413 F.3d 347 (3rd Cir. 2005), 04-2807, United States v. Williams

Docket Nº:UNITED STATES Appellant in No. 04-2807
Citation:413 F.3d 347
Case Date:July 01, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Page 347

413 F.3d 347 (3rd Cir. 2005)

UNITED STATES Appellant in No. 04-2807


Eugene Ivor WILLIAMS

United States


Eugene Ivor Williams Appellant in No. 04-2903.

Nos. 04-2807, 04-2903.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 1, 2005

Argued Dec. 14, 2004.

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Anthony J. Jenkins, Acting United States Attorney, Denise A. Hinds, Assistant United States Attorney, District of the Virgin Islands, Elizabeth D. Collery (Argued), Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Appellant. Pamela Lynn Colon (Argued), Law Offices of Pamela Lynn Colon, LLC, Christiansted, U.S.V.I., for Appellee.

Before: SLOVITER, FUENTES, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.

FUENTES, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises out of two separate events involving Eugene I. Williams, twice arrested by the Virgin Islands Police Department on the island of St. Croix for offenses involving firearms and drugs. In the first event, several police officers approached a parked van with the rear doors open and found Williams inside bagging marijuana. The officers, upon seeing a leafy green substance, proceeded to stop, search, and arrest Williams. The District Court granted Williams' motion to suppress evidence seized in connection with this arrest on the grounds that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to approach the van. In the second incident, Williams, who was standing on a street with a group of people, fled when he saw a police cruiser approach. During the ensuing chase, Williams threw away a loaded firearm and was later found hiding in the bathroom of a stranger's house with marijuana in a nearby bathtub. The District Court denied Williams' motion to suppress with regards to the second arrest, finding that his flight created reasonable suspicion for the police to pursue and that, in any event, Williams lost any expectation of privacy in the firearm and marijuana once he discarded them.

The United States filed an interlocutory appeal with regards to the suppression order relating to the first arrest, while Williams filed an interlocutory cross-appeal with regards to the denial of his motion

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relating to the second arrest. Because we find that the police did not need reasonable suspicion to approach the parked van in which Williams was bagging marijuana, we will reverse the District Court's suppression order. However, with regards to Williams' cross-appeal, we conclude that we lack jurisdiction over his interlocutory appeal and accordingly will dismiss it.


On May 27, 2004, a Grand Jury sitting in the District of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix, returned a five-count superseding indictment charging Williams with the knowing possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(k); unauthorized possession of a firearm in violation of V.I.Code Ann. Tit. 14, § 2253(a) (2004); possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A); and unauthorized possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number in violation of V.I.Code Ann. Tit. 23, § 481. The indictment stemmed from two separate arrests of Williams for criminal conduct, the first occurring on August 27, 2003 (the "First Arrest"), and the second on January 29, 2004 (the "Second Arrest"). 1

A. First Arrest

On the afternoon of August 27, 2003, Officer Uston Cornelius of the Virgin Islands Police Department and three other officers were on routine patrol in a marked police cruiser in an area of St. Croix known as the Castle Coakley residential area. They came upon a parked blue van, with its rears doors open, such that the officers could see straight into the vehicle. As the officers approached the van, they observed an individual (later identified as Defendant Williams) seated in the rear of the van engaged in some sort of activity. The officers stopped their car, exited, and approached the van. Officer Cornelius later testified that he had no suspicion that criminal activity was taking place when he began his approach toward the van.

From a distance of about twelve or thirteen feet, Officer Cornelius saw Williams holding a large ziplock bag containing a green leafy substance that appeared to be marijuana and several smaller ziplock bags in his lap containing the same green leafy substance. When Williams noticed the officers approaching, he attempted to discard all the bags in his lap and hands. Williams was removed from the van, searched and handcuffed. A search of the van revealed the larger bag and fourteen smaller bags. The green leafy substance field-tested positive for marijuana. After receiving Miranda warnings at the station house, Williams acknowledged responsibility for four of the bags in the van but denied ownership of the remaining bags.

B. Second Arrest

During the evening of January 29, 2004, Officer Franchet Hodge and his partners were on patrol in the Estate Profit area of St. Croix, a high crime area, in a marked police car. As Officer Hodge approached a group of individuals standing on a street corner, an individual later identified as Williams left the group and started off running down the street. Upon seeing Williams run, Officer Hodge exited his vehicle

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and gave chase. During the pursuit, Officer Hodge ordered Williams to stop, but Williams refused. Officer Hodge also saw Williams pause and take an unidentifiable object from his right side and throw it over a fence.

Williams then continued running and entered into a nearby house. Officer Hodge's two partners, still in the car, pursued Williams to the house where they received permission from the owner of the house to search the premises. The officers found Williams hiding in the bathroom. The owner of the house indicated that he did not know Williams and had not given him permission to enter his residence. Williams was ordered out of the bathroom. The officers then conducted a pat down search and discovered that Williams was wearing a bulletproof vest. The officers also found eight bags of marijuana in the bathtub of the bathroom where Williams had been hiding. Officer Hodge went back to the vicinity where he had seen Williams throw the unidentified object and discovered a chrome handgun with six live rounds of ammunition in the magazine and one in the chamber. Williams was arrested.

C. Suppression Order

Following his arrest, Williams moved to suppress all physical evidence obtained and any statements made in connection with both arrests on the grounds that the evidence was seized through illegal warrantless searches and seizures. A hearing was held before the District Court on June 3, 2004, in which Officers Cornelius and Hodges testified regarding the two arrests described above. The District Court issued its order in a Memorandum Opinion dated June 7, 2004, in which the court granted in part, and denied in part, the motion to suppress.

With regards to the Second Arrest, the District Court denied the suppression motion on the grounds that Officer Hodge had reasonable suspicion to pursue Williams because Williams had fled in a high crime area upon the sight of police. The District Court also found that Williams was not seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment because he had fled and never submitted to police authority. Moreover, the firearm and ammunition which were found near the fence, and the marijuana found in the bathtub, were all abandoned by Williams, and thus he no longer had an expectation of privacy in these items.

However, the District Court granted the suppression motion with respect to the First Arrest. In particular, the District Court concluded that because the police lacked reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when they saw the parked van, they had no justification to approach the van, and consequently their approach did not constitute a lawful stop under Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 32 L.Ed.2d 612 (1972). Accordingly, all items seized in connection with the arrest, and all confessions made thereafter, were suppressed as fruits of the unlawful seizure.

The United States now appeals from the District Court's suppression order relating to the First Arrest. Williams has filed a cross-appeal from the District Court's denial of his motion to suppress in connection with the Second Arrest. 2

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We review de novo the District Court's determination of reasonable suspicion and probable cause, as well as its determination regarding whether Williams was seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996); see also United States v. Coggins, 986 F.2d 651, 654 (3d Cir.1993). In our de novo review, however, we accept findings of fact made by the District Court unless clearly erroneous. See Ornelas-Ledesma, 517 U.S. at 699, 116 S.Ct. 1657; Coggins, 986 F.2d at 654. We will first consider the United States' appeal, followed by Williams' cross-appeal.

A. First Arrest

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend IV. Generally, subject only to a few well-defined exceptions, warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 824-25, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967)). However, under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), and subsequent cases, "an officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S.Ct....

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