest in New York, his arrest for a parole violation was unconstitutional. We hold that (1) the de minimis additional time taken to search a database did not render the traffic checkpoint an unreasonable seizure; (2) officers had sufficient probable cause to believe that Bernacet was violating his curfew; and (3) the New York law prohibiting warrantless arrests for parole violations that are not themselves crimes or offenses is a state "arrest rule" subject to Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164 (2008), and Bernacet's arrest was not unconstitutional. We therefore AFFIRM the district court's judgment.

DARRELL B. FIELDS, Appeals Bureau, Federal Defenders of New York, Inc., New York, NY, for Appellant Ronnie Bernacet.

MATTHEW L. SCHWARTZ, Assistant United States Attorney (Iris Lan, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Appellee United States of America.

Before: Sack, Wesley, and Carney, Circuit Judges.

Wesley, Circuit Judge

Ronnie Bernacet appeals from a judgment of conviction entered against him in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Laura Taylor Swain, Judge) following a one-day bench trial on October 25, 2011. Bernacet was convicted of one count of possessing a firearm following a conviction for a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The district court sentenced Bernacet to 57 months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release.

Bernacet asserts that (1) the use of a criminal history database search at a routine traffic checkpoint rendered the stop an unconstitutional seizure of his person; (2) the police lacked probable cause to believe that he was violating his parole; and (3) warrantless arrests for parole violations are unconstitutional in New York. We disagree and find that: (1) the criminal history database search was a de minimis extension of the constitutional traffic checkpoint; (2) the police had probable cause to believe that Bernacet was violating his parole; and (3) Bernacet's arrest was constitutional, notwithstanding state laws prohibiting officers from arresting parole violators without a warrant in the absence of a crime or offense. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court.

Background

On October 5, 2010, New York Police Department ("NYPD") officers conducting a two-hour scheduled traffic-safety vehicle checkpoint in the Bronx stopped motorists to check their driver's licenses and vehicle registrations. They collected licenses from only the drivers and ran each driver's license through NYPD's "FINEST" system using a mobile device terminal ("MDT") in the squad car. This "generate[d] a report from the New York Statewide Police Information Network ('NYSPIN'), which includes data from multiple sources, including" Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") databases, New York State law enforcement records, and New York Department of Motor Vehicle ("DMV") records. Callahan Dec. "An officer cannot . . . elect to run a FINEST search from an MDT through some but not all of these databases." Id. It typically took less than one minute to run each of the license checks conducted at the stop. Id. Officer Patrick Callahan, who had conducted "approximately 100 vehicle safety checkpoints at that location" during his 22 years with the NYPD, ran licenses through the FINEST system. Id. The checkpoint resulted in two felony arrests, including Bernacet's.

Bernacet pulled up to the checkpoint at approximately 11:45 p.m. He gave his driver's license to Officer Ramon Garcia, who passed it to Callahan. When he ran Bernacet's license, Callahan noticed that Bernacet was on parole. Knowing that parolees in New York customarily have 9:00 p.m. curfews, he instructed Garcia to "check it out." Id. Garcia confronted Bernacet about his suspected parole violation. Garcia contends that Bernacet replied that "he forgot and was sorry." Garcia Dec. Bernacet "has claimed variously that he replied, 'What, I'm on violation of parole?' and 'I don't have a curfew my parole officer know I am here [sic].'" United States v. Bernacet, No. 11-cr-00107-LTS, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101258, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 7, 2011) (citations omitted).

Garcia asked Bernacet to step out of the car. Garcia maintains that he then saw a handgun protruding from Bernacet's pocket; Bernacet alleges that the firearm was not discovered until Garcia frisked him. Id. Garcia then arrested Bernacet. A frisk incident to the arrest revealed a gravity knife in addition to the loaded, .25-caliber Armi-Galesi-Bresci semi-automatic pistol. After receiving his Miranda warnings, Bernacet made several incriminating statements. Id.

Discussion

Bernacet contends that the officers (1) should not have searched law enforcement databases at a traffic safety checkpoint, (2) did not have probable cause to believe that he was violating his parole, and (3) were not authorized under state law to arrest him for a parole violation, and that therefore his arrest was unconstitutional. Success on any of these claims would require suppression of the handgun and incriminating statements Bernacet made pursuant to his arrest. We hold that the NYSPIN search was reasonable; the officers had probable cause to believe that Bernacet was violating his parole; and his warrantless arrest was not ...


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