920 F.2d 224 (4th Cir. 1990), 89-5412, United States v. McCraw

Docket Nº:89-5412, 89-5420.
Citation:920 F.2d 224
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. David McCRAW, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James MATHIS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:November 30, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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920 F.2d 224 (4th Cir. 1990)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


David McCRAW, Defendant-Appellant.

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


James MATHIS, Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 89-5412, 89-5420.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 30, 1990

Argued May 9, 1990.

As Amended Dec. 6, 1990.

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Todd Francis Sanders, argued (Robert C. Whitestone, Whitestone, Brent, Young & Merrill, on brief), Fairfax, Va., Gwendolyn M. Hickman, Falls Church, Va., argued, for defendants-appellants.

John Thomas Martin, Asst. U.S. Atty., argued (Henry E. Hudson, U.S. Atty., on brief), Alexandria, Va., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before HALL and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and BULLOCK, United States District Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

BULLOCK, District Judge:

The questions before the court on this appeal are whether the district court erred in denying appellants McCraw's and Mathis's motions to suppress evidence allegedly obtained as the fruit of illegal arrests. Because we conclude that the arrest of appellant McCraw was consistent with the requirements of the fourth amendment, we affirm the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. However, we conclude that the warrantless arrest of appellant

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Mathis in his hotel room was in violation of the fourth amendment. Therefore, we reverse the order of the district court which denied Mathis's motion to suppress evidence obtained in his hotel room and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


On or about December 6, 1988, an informant told detectives of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department that he, David McCraw, and a very large black male were to be involved in a drug-related meeting at the Stouffer's Concourse Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Later, the detectives were advised by the informant that David McCraw gave money to a very large black male as prepayment for drugs which would be delivered at a later date. Federal agents attempted to corroborate the informant's tips through surveillance. On the evening of December 6, 1988, agents saw David McCraw and the informant in the vicinity of McCraw's apartment, approximately one-quarter mile from the Stouffer Hotel. The agents observed the informant and McCraw leave the apartment and drive to the vicinity of the hotel. Apparently, McCraw was never seen entering the hotel.

Federal agents did observe a very large black male exit the hotel on December 7, 1988. That same day the hotel manager confirmed that a very large black man by the name of "James Mathis" had registered at the hotel on December 6 and that this individual had visited the hotel on several prior occasions. Hotel employees indicated that there was usually a noticeable disparity between the weight of Mathis's bags between check-in and check-out.

On December 14, 1988, an undercover officer met with the informant and David McCraw. McCraw told them both that he was expecting a "shipment," which the officer interpreted to mean illegal drugs. At the same meeting, McCraw sold the officer a bag of a substance which the officer understood to be illegal drugs. A subsequent field test of the substance confirmed this fact.

On December 29, 1988, authorities were advised by a Stouffer employee that Mathis had registered at the hotel. Agents were informed by the hotel manager that Mathis was staying in Room 210. The agents arrived at the hotel and established surveillance in a room within viewing distance of Mathis's room. They were able to observe Mathis's room from the periphery of the peephole of the room they occupied.

By radio the agents told other agents involved in the investigation that an individual had entered Mathis's room. Shortly thereafter, that same individual was observed leaving the room with a suitcase. Moments later, McCraw was stopped by law enforcement officers with guns drawn and placed under arrest as he attempted to drive out of the hotel garage. On the back seat of McCraw's vehicle an officer observed a suitcase matching the description of the suitcase carried by Mathis at check-in, and matching the description of the suitcase carried by the individual seen leaving Room 210. McCraw denied ownership of the suitcase. The suitcase was opened and inside were numerous packages of white powder which the officers believed to be cocaine. Pursuant to verbal Miranda warnings McCraw made statements on the scene, and later made additional statements pursuant to written Miranda warnings.

