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Griffin v. United States

May 27, 2004


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-167-00) (Hon. Linda D. Turner, Trial Judge)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Steadman, Associate Judge, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson, Senior Judge

Submitted March 23, 2004

Appellant, Jacobi Griffin, was convicted by a jury of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of marijuana, and two counts of introducing contraband (marijuana and cocaine) into a penal institution.*fn1 He now appeals his conviction of all counts.


The four charges all arose from an incident that occurred on December 13, 1999, at Community Correctional Facility Number 4, a halfway house located in Washington, D.C. Appellant was an inmate there on the day the violations occurred. He and the other inmates who lived there were allowed to leave the facility during daytime hours, but were required to return in the early evening. When appellant returned to the facility on the day in question, a corrections officer observed that he was acting in a peculiar manner, and conducted a pat-down search. The pat-down search did not reveal anything, so the officer escorted appellant into a restroom, where appellant was told to remove articles of clothing, including his pants. When appellant removed his pants, the officer saw that he was wearing a second pair of pants, from which the officer recovered a considerable quantity of cocaine. The cocaine was packed in separate bags in a manner that indicated intent to distribute. The search also uncovered a small amount of marijuana which, by its quantity and packaging, appeared to be for personal use.


Appellant raises four issues on appeal. We consider each of them and find appellant's arguments unpersuasive.


Appellant moved before trial to suppress the evidence uncovered during the search (the cocaine and marijuana) on the ground that the search constituted an unreasonable intrusion upon his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The corrections officer who conducted the search testified during the suppression hearing that appellant was searched because there had been a prior seizure of contraband from appellant, because of the peculiar manner in which he was acting upon his return to the facility, and because there had been a seizure of contraband from another inmate earlier that day. The trial court credited this testimony and found that in light of all of the surrounding circumstances the search was reasonable.

Our scope of review of a denial of a motion to suppress evidence is limited. Harris v. United States, 738 A.2d 269, 274 (D.C. 1999). We give considerable deference to the fact-finder's ability to weigh the evidence, determine witness credibility and draw reasonable inferences therefrom, Mitchell v. United States, 683 A.2d 111, 114 (D.C. 1996); Dickerson v. United States, 650 A.2d 680, 683 (D.C. 1994), but we review the trial court's ultimate conclusions of law de novo. Davis v. United States, 759 A.2d 665, 669 (D.C. 2000).

The record before us reflects that appellant was an inmate at the halfway house. We have consistently held that halfway houses are penal institutions for the purposes of D.C. Code § 22-2601. Demus v. United States, 710 A.2d 858, 861 (D.C. 1998) (appendix); Gonzalez v. United States, 498 A.2d 1172, 1174 (D.C. 1985); Mundine v. United States, 431 A.2d 16, 17 (D.C. 1981). Both D.C. Code § 22-2601 and D.C. Code § 22-2603 deal with prisoner misconduct and use the same terminology, i.e., "penal institution."*fn2 We now hold that for purposes of D.C. Code § 22-2603 a halfway house is a penal institution, and that inmates in halfway houses are entitled to no greater a level of Fourth Amendment protection than are inmates in prisons, jails and other penal institutions. See Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 870, 874 (1986). (Halfway houses are one option on continuum of possible punishments ranging from solitary confinement to a few hours of community service.)

The Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979) considered the right of prisoners, including pretrial detainees, to Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches, and held that "the Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches, and under the circumstances, we do not believe these [searches that include visual inspection of body cavities as part of strip search conducted after every contact visit with a person from outside the institution] are unreasonable." Id. at 558. In allowing body cavity searches upon a showing of less than probable cause, the Court stated that the assessment of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment "requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, and the place where it is conducted." Id. at 559. A basic proposition guiding the Supreme Court in Bell was that "[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system" Id. at 545-46 (1979) (citation omitted). *fn3

Turning to the search challenged by appellant on the motion to suppress, the evidence introduced at the hearing established that appellant had been caught once before at the halfway house with contraband, and that there had been an earlier contraband incident with a different inmate the day appellant was searched. Appellant was acting "peculiar[ly] that day" and was avoiding eye contact with the corrections officer, which suggested the need for a thorough search. Furthermore, the search itself was conducted in a reasonable manner; appellant was taken into a restroom, which afforded some degree of privacy. Additionally, the partial strip search was halted when the drugs were recovered, and ...

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