187 F.3d 210 (1st Cir. 1999), 99-1005, US v Jones

Docket Nº:99-1005
Citation:187 F.3d 210
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. CLAUDE S. JONES, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:August 12, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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187 F.3d 210 (1st Cir. 1999)



CLAUDE S. JONES, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 99-1005

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 12, 1999

Submitted May 5, 1999

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Thomas G. Briody, by appointment of the Court, on brief, for appellant.

Margaret E. Curran, United States Attorney, and Alicia M. Milligan, Assistant United States Attorney, on brief, for appellee.

Before Selya, Circuit Judge, Kravitch,[*] Senior Circuit Judge, Lipez, Circuit Judge.

Kravitch, Senior Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant Claude Jones was convicted of possessing and passing counterfeit United States currency with intent to defraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 472 and 2 and conspiring to commit those acts in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. His exclusive ground for appeal is the district court's refusal to grant his motion to suppress evidence seized at the time of his arrest. We conclude that the district court properly denied Jones's motion to suppress and therefore affirm his conviction.


At approximately one o'clock in the morning on January 10, 1998, Rhode Island

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state troopers Thomas Underhill and Timothy Sanzi, who were partners patrolling interstate highway 95 in a police cruiser, received a radio broadcast from trooper Dennis Flemming. Flemming had received a telephone call at the police barracks from a clerk at a convenience store located just off of interstate 95. Flemming asked Underhill and Sanzi to respond to the convenience store and stated that:

The clerk just called, said that . . . two gentlemen just passed a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to his store. He said he didn't realize it until after they left. They left approximately five minutes ago. The only description on the . . . subjects and the vehicle is . . . they were two black male subjects in a mid-90s car, '93 or '95 Oldsmobile, maybe a Buick. Unknown direction.

Instead of going to the convenience store, however, Underhill and Sanzi took up a position in a paved turnaround approximately five to seven miles north of the exit where the convenience store was located, facing the northbound lanes of interstate 95.

Just after they pulled into the turnaround, they received a "signal one" broadcast over the radio, which several troopers testified is a request to call the barracks. Sanzi called Flemming on Underhill's personal cellular telephone and learned the following additional information: (1) that the car was white or light-colored; (2) that one of the men was wearing a black leather jacket; and (3) that one of the men had purchased a bottle of spring water. During this telephone conversation, Underhill and Sanzi saw another patrol unit stop a car south of their position ("the initial stop"). They observed two troopers exit the patrol car and approach the driver and passenger side windows of the stopped car. After one or two minutes, the two troopers returned to their vehicle, and both cars pulled back onto the highway. When the vehicle passed the turnaround where Underhill and Sanzi sat, they observed that it was a white Lexus sedan, that the driver and passenger were black males, and that the driver was wearing a dark-colored leather jacket. Close to this time, the other patrol vehicle pulled into the turnaround next to Underhill and Sanzi, who asked the other troopers whether they had heard the radio broadcast concerning the passing of counterfeit money. The other troopers stated that they had not heard the transmission.2 Underhill and Sanzi then decided to stop the Lexus again.

Underhill and Sanzi pulled the Lexus over in the emergency lane of interstate 95 ("the Underhill/Sanzi stop"). Underhill approached the driver's side of the car, while Sanzi walked up to the passenger side, where Jones was sitting. Sanzi asked Jones for identification, which Jones produced in the form of a New York correctional officer identification card that he wore in a leather holder that hung around his neck. When Sanzi asked for additional identification, Jones searched his pockets several times, stating that he was looking for his wallet. Sometime during this exchange, Sanzi again noted that the driver was wearing a black leather jacket; he also observed unopened bottles of spring water on the floor at Jones's feet.

