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UNITED STATES v. MAIDEN

November 15, 1994

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
LEON MAIDEN, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY SPORKIN

 This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence seized during a warrantless search of his residence at 1619 17th Street, S.E., Apt. 205 on September 12, 1994 during the night hours. While searching the apartment after Defendant's arrest, the police recovered a sawed-off Ruger .22 calibre semiautomatic rifle from the bottom of a toy box located in the bedroom. The police also recovered two thirty-round ammunition clips; one clip, loaded with 28 .22 calibre bullets, was found in a laundry bag and the other clip, which was empty, was found in the toy box. There were no ammunition clips loaded in the gun.

 Defendant, who has no prior convictions and maintains a steady job, has been charged in a five count indictment with 1) possession of an unregistered firearm, 26 U.S.C. § 5861 (d); 2) assault with a dangerous weapon, D.C. Code § 22-502; 3) possession of a prohibited weapon, a machine gun, D.C. Code § 22-3214(a); 4) possession of an unregistered firearm, D.C. Code § 6-2311(a); and 5) possession of unregistered ammunition, D.C. Code § 2361(3).

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 On September 12, 1994, Letecha West, the mother of Defendant's children, went to Defendant's apartment building to ask Defendant for money for the children. Ms. West did not enter Defendant's apartment, but spoke to him from outside the building while Defendant stood on his second floor balcony. An argument ensued when Defendant refused to give Ms. West the requested money. As Ms. West began to leave, Defendant pointed a gun at her which she believed to be an Uzi.

 Ms. West reported this incident of domestic violence to two Metropolitan Police Department officers, Officers Michael Bryant and Lamont West, who had been stationed approximately 4 blocks from Defendant's building. The officers, accompanied by Ms. West, immediately went to Defendant's apartment.

 Defendant came onto the balcony of his apartment when the police arrived and Ms. West identified him as the man who had pointed the weapon at her. The officers asked Defendant if they could speak to him and if he would let them into his apartment. Defendant refused to allow the police entry into his apartment and told the police that he would talk to them from his balcony. As the police talked to Defendant, Defendant periodically left the balcony and re-entered his apartment. Believing that Defendant had just assaulted the mother of his children with a deadly weapon, the police officers became concerned that Defendant might return to the balcony with the weapon. Due to their understandable concern based on Defendant's suspicious and belligerent behavior, the police officers called Sergeants Willie Dandridge and Vernon Gudger to the scene.

 While Sergeant Dandridge spoke to Defendant, Sergeant Gudger climbed up a pipe on the side of the apartment building and onto Defendant's balcony. Sergeant Gudger entered the apartment and let the other three officers, as well as Ms. West, into the apartment through the front door.

 Defendant was arrested and handcuffed. The police then conducted a search of the entire apartment and the gun and ammunition clips were recovered. At no point did the police obtain a search warrant.

 ANALYSIS AND DECISION

 ARREST

 The Fourth Amendment protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures. An arrest, the seizure of a person, must be based on probable cause. An officer has probable cause to effectuate an arrest when at the time of the arrest, the officer has within his knowledge facts and circumstances of which he has reasonably trustworthy information that would warrant a reasonably prudent person to believe that the suspect had committed a crime. Beck v. Ohio 379 U.S. 89, 13 L. Ed. 2d 142, 85 S. Ct. 223 (1964). In this case, the officers had probable cause to arrest Defendant Maiden based on the report of Ms. West that he had assaulted her with a deadly weapon as well as the officer's observations of Defendant's erratic behavior on the balcony as they spoke to him.

 Police generally do not need an arrest warrant to arrest a person in a public place. United States v. Watson 423 U.S. 411, 46 L. Ed. 2d 598, 96 S. Ct. 820 (1976). On the other hand, to arrest a person in his home in a non-emergency situation, the police must have a warrant. Payton v. New York 445 U.S. 573, 63 L. Ed. 2d 639, 100 S. Ct. 1371 (1980). Although Defendant was in his home at the time of the arrest, exigent circumstances justified the arrest of Defendant without a warrant. Welsh v. Wisconsin 466 U.S. 740, 80 L. Ed. 2d 732, 104 S. Ct. 2091 (1984) (delineates exigent circumstances exception). When the police arrived on the scene during the night hours of September 12, 1994, Defendant was towering above the police officers on his balcony with free access to his apartment where the Police reasonably believed that he had an UZI that he had just pointed at the mother of his children. Defendant was acting strangely and refusing to talk ...


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