733 F.3d 438 (2nd Cir. 2013), 12-2843-cr, United States v. Stokes

Docket Nº:12-2843-cr.
Citation:733 F.3d 438
Opinion Judge:GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Vaughn STOKES, also known as Qua, Defendant-Appellant.[*]
Attorney:Barry D. Leiwant, Federal Defenders of New York, Appeals Bureau, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant Vaughn Stokes. Benjamin Allee, Assistant United States Attorney (Jennifer G. Rodgers, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern ...
Judge Panel:Before: WINTER, HALL, and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 20, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 438

733 F.3d 438 (2nd Cir. 2013)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Vaughn STOKES, also known as Qua, Defendant-Appellant. [*]

No. 12-2843-cr.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

August 20, 2013

Argued: May 28, 2013.

Page 439

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Barry D. Leiwant, Federal Defenders of New York, Appeals Bureau, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant Vaughn Stokes.

Benjamin Allee, Assistant United States Attorney (Jennifer G. Rodgers, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY.

Before: WINTER, HALL, and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.

GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge:

Following a bench trial on stipulated facts, Defendant Vaughn Stokes was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which criminalizes possession of firearms by convicted felons, and 18 U.S.C. § 922( o )(1), which criminalizes the possession of a machine gun by any person.2 Stokes appeals, contending that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the firearms, which were discovered after a warrantless entry into Stokes's motel room. As this case comes to us, the government concedes that Stokes did not consent to the search, that no arrest or search warrant had been sought, and that the warrantless entry was not otherwise justified by exigent circumstances. The district court based its denial of Stokes's motion on the inevitable discovery doctrine, concluding that it had a " high level of confidence" that every possible course of events in the absence of the illegal entry would inevitably have led to the guns' discovery. Because we conclude that the district court erred in its application of the inevitable discovery doctrine, we vacate the judgment of conviction, reverse the denial of the suppression motion, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


I. Events Prior to the Unlawful Entry

The facts as found by the district court in denying Stokes's suppression motion are not in dispute. In the early morning hours of June 24, 2010, Stokes and Donovan Gilliard were arguing with Kareem Porter outside the Congress Bar in Poughkeepsie, New York. As the verbal altercation escalated, Gilliard pulled a knife from his pocket, and he and Stokes chased Porter down the street. After Porter fell to the ground, Gilliard jumped on top of him and stabbed him in the chest and torso, while Stokes punched and kicked Porter in the head. Porter died from the knife wounds. The knife was recovered by the police that night, and there is no indication that any other weapons were used during the course of the homicide.

After interviewing several eyewitnesses and reviewing surveillance video, Detective Robert Perrotta, a twenty-four-year veteran of the Poughkeepsie Police Department, sought to interview Stokes and Gilliard. Perrotta had known Stokes since the mid-1990s, and had interviewed him nine

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months earlier during the course of another homicide investigation. Unable to locate Stokes in Poughkeepsie, Perrotta determined that Stokes had most likely left the area, possibly armed to protect himself from retaliation by Porter's associates.

Perrotta contacted Agent Sean McCluskey, his liaison with the United States Marshal Service, and provided McCluskey with Stokes's cell phone number in order to enlist the marshals' assistance in finding Stokes outside of the Poughkeepsie area. The marshals obtained a pen register and located Stokes by " pinging" his cell phone.3 On the evening of July 11, 2010, McCluskey informed Perrotta that the marshals had traced Stokes to the Pelham Garden Motel on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. Later that same evening, Perrotta contacted Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Frank Chase to inform him that he planned to arrest Stokes the next morning at the motel. Perrotta also told Chase that the marshals would prefer to have an arrest warrant in hand. Chase declined to seek an arrest warrant. The decision was strategic. Under New York law, once an arrest warrant issues, law enforcement officers are not permitted to question suspects outside of the presence of counsel. See People v. Samuels, 49 N.Y.2d 218, 223, 424 N.Y.S.2d 892, 400 N.E.2d 1344 (1980). Chase believed that if Perrotta could speak with Stokes, he " could ... attempt to reason with ... Stokes to cooperate in both the earlier homicide that occurred [in] September as well as the current homicide ... of Kareem Porter." App'x 75.

II. The Unlawful Entry

On the morning of July 12, 2010, between twelve and fifteen law enforcement officers, including Perrotta, McCluskey, and members of the New York-New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, met in a parking lot near the motel to discuss their strategy for arresting Stokes without a warrant. Perrotta gave the officers both a physical description and a photograph of Stokes, and warned them that Stokes might be armed. Perrotta and the officers proceeded to the motel. Motel staff confirmed that Stokes and a companion, Shannon Fulmes, had checked into the motel on July 9, 2010, and paid to rent a room through July 13, 2010. Motel staff then showed Perrotta where the couple's room was located and gave the detective a passkey to access the room. At that point, Perrotta again telephoned Chase in an attempt to secure an arrest warrant. Despite the fact that an arrest warrant could be quickly obtained, Chase once again refused to seek a warrant.

When the law enforcement officers realized that a warrant would not be forthcoming, they became concerned that other hotel patrons had spotted them and that someone might shout " police are here," thereby alerting Stokes of the officers' presence. Perrotta, McCluskey, and several other agents moved directly to the entrance of Stokes's motel room, while the remaining officers secured the building's rear and the second-floor window of Stokes's room. When he arrived at Stokes's room, Perrotta noticed that the door was slightly ajar. Perrotta pushed the door open and, using the nicknames that he and Stokes had developed for each other during their previous interactions, said " Qua, are you in there? It's Rambo." Stokes replied, " Yo." Without seeking permission to enter, Perrotta crossed the threshold into Stokes's room with his gun

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drawn. Stokes, who was at the edge of his bed wearing only his underwear and a t-shirt, asked Perrotta what this was all about, and Perrotta explained that the investigation was related to the homicide that occurred near the Congress Bar. Perrotta told Stokes to get dressed because the officers were taking him back to Poughkeepsie, and reached for a pair of pants he saw lying on a bag on the floor to hand them to Stokes. Once he picked up the pants, Perrotta saw that the bag underneath the pants was open and contained a large handgun. Perrotta yelled " gun" to alert the other officers that he had found weapons. He handed McCluskey the gym bag and arrested Stokes. Officers later determined that the bag contained nine guns and accompanying ammunition. 4 After being detained at the Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie from July 12, 2010, until October 4, 2011, Stokes was acquitted of state charges relating to the murder of Kareem Porter.

III. Federal Proceedings

Stokes was subsequently arrested and charged in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and with possessing a machine gun in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922( o )(1). Stokes moved to suppress the firearms and ammunition based on the officers' illegal entry into his hotel room, and the district court held a hearing on January 19, 2012. On February 3, 2012, as an...

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