Approximately one-half hour later five or six agents went to Room 210 and knocked on the door without announcing themselves. Mathis opened the door about halfway while standing inside his room. When Mathis saw the officers, he attempted to close the door. Several officers with weapons drawn forced their way inside and arrested Mathis. Within two minutes Mathis was handcuffed, given verbal Miranda warnings, and asked if he would consent to a search of his room. Mathis consented to the search and then answered questions from the arresting officers in his room. During the search a suitcase was found and opened which contained incriminating evidence.

Appellants Mathis and McCraw were indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. At an evidentiary hearing,

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appellants moved to suppress their statements and the contents of both suitcases on the grounds that the evidence was obtained as the fruits of illegal arrests. The motions were denied by the district court and subsequently McCraw and Mathis entered guilty pleas conditioned upon preserving their objections to the denial of their motions to suppress. This appeal followed.


McCraw contends that his public, warrantless arrest was made without probable cause. The admissibility of any statements McCraw made at the scene and of the evidence found in the search of his vehicle is contingent upon the legality of his arrest. An appellate court must make an independent determination on the issue of the legality of an arrest; however, factual findings will not be disturbed unless they are clearly erroneous. See United States v. Pelton, 835 F.2d 1067 (4th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1010, 108 S.Ct. 1741, 100 L.Ed.2d 204 (1988); see also United States v. Carrillo, 902 F.2d 1405 (9th Cir.1990); United States v. Patrick, 899 F.2d 169 (2d Cir.1990); United States v. Price, 888 F.2d 1206 (7th Cir.1989). An officer can make a public warrantless arrest as long as the officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed. United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598 (1976). Probable cause exists if "at that moment the facts and circumstances within [the officers'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the [suspect] had committed or was committing an offense." Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223, 225, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964). Probable cause is based upon the "totality of the circumstances." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230-31, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2328-29, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983); United States v. Garcia, 848 F.2d 58, 60 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 957, 109 S.Ct. 395, 102 L.Ed.2d 384 (1988). Only the facts and circumstances known at the time of the arrest may be considered by the court in reviewing probable cause to arrest. Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 103, 80 S.Ct. 168, 171, 4 L.Ed.2d 134 (1959); Garcia, 848 F.2d at 59-60.

A combination of tips from an informant and first-hand corroborative observation of suspicious activity will provide probable cause for an arrest. See Alabama v. White, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (1990) (anonymous informant and Terry stop); Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983) (anonymous informant and probable cause to search); United States v. Chavez, 902 F.2d 259 (4th Cir.1990) (confidential informant and probable cause to search); United States v. Porter, 738 F.2d 622 (4th Cir.1984) (anonymous informant and Terry stop); United States v. Shepherd, 714 F.2d 316 (4th Cir.1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 938, 104 S.Ct. 1914, 80 L.Ed.2d 462 (1984) (confidential informant and probable cause to arrest). Once the informant told agents that McCraw would be engaging in a drug transaction with a very large black male at a specific hotel the agents naturally would look for any other facts during the course of the investigation which would corroborate the information supplied by the informant. The agents had observed their informant and McCraw in the vicinity of the Stouffer Hotel on December 6; they had verified that Mathis was registered at the hotel on that same date; they had information about the disparity in weight of Mathis's bags; an undercover officer had purchased drugs from McCraw on December 14, at which time McCraw talked about an upcoming shipment; on December 29, the day of McCraw's arrest, agents knew Mathis had registered at the Stouffer Hotel and that another black male had entered his room empty-handed and emerged carrying a suitcase; moments later McCraw attempted to drive out of the hotel garage.

A combination of the information from the informant and the first-hand corroborative observation by the agents of suspicious activity on the part of McCraw provided

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probable cause for his arrest. 1 See Shepherd, 714 F.2d at 317; see also White, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2412; Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S.Ct. at 2319; Chavez, 902 F.2d 259. Even though certain of the observed activities on the part of McCraw constituted innocent behavior, when those activities so completely corroborated the informant's tips the innocent behavior would have provided a basis for probable cause. See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 244 n. 13, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2335 n. 13, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983) ("innocent...

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