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United States v. Hopkins

November 22, 2000

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF,
V.
ANDREW LEE HOPKINS AND KEISHA WILSON DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The defendants move the Court to suppress evidence seized during a search of their residence. They assert that the warrant on which the search was predicated was not supported by probable cause, and that officers executing the warrant did not possess a good faith belief in its validity. The defendants further move the Court for severance of their joint trial. The government counters each of these motions. After considering the parties' oral arguments, their memoranda of points and authorities, and for the following reasons, the Court hereby DENIES the defendants' suppression motions and further DENIES their motions to sever.

BACKGROUND

On Friday, December 10, 1999, Mr. Hopkins, one of the defendants, was socializing with two of his friends in front of 317 51st Street, Northeast. Two police officers on routine patrol approached the three men on foot and noticed Mr. Hopkins making "furtive movement[s]" with his hand near his waistline. See Affidavit in Support of an Application for a Search Warrant ¶ 2. Upon seeing this, the officers ordered Hopkins to raise his hands away from his waist. At this order, Hopkins fled. One of the officers gave chase, eventually catching and tackling Hopkins. During the tackle, a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol fell from Hopkins' pants, causing him to be arrested for, inter alia, carrying a pistol without a license.

Less than three days later, Investigator John Ashley sought a search warrant for Hopkins' residence. Mr. Ashley averred that the recent arrestee "may have at his home address . . . additional guns, ammunition, gun care and cleaning materials, receipts for guns and related gun materials, reloading equipment, holsters and accessories." Id. at ¶ 7. Mr. Ashley seems to have based this conclusion on three grounds: his formal training, his on-the-job experience, and Hopkins' recent gun-related arrest.

Regarding his formal training, Mr. Ashley swore in his affidavit that:

The affiant has received related Narcotic and Drug Trafficking training in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Drug Investigators School, as well as the Maurice T. Turner Institute for Police Science. The affiant has been trained in enforcement of the D.C. Code, Uniform Controlled Substance Act and other related narcotics violations. The affiant has also received training in drugs, pharmacology, and related topics during certification and training as an Emergency Medical Technician in both the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Id. at ¶ 5.

Regarding his on-the-job experience, Mr. Ashley swore in his affidavit that:

The affiant has participated in over 150 narcotics related arrests and search warrants, as well as arrests for firearms and weapons violations within the District of Columbia. During my tenure with the Metropolitan Police Department, your affiant has learned the following:

A. That narcotic traffickers keep and store firearms, and all related accessories, ammunition, etc., within their premises to protect their narcotics and themselves.

B. That narcotic traffickers keep additional narcotics, cutting agents, scales, packaging material, and other instruments used to package narcotics in their homes.

C. That narcotic traffickers keep large sums of currency within their premises to maintain their narcotics trafficking operations as well as the fruits of their narcotics sales.

D. That narcotics traffickers maintain documents receipts, ledgers, tally sheets of sales, lists of clients, related records, and bank documents recording transactions from their narcotic trafficking. Id. at ¶ 5-6.

Despite his extensive experience in narcotics enforcement, Mr. Ashley has relatively little experience in obtaining search warrants. He admitted during the November 15, 2000 hearing that this was the first application for a search warrant he had ever made.

Regarding Hopkins' gun-related arrest, Mr. Ashley's sworn statement is less straightforward. He did not aver that the arrest likely suggested a broader pattern of illegal gun use, but rather stated without any explanation that the defendant had previously been arrested:

The affiant reports that within the past seventy-two hours, the resident of the described premises was arrested when he was found to be in possession of a semi-automatic handgun which he had concealed upon his person outside of his home. This is a violation of D.C. Code. Id. at ¶ 1.

Based on this affidavit, Judge Mitchell of the District of Columbia Superior Court issued a search warrant for Hopkins' residence on December 13, 1999. The warrant permitted officers to search for "firearms, ammunition, [gun] accessories, . . . and related paperwork." The warrant was executed nine days later, at 1:15 PM on December 22, 1999. Hopkins and his friend, Keshia Wilson, were home at the time. During the search of the premises, the officers found, inter alia, (1) a .45 caliber handgun, (2) 53 plastic bags of crack cocaine, (3) 104 plastic bags of heroin, and (4) 1 large chunk of crack cocaine. Hopkins and Wilson are now before this Court facing an indictment based on this evidence. The Court now considers their motions to exclude this evidence, as well as their motions to sever.

ANALYSIS

The defendants argue that the search warrant used to enter and search their residence was not supported by probable cause. Further, they argue that the officers executing the warrant should have known that the warrant was not supported by probable cause. These points together, argue the defendants, necessitate the exclusion of the evidence seized at their residence. Finally, the defendants argue that their joint trial should be split into two separate trials. The Court finds first that the warrant was not based on probable cause, and thus was invalid. The Court also finds, however, that the warrant was executed in good faith by the officers and that the evidence obtained during the search is therefore admissible. Finally, the Court finds that joinder is proper.

I. The Probable Cause ...


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