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04/14/92 TROY MARTIN v. UNITED STATES

April 14, 1992

TROY MARTIN, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Donald S. Smith, Trial Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, Steadman, Associate Judge, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gallagher

GALLAGHER, Senior Judge: This case was previously remanded to the trial court for factual findings on two issues: (1) "whether the police had probable cause to arrest Martin" on February 3, 1983, and (2) "whether there was valid consent to enter his grandparents' home." Martin v. United States, 567 A.2d 896, 907 (D.C. 1989). *fn1 On remand, the trial court made specific findings of facts and concluded that the police had probable cause to arrest Martin. It further concluded that, pursuant to New York v. Harris, 110 S. Ct. 1640, 109 L. Ed. 2d 13 (1990), "the question of whether there was a valid consent to the entry of the grandparents' house to arrest does not bar the use of statement made at the station house after his removal from the grandparents' home." Accordingly, the trial court found it unnecessary to reach the question of consent, but it nevertheless concluded that the record was clear that Martin's grandparents had given their consent. Martin now challenges these findings of fact and Conclusions of law as clearly erroneous. We affirm.

On remand to determine whether there was probable cause to arrest appellant Troy Martin on February 3, 1983, and whether the police entered his grandparents' house with their consent, the trial court made several general and specific findings of fact and Conclusions of law. We relate here several of the court's factual findings to facilitate our review as to whether the court was wrong in concluding (a) that probable cause existed on February 3 to arrest Martin, (b) that in light of Harris, supra, 110 S. Ct. at 1640, the issue of consent was irrelevant, and (c) at any rate, Martin's grandparents had consented to the entry of the police into their home.

On January 25, 1983, Charles Randolph was murdered in his home for money. A pillow had been put over his head and a bullet fired through the pillow into the back of his head. Later that same day, an anonymous caller reported to Detective Terrell that he had witnessed two men, "Troy" and "Skeeter," at the murder scene at approximately the time of the murder. He said that the two men ran away when a police car drove by. Later, at a liquor store, he overheard "Skeeter" relating that Randolph had been shot through the back of the head through a pillow for several hundred dollars. The information that a pillow was involved had not been released by the police to the public.

In the meantime, Detective Steel recalled the names, "Troy" and "Skeeter," *fn2 which the anonymous caller had mentioned, and, within forty-eight hours of the murder, provided Detective Terrell with the names and addresses of Troy Martin and Skeeter Johnson. He also told Detective Terrell that Skeeter was in prison, but that his brother Benjamin closely resembled him. Meanwhile, the police were able to determine the identity of the reluctant witness, *fn3 and he came in for questioning on January 27, two days after the murder. At this interview, the witness described in detail to Detective Terrell that he had seen "Troy" and a man whom he thought was called "Skeeter" at the murder scene and had overheard the revealing liquor store conversation. During the interview, the witness identified "Troy" as Troy Martin from a photographic array which included the photographs of Skeeter Johnson and Troy Martin which had been given to Detective Terrell by Detective Steel. *fn4 The witness also made a photographic identification of the man he had called "Skeeter" as Benjamin Johnson, who was in fact Skeeter's brother.

Later, Detective Terrell had a conversation with Sergeant Thomas discussing the evidence they had against Troy Martin and asked him to bring Martin in for questioning. Thomas misunderstood Terrell's request and, on February 3, went to the house of Martin's grandparents to arrest Martin. From its findings of facts, the trial court concluded that even though Detective Terrell did not intend for Martin to be arrested at that time, probable cause nevertheless existed to warrant his arrest on February 3.

Next, the trial court found it unnecessary to reach the question of whether there was a valid consent for the police to enter the house of Martin's grandparents to arrest him because the court considered that it was bound by the holding in Harris, supra, 110 S. Ct. at 1640. There, the Supreme Court held that so long as probable cause existed at the time of the arrest, a statement made by the arrested person outside his home is still admissible at trial even though the routine felony arrest was made inside the home without a warrant and without consent to enter his home. Nevertheless, the trial court concluded that the record is quite clear and uncontradicted that appellant's grandparents consented to the police entry and specifically noted that (1) the grandparents "had been fully advised by [appellant's] mother that the police were coming" to pick up appellant and (2) after the police arrived, the grandfather knocked to the floor a relative who was giving the police a difficult time. Appellant contends that the findings of facts and Conclusions of law made by the trial court are clearly erroneous and thus seeks to have his conviction vacated and a new trial ordered.

I. PROBABLE CAUSE

Although we agree that there is "no fixed formula for determining the existence of probable cause," In re E.G., 482 A.2d 1243, 1246 (D.C. 1984) (quoting Smith v. United States, 435 A.2d 1066, 1068 (D.C. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 950, 71 L. Ed. 2d 665 , 102 S. Ct. 1454 (1982)), this court has repeatedly held it to exist

when the facts and circumstances within a police officer's knowledge, of which he or she has reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.

Martin, supra, 567 A.2d at 903 (citing Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-76, 93 L. Ed. 1879 , 69 S. Ct. 1302 (1949)). Thus, a finding of probable cause depends not on certainties nor even eventual truth, but on the practical considerations of daily life on which reasonable and prudent persons, not legal experts, act. In re E.G., supra, 482 A.2d at 1246.

The trial court found that on February 3 the police were aware of the following facts and circumstances which amply supported a finding of probable cause to arrest Martin: (1) an initially anonymous witness called the police and informed them that he had seen "Troy" and another person at the scene of the crime during the critical time and had observed them behaving suspiciously; (2) the witness had later overheard the other-person describing the robbery and murder including the undisclosed fact that the victim had been shot in the head through a pillow; and (3) within two days of the murder, this witness repeated this information, in person, to the police and identified "Troy" as Troy Martin from a photographic array. Taking account of ...


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