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United States of America v. Dante Sheffield

November 3, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DANTE SHEFFIELD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is defendant Dante Sheffield's "Second Motion to Suppress Statement."*fn1 The defendant, along with a co-defendant, is charged in an indictment with one count of possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of phencyclidine ("PCP"), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), arising from the seizure of a lemon juice bottle containing eight ounces of PCP from the vehicle in which the defendant was riding on June 8, 2011.*fn2 On October 5, 2011, defendant Sheffield filed the pending motion to suppress statements that he made to police on May 15, 2010, over a year prior to his arrest for the instant offense. The government has sought to admit these statements under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Upon consideration of the defendant's motion, the memoranda of law submitted by the government and defendant, and the testimony presented at a second suppression hearing on October 14, 2011, for the reasons set forth below, the defendant Sheffield's Second Motion to Suppress Statement is granted.

I.BACKGROUND

On the evening of June 8, 2011, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Officers stopped the vehicle in which defendant Dante Sheffield was a passenger after officers observed the vehicle commit traffic violations.*fn3 Suppression H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 9, Sept. 16, 2011 (testimony of Detective Christopher Smith).*fn4 During a search of the vehicle, officers recovered from the locked center console a lemon juice bottle containing eight ounces of PCP. Id. at 12-13. Defendant Sheffield and the driver of the vehicle, co-defendant Brande Dudley, were subsequently arrested.

Following his indictment for one count of possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of PCP in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), ECF No. 9, defendant Sheffield moved on August 12, 2011 to suppress the physical evidence recovered from the vehicle, and statements he made at the time of his arrest. ECF Nos. 17-18. Following a hearing on these motions held on September 16, 2011, during which the Court heard testimony from one of the arresting officers, the Court denied the motions. Memorandum Opinion and Order dated Sept. 20, 2011, ECF Nos. 32-33.*fn5

On August 12, 2011, the government filed a "Motion to Admit Other Crimes Evidence Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)," in which it informed defendant Sheffield of its intent to use at trial three prior instances of the defendant's bad acts to demonstrate intent, knowledge, and absence of mistake in connection with the underlying offense. ECF No. 19, at 2-3. In describing the defendant's prior statement at issue in the pending motion, the government briefly stated: "During the course of an unrelated homicide investigation, MPD Detectives Robert Cephas and James Wilson interviewed Defendant Sheffield on May 15, 2010. During that voluntary conversation, Defendant Sheffield admitted that on multiple occasions he sold PCP and that he did so at Garfield Terrace."

Id. at 3. Defendant Sheffield objected to the admission of any evidence of prior bad acts, on grounds that the evidence is "intended for propensity evidence only," the evidence is "more prejudicial than probative," and he had not received discovery of the evidence sought to be introduced. Def. Sheffield's Resp. to Gov't's Mot. to Admit Other Crimes Evidence, ECF No. 29, at 3-4.

On September 23, 2011, the Court overruled defendant Sheffield's objection and stated that the government would be permitted to admit at trial the following prior bad acts of defendant Sheffield, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b): "(1) defendant Sheffield's conviction in 2000 for possession with intent to distribute PCP; (2) an audiotape of defendant Sheffield's conversation with a confidential informant on October 8, 2009; and (3) defendant Sheffield's voluntary statements to Metropolitan Police Detectives on May 15, 2010 that he sold PCP, except that no evidence may be admitted that this interview of defendant Sheffield occurred as part of a homicide investigation." Minute Order dated Sept. 26, 2011. At the same time, the Court ordered that discovery related to these prior bad acts be provided to the defendant to the extent not already provided. Status Conference, Sept. 23, 2011.

Shortly after this ruling, on October 5, 2011, defendant Sheffield filed a Second Motion to Suppress Statements. ECF No. 37. The defendant states that, in compliance with the Court's direction for production of discovery related to the Rule 404(b) evidence, he was provided with "a heavily redacted Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS) report containing inculpatory statements" that the defendant made during an interview with police officers on May 15, 2010. Id. at 2. This report, according to defendant Sheffield, indicates that he made these statements while he was in custody and "prior to being advised of or fully understanding his Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 463 (1966) rights." Id. The defendant further asserts that his statements were not voluntary. These circumstances, according to the defendant, warrant suppression of his May 15, 2010 statements.

On October 14, 2011, the Court held a hearing on the defendant's second suppression motion, during which the government presented testimony from Detective James Wilson. Suppression Hr'g Tr. (Rough), Oct. 14, 2011 (testimony of Detective James Wilson).*fn6 Detective Wilson testified that on May 15, 2010, defendant Sheffield was arrested in Takoma, Maryland by the Capital Area Regional Task Force on an outstanding traffic bench warrant and a parole warrant. Id.; Gov't Opp'n Def. Sheffield's Second Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 38, at 1.*fn7 After his arrest, defendant Sheffield was transported directly to the Homicide Branch of the Metropolitan Police Department. Suppression Hr'g Tr. (Rough) at 8, Oct. 14, 2011 (testimony of Detective James Wilson).

At the Homicide Branch, defendant Sheffield was processed for his arrest. Id. at 9. While in custody, Detective Wilson and another detective, who both identified themselves as homicide detectives, asked him to participate in a "voluntary interview" regarding the homicide of Earl Griffith (hereinafter "the decedent"). Id. at 9-10. Defendant Sheffield agreed and was then taken into an interview room for questioning with the detectives. Id. at 9.At no point prior to being questioned by these detectives, either when defendant Sheffield was initially arrested or at the Homicide Branch, was defendant Sheffield informed of his Miranda rights. Id. Detective Wilson testified, however, that defendant Sheffield was never threatened or forced to participate in the interview, nor was he questioned regarding the offenses underlying his arrest -- the traffic offense or the parole violation. Id. at 9-10.The detectives also informed defendant Sheffield that he was not the target of the homicide investigation into the death of Earl Griffith. Id. at 24. That said, the detectives apparently did not inform the defendant that they were focused solely on the murder investigation and were not interested in making a drug-related arrest. Id.

During questioning by the detectives, defendant Sheffield testified that he sold PCP "dippers" in the Garfield Terrace neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and had been selling PCP to the decedent for approximately ten years. Id. at 11. Defendant Sheffield further informed the detectives that he sold PCP to the decedent within minutes of the decedent's murder. Id. at 16. When the decedent was killed, defendant Sheffield was "in the bathroom" of his house, which was within yards of the murder scene. Id. at 21-22. The detectives did not ask defendant Sheffield about his drug dealing, but focused the interview on the circumstances relating to the decedent's murder. Id. at 11.

In his instant motion, defendant Sheffield seeks to suppress the statements made to the homicide detectives regarding his PCP dealing, arguing that the statements are inadmissible because he was not provided Miranda warnings prior to questioning and his statements were not voluntary. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees that the statements made by defendant Sheffield on May 15, 2010 regarding his PCP dealing in ...


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