899 F.2d 169 (2nd Cir. 1990), 507, United States v. Patrick

Docket Nº:507, Docket 89-1356.
Citation:899 F.2d 169
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. Christopher PATRICK, Defendant-Appellee, Linda Taylor and Christopher Patrick, Defendants.
Case Date:March 27, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 169

899 F.2d 169 (2nd Cir. 1990)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,


Christopher PATRICK, Defendant-Appellee,

Linda Taylor and Christopher Patrick, Defendants.

No. 507, Docket 89-1356.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 27, 1990

Argued Jan. 8, 1990.

Michael A. Battle, Asst. U.S. Atty., W.D.N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y. (Dennis C. Vacco, U.S. Atty., W.D.N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., of counsel), for appellant.

Carl H. Dobozin, Buffalo, N.Y., for defendant-appellee.

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Before MESKILL and NEWMAN, Circuit Judges, and WEINSTEIN, [*] District Judge.

MESKILL, Circuit Judge:

We are presented with the question whether the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, Arcara, J., properly suppressed defendant-appellee Christopher Patrick's inculpatory statements made to law enforcement officials while he was detained after crossing the border from Canada into the United States and after cocaine was discovered in the possession of another person who entered the United States at the same time as Patrick. The government appeals the district court's suppression order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3731. Because the law enforcement officials had probable cause to detain and arrest Patrick, we reverse and remand.


The relevant facts, as found by the district court or conceded by Patrick, are as follows. On October 13, 1988, Patrick and co-defendant Linda Taylor entered the U.S. Immigration Office at Niagara Falls, New York after crossing the international border on foot from Canada to the United States at Whirlpool Bridge. Taylor, who was carrying a purse and a knapsack, was followed by Patrick, who also carried a knapsack. They were the only civilian pedestrians in the Immigration Office at the time.

The two approached a counter at which U.S. Customs Inspector Timothy Jasen was working. Inspector Jasen questioned the two about their citizenship and length of stay in Canada. He learned that Taylor was a United States citizen and that Patrick was a resident alien from Jamaica. Both told Inspector Jasen that they had accidentally crossed the border from the United States to Canada on a bus and that, upon realizing the mistake, had gotten off the bus and walked back to the United States over the Whirlpool Bridge. Finding their story somewhat suspicious, Inspector Jasen directed them to a secondary inspection point.

At the secondary inspection point, Inspector Jasen conducted a search of Patrick's baggage. Meanwhile, U.S. Customs Inspector April Zolczer searched Taylor's purse and knapsack. From the torn lining of Taylor's purse, Inspector Zolczer found two plastic bags wrapped in packing tape containing a powdery substance that later tests revealed to have a cocaine base. A similar third package was retrieved a short time thereafter. Upon the discovery of the packages, Inspector Zolczer searched Taylor's person and placed her in a holding cell. Inspector Jasen also detained Patrick by handcuffing him to a chair in a separate room.

At approximately 12:00 noon, U.S. Customs Special Agents Peter Smith and John Nickerson arrived at the Immigration Office to interrogate Taylor and Patrick. After first interviewing Taylor, Special Agents Smith and Nickerson took Patrick to an interview room, advised him of his constitutional rights, and questioned him. At approximately 2:00 p.m., Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Jesse Meekins arrived and also questioned Taylor and Patrick separately after advising them of their rights again. In response to the questioning by the Special Agents, Patrick made an oral and written statement that a person named "Gino" asked him to accompany Taylor to make sure that the packages were delivered to Niagara Falls.

Taylor and Patrick were indicted on one count of unlawful importation of a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 952(a) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2 and one count of unlawful possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2. Both defendants made motions to suppress certain evidence, including any inculpatory statements made after they were detained. The district court denied Taylor's motion,

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but granted Patrick's motion to suppress his statements made subsequent to his detention. The government appeals the suppression order.


Our review of the district court's factual findings, of course, is limited by the settled rule that findings of historical fact "may not be disturbed unless the findings are clearly erroneous." United States v. Mast, 735 F.2d 745, 749 (2d Cir.1984). The ultimate determination of whether probable cause to arrest existed on the basis of those findings, however, is essentially a legal question subject to de novo review. United States v. Greene, 783 F.2d 1364, 1367 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1185, 106 S.Ct. 2923, 91 L.Ed.2d 551 (1986); see also United States v. Simmons, 786 F.2d 479, 483 (2d Cir.1986).

The district court determined that the Customs officials lacked probable cause to arrest Patrick and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Accordingly, the court concluded that Patrick's statements should be suppressed as the product of an unlawful arrest. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 216-19, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 2258-60, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). In doing so, the court likened Patrick to the defendant in Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 100 S.Ct. 338, 62 L.Ed.2d 238 (1979), suggesting that the only link between Patrick and the cocaine discovered in Taylor's purse was Patrick's proximity to Taylor when they crossed the border from Canada.

In Ybarra, police received information from a confidential informant that the bartender at a certain tavern was in possession of numerous packets of heroin. On the basis of this information, they obtained a warrant authorizing a search of the bartender and the tavern. Id. at 87-88, 100 S.Ct. at 340-41. Upon entering the premises of the tavern, the police conducted a "frisk" search of the patrons in the tavern, one of whom was Ybarra. When Ybarra was frisked, the police officer conducting the search discovered a cigarette pack containing six tinfoil packets of heroin. Ybarra was subsequently indicted and found guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Id. at 88-89, 100 S.Ct. at 340-41.

The Supreme Court held that the police lacked probable cause to search Ybarra and to seize the heroin found on him. The Court stressed that the only thing the police knew about Ybarra upon entering the tavern and up to the point when he was searched was that he was present in the tavern, along with others, at a time when the police had a reasonable basis to believe that the bartender had heroin to sell. Id. at 90-91, 100 S.Ct. at 341-42. This alone was insufficient to constitute probable cause. As the Court stated, "a person's mere propinquity to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more, give rise to probable cause to search that person." Id. at 91, 100 S.Ct. at 342 (emphasis added).

The instant case is readily distinguishable from Ybarra, for the Customs officials knew something more about Patrick than just his "propinquity" to Taylor. The facts, as found by the district court, reveal that Patrick and Taylor were not merely waiting in line next to each other, along with numerous others, to enter the United States. Rather, they entered the office together, both with knapsacks, at a time when no other civilian pedestrians were about. Most significantly indicating that they were traveling together, they both told Inspector...

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