After Jones failed to produce any further identification, Sanzi requested that he step out of the vehicle and asked him a

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series of questions, inquiring about where Jones and the driver were coming from, where they were headed, and whether they had made any recent stops. Jones answered these questions, stating that they had just stopped at a convenience store. Sanzi inquired as to whether they had made any purchases, to which Jones replied that they had bought a bottle of water. When Sanzi asked how they had purchased the water, Jones responded by removing some bills from his pocket, showing them briefly to Sanzi, and quickly returning them to his pocket. Sanzi stated, "Let me see that money," and as Jones again removed the bills from his pocket, Sanzi reached over and examined them. He immediately determined that they were counterfeit U.S. twenty-dollar bills based upon the quality of the paper and printing and the lack of a metal strip or double silhouette watermark. Sanzi held the bills up to Underhill, indicating that they were counterfeit, and arrested Jones, placing handcuffs on him and reading him Miranda3 warnings.4 A search of the car revealed three unopened bottles of spring water (two on the floor on the front passenger side and one in the back) and 61 more counterfeit twenty-dollar bills, similar to those that Jones removed from his pocket, stuffed between the passenger seat and the center console. Additional investigation revealed that Jones was the registered owner of the vehicle.


We review findings of fact that a district court makes at a suppression hearing for clear error. See, e.g., United States v. Cruz Jimenez, 894 F.2d 1, 7 (1st. Cir. 1990). Where evaluations of witnesses' credibility are concerned, we are especially deferential to the district court's judgment; we may overturn its decision only if, after reviewing all of the evidence, we have a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Rostoff, 164 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 1999) (quoting Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1511, 84 L.Ed. 2d 518 (1985)) We subject the district court's "ultimate constitutional conclusions to plenary review." United States v. Sowers, 136 F.3d 24, 26 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 841, 119 S.Ct. 105 (1998).

A. The District Court's Credibility Determination

Pointing to several inconsistencies in the troopers' testimony at the suppression hearing, their grand jury testimony, and the reports they filed immediately following his arrest, Jones argues that the district court erred in finding the troopers to be credible witnesses at the suppression hearing. Although Jones cites a number of minor discrepancies in the troopers' testimony, he focuses upon three issues that he contends demonstrate that the district court's credibility determination was patently incorrect.

First, he discusses Sanzi's admission that he completed two witness statements regarding the investigation and arrest, both of which state that Sanzi prepared them at 6:30 a.m. on January 10, 1998. The statements include the same general account of the events, but some details differ. In particular, one report states that Flemming gave all of the Information that the store clerk provided in the initial radio transmission, while the other describes the request for the "signal one" and Sanzi's subsequent call to Flemming in which he received further information. At the suppression hearing, Sanzi admitted that he could not have prepared the reports simultaneously, but he gave confusing testimony about which report he prepared first, indicating that he did not

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clearly remember this sequence of events. Sanzi also initially denied having listened to the tape of Flemming's broadcast between preparing the first and second reports but later conceded that he might have listened to the broadcast tape.

Second, Jones points out that three troopers gave different accounts of the distance between the turnaround where Underhill and Sanzi parked to observe traffic and the location of the other troopers' initial stop of the Lexus, and of the lighting of Underhill and Sanzi's cruiser. Underhill claimed that the distance between his cruiser and the initial stop was less than 500 feet; Sanzi contended that they were 300 yards away; and one of the troopers who made the initial stop estimated the distance at approximately one-half mile. In addition, although Sanzi and Underhill both mentioned numerous bright lights on their patrol car that improved their visibility, the other trooper stated that he did not see Underhill and Sanzi's cruiser parked in the turnaround during the initial stop.5 According to Jones, these discrepancies cast doubt upon Underhill and Sanzi's ability to discern the Lexus, both when the other troopers stopped it and when it passed them as they sat in the turnaround.

Finally, Jones argues that Sanzi's testimony regarding Jones's response to Sanzi's question about how he paid for the bottle of water is patently unbelievable. According to Jones, Sanzi's description of these events is inconsistent with expected human behavior; in response to a question about how a person paid for an item, the typical person would reply verbally. It simply does not make sense, Jones contends, that he would remove counterfeit bills from his pocket and show them to Sanzi.

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