Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

WRIGHT v. U.S.

August 6, 1998

CLEVELAND WRIGHT, APPELLANT,
V.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, SYLVIA BACON, J.

Before Schwelb, Reid and GREENE,[fn*] Associate Judges. [fn*] Sitting by designation pursuant to D.C.Code § 11-707(a) (1995).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge:

This case, concerning an allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel, due to the failure of defense counsel to file a motion to suppress evidence, presents the issue of whether, under the doctrine of apparent authority, a 1978 search involving a father's consent to the search of his son's bedroom by police officers was valid. The search of a bureau in the bedroom, located on the top floor of Wright's parents' home, turned up items introduced against Wright at trial, including a photograph of him holding a handgun. We conclude, as did the trial court, that the police reasonably relied on the apparent authority of Wright's father to consent to the 1978 search of appellant's bedroom and bureau. Moreover, we hold that the failure of Wright's trial counsel to file a motion to suppress the evidence seized did not prejudice Wright under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 [717 A2d Page 305]

L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), because the motion would not have been successful in 1979.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

In 1981, in an unpublished memorandum opinion and judgment, we affirmed Wright's convictions of first degree felony murder while armed, first degree premeditated murder while armed, and armed robbery. Wright v. United States, No. 80-97 (D.C. May 18, 1981). After Wright subsequently challenged his convictions on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel, we remanded his case to the trial court for a hearing on his claim. Wright v. United States, 608 A.2d 763, 768 (1992).

On remand, an evidentiary hearing focused on: (1) whether Wright's trial counsel had been deficient in failing to file a motion to suppress evidence taken from one of the rooms he allegedly rented in his parents' home, *fn1 and (2) whether he was prejudiced by the use of the evidence at his trial. The trial court found that Wright's, father voluntarily consented to the search of his son's rooms, but had no actual authority to consent to the search of the bureau located in the room where his son slept. However, the court also "conclude[d] that the [police] officers had a reasonable belief that [Wright's] father had the authority to consent to the search of both the room and the bureau." Finally, the court determined that trial counsel's performance in failing to file a suppression motion was deficient under Strickland, supra, but that Wright "failed to demonstrate that he would have prevailed on his suppression motion and. thus . . . failed to show that but for counsel's error there was a 'reasonable probability' that he would have been found not guilty."

ANALYSIS

On appeal, Wright argues that the trial court properly concluded that his parents lacked actual authority to consent to the search of his bedroom and bureau; that the court erred in determining that the police officers reasonably believed that his parents had the authority to consent to the search of his bedroom and his bureau; and that the court erred in declaring that his trial counsel's failure to file a suppression motion did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel under the prejudice prong of Strickland. The government contends Wright was not prejudiced under Strickland because his father had actual authority to consent to the search; the police officers reasonably relied on the apparent authority of Wright's father to consent to the search; and in any event, Wright would have been convicted even if the evidence taken from his bureau had been suppressed.

"To prevail on his ineffective assistance of counsel argument, [Wright] 'must show (1) deficient, performance by his trial counsel, and (2) prejudice traceable to his counsel's deficiencies.' " Courtney v. United States, 708 A.2d 1008, 1010 (D.C. 1998) (quoting Zanders v. United States, 678 A.2d 556, 569 (D.C. 1996) (citing Strickland, supra, 466 U.S. at 689, 104 S.Ct. at 2065)). "The burden is a heavy one because 'a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the range of reasonable professional assistance.' " Id. (quoting Strickland, supra, 466 U.S. at 689, 104 S.Ct. at 2065). " 'To prove prejudice [Wright] must [show] that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.' " Id. 708 A.2d at 1011 (quoting Zanders, supra, 678 A.2d at 569) (other citation omitted).

To determine the validity of the 1978 search at issue in this case, we must examine whether Wright's father's consent to the search was voluntary, see Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 548, 88 S.Ct. 1788, 20 L.Ed.2d 797 (1968); Oliver v. United States, 618 A.2d 705, 709 (D.C. 1993); and either whether the father had the actual authority [717 A2d Page 306]

to consent to the search of his son's bedroom and bureau, or whether the 1978 search of Wright's bureau was valid because the police officers who conducted the search reasonably believed that Wright's father had the authority to consent to the search. See Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 186, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990). *fn2

Because nothing in the record before us indicates that the father's consent was the product of duress or coercion, we agree with the trial judge's conclusion that the father's consent was "freely and voluntarily given." Bumper, supra, 391 U.S. at 548, 88 S.Ct. at 1792. *fn3 As the trial court stated in this case:

[T]he Court finds, based on [Wright's father's] maturity and status as the head of the household, as well as the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the search, that [the father] agreed to the search because he felt that no harm would come of it. This finding is supported not only by the father's willingness to let the police enter his home, but also by his statement to the officers that he had "nothing to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.