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December 30, 1992


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Robert M. Scott, Trial Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Farrell and King, Associate Judges. Concurring opinion by Associate Judge King.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

ROGERS, Chief Judge: Appellant Michael W. Spinner appeals his convictions by a jury of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia, D.C. Code §§ 33-541 (a)(1), -603 (a) (1988 Repl.), on the grounds that the trial Judge erred by denying his motion to suppress physical evidence taken from his person and a vehicle he had driven, and by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal. We affirm.


At the suppression hearing, the government's evidence showed that on October 22, 1990, around 1:30 p.m., as police officers Francis Jenkins, Jr., and John J. Harling, in plain clothes, came out of an alley, they saw appellant standing outside of 2100 Fendall Street, an apartment building in Southeast Washington. Standing about five or ten feet in front of appellant was Michael Anderson. When the officers came within 20 feet of the two men, appellant told Anderson to "go serve those guys" and made a pointing hand motion. Anderson began walking towards the plain clothes officers but he turned, when he apparently noticed a police radio in Officer Jenkins' hand, and put several small white objects in his mouth which the officer believed was cocaine. Officer Harling stopped Anderson and told him to spit it out, and he spit out five bags of drugs. Both appellant and Anderson were arrested and searched.

The police found on appellant a set of Acura car keys, a razor blade and an empty plastic bag with white powder residue. Officer Jenkins, who recovered the car keys, asked appellant if he owned a car. Appellant replied that he did not own a car, but he was driving one. *fn1 Jenkins looked down the street and saw a blue Acura parked on the next block, "maybe two cars back." Based on his twenty-three years' experience as a police officer, Jenkins knew that drug dealers in Southeast Washington, D.C. often used their cars "to stash their narcotics." The officer walked to the Acura in the 2000 block of Fendall Street, looked through the car window and saw "a large amount of cash" sticking out of the pouch on the back of the passenger seat. The two officers proceeded to open the car with the keys found on appellant and recovered $4,921 in paper cash currency. *fn2

Appellant's only witness at the motions hearing was Shannon Burroughs, who testified that she was looking out of a hallway window over the front entrance of the apartment building (having come to visit a friend) when appellant was arrested. Just before this she had seen appellant at the front steps of the apartment building talking and laughing with a woman; she did not hear or see appellant speak to anyone else while she was there. Two other men were in the hallway of the apartment building. Someone said something about police, and one of the men ran into an apartment and the other man ran out of the door. Ms. Burroughs testified that one of the men had been making a sale (of drugs, she guessed), to the other man. Ms. Burroughs saw the police recover only keys and a piece of paper from appellant, but not a razor or plastic bags.


Appellant contends that the trial Judge erred by denying the motion to suppress the property taken from his person because the police lacked reasonable suspicion for a Terry *fn3 stop or probable cause for a search. Because appellant was arrested when Officer Jenkins apprehended him, the only issue is whether the police had probable cause to arrest him. Probable cause exists where "the facts and circumstances within the [police officers'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information sufficient in themselves to warrant a man [or woman] of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed." Price v. United States, 429 A.2d 514, 516 (D.C. 1981) (quoting Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 162, 45 S.Ct. 280, 288, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925)). We find no error by the trial Judge in denying appellant's motion to suppress the physical evidence. See Brown v. United States, 590 A.2d 1008, 1020 (D.C. 1991); United States v. McCarthy, 448 A.2d 267, 269 (D.C. 1989).

The trial Judge credited the officer's testimony that he heard appellant direct Anderson to "go serve those guys." When this evidence is added to the evidence of Anderson's behavior -- approaching the officers, and, upon seeing the police radio, putting the five white bags into his mouth which the officer, based on his experience, believed were narcotics -- a reasonable person in the officer's position could believe that an offense had been or was about to be committed. See McCarthy, supra, 448 A.2d at 270 (probable cause found where experienced vice officer in high narcotics area saw object appearing to be a hand-rolled marihuana cigarette in car ashtray and suspects sorting through the ashtray); Peterkin v. United States, 281 A.2d 567, 568 (D.C. 1971) (standard for probable cause is that of a reasonably prudent police officer, drawing on his experience). Therefore, because the police had probable cause to arrest appellant, the search of his person incident to the arrest was valid. See New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 461, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768, 101 S. Ct. 2860 (1981); Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 89 S. Ct. 2034 (1969); In re: E.G., 482 A.2d 1243, 1247 (D.C. 1984).

Appellant's contention, that the trial Judge erred by denying the motion to suppress the physical evidence from the car as the fruit of the poisonous tree, likewise fails. *fn4 Although this court has not decided the question whether or not the non-testimonial fruits of a Miranda *fn5 violation are subject to the exclusionary rule, and appellant's statement that he was driving a car was taken from him before he was advised of his Miranda rights, that question does not have to be reached if the object in question was "arrived at by an independent source." Derrington, supra note 4, 488 A.2d at 1330.

