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Gore v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 18, 2016

NYIA GORE, Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES, Appellee.

          Submitted April 7, 2016

         On Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Criminal Division (DVM-123-12) (Hon. Zoe E. Bush, Trial Judge)

          Bryan P. MacAvoy for appellant.

          Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney, Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, and Matthew Evan Kahn, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Washington, Chief Judge, Glickman, Associate Judge, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

         JUDGMENT

         This case was submitted to the court on the transcript of record and the briefs filed, and without presentation of oral argument. On consideration whereof, and for the reasons set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now hereby

         ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the appellant's conviction is vacated, and the case is remanded for a new trial.

          OPINION

          Stephen Glickman Associate Judge.

         Nyia Gore appeals her conviction after a bench trial for the misdemeanor offense of malicious destruction of property. We reverse and remand because the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress incriminating admissions and physical evidence that police obtained by entering and searching her home without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their . . . houses. . . against unreasonable searches and seizures."[1] Recognizing that "the 'physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed, '"[2] the Supreme Court in Payton v. New York held that such intrusions are per se unreasonable if the police do not have a search or arrest warrant, unless exigent circumstances justify their failure to secure a warrant. There was no exigency in this case, and we reject the government's argument that the exclusionary rule should not be applied because the police inevitably would have discovered the fruits of their unlawful entry by lawful means.

         I.

         On January 17, 2015, Metropolitan Police Officers Christian Tobe and Taylor Collins responded to a call for assistance at a Motel 6 located at 6711 Georgia Avenue, Northwest. The caller, Dwayne Ward, met them in the motel parking lot and requested their help in recovering his personal property from appellant, who was residing in a room at the motel with her two children. Mr. Ward told the officers that appellant had refused to let him back into the room to retrieve his possessions. He showed the officers a text message from appellant saying she had "trashed [his] shit."

         The officers went to appellant's room, knocked on her door, and identified themselves as police officers. Appellant opened the door but did not come out. The officers remained in the hallway and spoke to appellant across the threshold. The ensuing exchange was recorded by a body camera worn by Officer Tobe. The recording was introduced in evidence at trial.

         When appellant opened her door, Officer Tobe greeted her and started to say, "So, uh, I hear you have, uh, some stuff -" when she interrupted him and stated, "I don't have anything. I trashed everything." In response to the officers' subsequent questions, appellant said Mr. Ward's possessions were "not in this building" but in a dumpster and she would not go "dumpster diving" to retrieve them. Appellant became defensive and the colloquy between her and the police grew increasingly heated. About two minutes into the encounter, the officers told appellant she had committed a crime. After some additional back-and-forth, Officer Tobe bluntly told appellant they would arrest her unless they could recover Mr. Ward's property. "Now, " he asked her, "does that change your tune any?" Appellant answered, "No it doesn't." Appellant asked whether Mr. Ward was in the hallway, and when the officers indicated he was there, she shouted for him and walked toward the doorway. The officers then entered the room, without appellant's consent, and Officer Tobe handcuffed her. Within fifteen seconds of being handcuffed, appellant finally admitted, "Okay, it's - I'm sorry, but everything is in the tub, and it's - yes, it's destroyed. I tore everything up, I ripped everything up, and I'm sorry. He hurt me."

         While Officer Collins remained with appellant, Officer Tobe escorted Mr. Ward into the bathroom to retrieve a trash bag containing his property - a backpack that had been "cut to pieces, " papers that had been ripped up, and a radio that had been "smashed." The officers then formally arrested appellant.

         Appellant moved to suppress the physical evidence seized from her bathroom and her statements to the police as having been obtained in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The motion hearing was incorporated in appellant's bench trial. Officer Tobe testified that in light of appellant's statements and text message, he believed when he and Officer Collins entered appellant's room that they had probable cause to arrest her for destroying or taking Mr. Ward's property without right. Officer Tobe explained that "we came in the apartment to continue questioning her" about what had happened to the property. In view of appellant's agitated state, he also "wanted to prevent her from getting out in the hallway" and having a confrontation there with Mr. Ward. Officer Tobe further testified that if appellant had not told them where Mr. Ward's property was, "we would have probably searched through the trash cans" and "had we not found [the property] in the dumpsters . . . [w]e could have applied for a search warrant."

         In support of her suppression motion, appellant argued that the officers violated her Fourth Amendment rights when, in the absence of exigent circumstances, they entered and searched her home without her consent and without a warrant; and, further, that the officers lacked probable cause to justify their entry. In opposition, the government argued that the officers had probable cause to enter appellant's home and arrest her based on her text message and her initial statement to the police, and also to keep her from coming out of her apartment in her agitated state. The government further argued that the police inevitably would have recovered Mr. Ward's property by lawful means had appellant not revealed its location to them because they would have applied for a warrant to search her room "once they did not find the items in the dumpster."[3]

         Appellant grounded her Fifth Amendment claim on the failure of the officers to give her Miranda warnings before questioning her. The government countered that appellant's statements were spontaneous, voluntary, and not the product of custodial interrogation.

         The trial court denied the motion essentially for the reasons that the government advanced. It held that appellant's Fifth Amendment rights were not violated because her statements were spontaneous and not in response to custodial interrogation. In addition, the court held, "once the Defendant's says 'I trashed everything, everything is in the tub, I ripped it up, ' there's probable cause to arrest her, and the recovery of the items in the bathtub is therefore inevitable, regardless of the fact that there was no consent and no warrant." Thereafter, based on the evidence summarized above, [4] the court also denied appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal and found appellant guilty. It concluded that the government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant had damaged Mr. Ward's property, intentionally and without adequate provocation or excuse, and that the property had some value.

         II.

         Appellant contends the trial court erred in not suppressing the evidence seized from her room and her statements to police and, in any event, in finding the government's proof sufficient to convict her of malicious destruction of property. We find merit only in appellant's Fourth Amendment claim. Before addressing that claim, we first dispose of appellant's other contentions.

         A. Sufficiency ...


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