In the instant case, Officer Jenkins was lawfully in possession of the car keys found on appellant. The officer recognized the keys belonged to an Acura car and based on his experience he knew that drug sellers in the area often worked with a car. Jenkins found an Acura car parked in the next block. In Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 44981 L. Ed. 2d 377, 104 S. Ct. 2501 (1984), the Supreme Court, applying the inevitable discovery doctrine, upheld the trial court's finding that searchers would have located a child's body in a ditch during a large-scale search over several miles even if the defendant had not first led the police to the body through admissions obtained in violation of his sixth Amendment rights. So too, the trial Judge here could properly conclude that the discovery was inevitable. Contrary to appellant's contention that the discovery of the money was based on appellant's response to Officer Jenkins' question whether he owned a car, the trial Judge noted that Officer Jenkins never asked appellant where the car was or about the nature of his participation in selling drugs. Based on the officer's testimony, which the Judge credited, the Judge could conclude that the officer's experience with drug dealers in that part of the city was an independent source of information, providing him with reason to suspect that the Acura car keys found on appellant might belong to a car that appellant was using in connection with his drug distribution operation. While appellant's response informed the officer that appellant was using a car, and in that sense the response influenced the officers' conduct, it cannot reasonably be argued under the circumstances that but for appellant's response the police would not have discovered the Acura and the money inside. See Nix v. Williams, supra, v. Williams, supra, 467 U.S. at 444 (government need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that the information "ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means").

Having independently found the car, the police had probable cause to search it because Officer Jenkins had found the Acura car key on someone he had arrested for distributing drugs, and upon looking through the car window he could see "a large amount of cash sticking out of the back pouch." Although, at trial, the officer conceded that he did not see all of the money, in view of the large amount of money and the fact that it was in the form of paper currency, there is no basis on which to conclude that the officer saw anything other than a considerable amount of paper currency sticking out of the seat pocket, and appellant does not argue to the contrary. *fn6 The police could also reasonably conclude that the sellers would stash the proceeds of the drug sales in their cars as well as the drugs. See Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 161, 69 L.Ed. 543, 45 S.Ct. 280 (1925) ("officers were entitled to use their reasoning facilities upon all the facts of which they had previous knowledge in respect to the defendants"). Consequently, it follows that the police could search the car. United States v. Johns, 469 U.S. 478, 484, 83 L. Ed. 2d 890, 105 S. Ct. 881 (1985) ("vehicle lawfully in police custody may be searched on the basis of probable cause to believe that it contains contraband, and there is no requirement of exigent circumstances to justify such a warrantless search").

Accordingly, we hold that the trial Judge did not err in denying the motion to suppress the money.


Finally, appellant's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is meritless.

Viewing the evidence, as we must, in the light most favorable to the government, see Curry v. United States, 520 A.2d 255, 263 (D.C. 1987), the jury could reasonably find that appellant intended to distribute cocaine. The government's evidence showed that appellant, upon seeing the two plainclothes police officers, told Anderson to "go serve those guys," pointing in their direction. Anderson had immediately started walking toward the officers, then stopped and put several small white objects into his mouth which the officer thought was cocaine. Upon being arrested, appellant was found in possession of a razor and a plastic bag with a white residue in it as well as the keys to an Acura car in which nearly $5,000 cash was stashed in a seat pouch pocket. There was expert testimony at trial about the roles played by appellant and Anderson, the uses made of the property found on them, and that the crack cocaine was a usable amount and packaged for individual sale. *fn7 Thus, there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that appellant was in constructive possession of the five bags of cocaine that Anderson had put into his mouth as well as the money in the car. See Wheeler v. United States, 494 A.2d 170, 173 (D.C. 1985); See Carpenter v. United States, 475 A.2d 369, 374-75 (D.C. 1984); Hubbard v. United States, 429 A.2d 1334, 1338 (D.C.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 85770 L. Ed. 2d 153, 102 S. Ct. 308 (1981). See also Thompson v. United States, 567 A.2d 907 (D.C. 1989). That the defense presented contrary evidence created a conflict that was for the jury to resolve; so too was the weight to be given to the absence of any mention in Officer Jenkins' police report that appellant had pointed at the officers upon telling Anderson to "go serve those guys." *fn8 See Carter v. United States, 591 A.2d 233, 234 (D.C. 1991)

Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of conviction.

KING, Associate Judge, Concurring: I join the opinion authored by Chief Judge Rogers but I write separately to emphasize one point. The majority holds that "the police had probable cause to search [the car] because Officer Jenkins had found the Acura car keys on someone he had arrested for distributing drugs, and upon looking through the car window he could see a large amount of cash sticking out of the back pouch.'" Ante p. 6 (emphasis added). I agree that those facts are more than enough to establish probable cause. I join the majority opinion on the understanding that the majority is not holding that probable cause did not exist before the cash was spotted by the police. On facts very similar to those presented here, the Circuit Court held that probable cause to search a vehicle was present once the police learned that the defendant was engaged in drug trafficking, and the vehicle, which brought him to the scene, was located nearby. United States v. Wider, 293 U.S. App. D.C. 16, 19, 951 F.2d 1283, 1286 (1991) . In this case, we need not decide whether probable cause existed before the cash was seen because, as noted, there was probable cause after its discovery, when the search was conducted. I do not read the majority opinion as deciding the issue of whether probable cause existed at the earlier point.

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