U.S. v. Wadley

Decision Date13 July 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-10573,94-10573
Citation59 F.3d 510
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Marcus WADLEY, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

F. Clinton Broden, Asst. Federal Public Defender, Ira Kirkendoll, Federal Public Defender, Dallas, TX, for appellant.

Madeleine B. Johnson, Jennifer E. Bolen, Asst. U.S. Attys., Paul E. Coggins, U.S. Atty., Dallas, TX, for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before DAVIS and WIENER, Circuit Judges, and VANCE, District Judge. 1

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

Wadley appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized in connection with his warrantless arrest and a confession he gave to FBI agents shortly after he was taken into custody. The district court denied Wadley's motion on the grounds that his arrest was supported by probable cause. Based on our review of the record, we agree that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest Wadley and that the district court did not err in denying Wadley's suppression motion. We therefore affirm Wadley's judgment of conviction.

I.

Marcus Wadley was arrested during a massive police undercover operation at the publicly-owned Prince Hall Chambre Apartments in the Dixon Circle area of South Dallas. On the night of November 19, 1993, approximately 60 Dallas police officers in 10 vehicles converged on the complex to investigate reports of narcotics trafficking and an incident in which a marked police cruiser was pelted with rocks and bottles while driving through the complex's parking lot. During the operation, Officer Craig Adams pulled into the complex and saw Marcus Wadley standing with his hands in his pockets talking to another person. Adams got out of his car, approached Wadley, and asked Wadley if he could ask him a few questions. Officer Adams testified during the suppression hearing that he wanted to ask Wadley about the attack on the police cruiser and whether he had any knowledge about drug trafficking in the neighborhood. Wadley refused to talk with Officer Adams and began to walk away. When Wadley accelerated from a walk to a run, Officer Adams shouted "Stop bolting, you're under arrest," and began to pursue him.

According to Officer Adams, as Wadley was fleeing from Adams, he placed his hand in his inner jacket pocket as though he wanted to dispose of something hidden in the pocket. Wadley was eventually cut off by approximately three other officers who had joined the pursuit. Seeing that his path was blocked, Wadley turned around and began to run back towards Officer Adams. According to Officer Adams, Wadley attempted to dodge him. However, Adams grabbed Wadley and the other officers helped Adams pull Wadley to the ground. At the same time as the officers grabbed Wadley, he threw a brown paper bag in the direction of a trash dumpster. After handcuffing Wadley, Officer Adams retrieved the bag and discovered that it contained numerous plastic zip-lock bags of crack cocaine. Adams subsequently searched Wadley and found additional crack cocaine, along with approximately $500 in cash in his pants pocket. Later that night, Wadley was taken to the FBI's local office, where he was interviewed about the drugs seized during his arrest. Wadley waived his Miranda rights and gave the FBI agents the name of his drug supplier. He admitted that he sold drugs for this supplier on a weekly basis.

Wadley was eventually charged with one count of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute it in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1). Wadley filed a motion to suppress the drugs recovered at the time of his arrest along with his post-arrest confession. Wadley argued that Officer Adams and the other arresting officers lacked probable cause to arrest him and that all of the drug evidence, including the bag thrown at the moment he was seized, was the fruit of this illegal arrest. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that Wadley threw the bag of crack "at approximately the same time as" his seizure by Adams and the other arresting officers. The court, however, found that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest Wadley and denied his motion to suppress. Wadley subsequently entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the district court's ruling on his suppression motion. Following sentencing, Wadley timely appealed.

II.

Wadley challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress his confession and the drug evidence obtained after his arrest. A warrantless arrest must be based on probable cause. United States v. Watson, 953 F.2d 895, 897 n. 1 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 928, 112 S.Ct. 1989, 118 L.Ed.2d 586 (1992). If the arresting officers lacked probable cause and the arrest is invalid, evidence discovered as a result of the arrest is subject to suppression under the Fourth Amendment as the "fruit" of an illegal arrest. See United States v. Ramirez-Lujan, 976 F.2d 930 (5th Cir.1992), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 113 S.Ct. 1587, 123 L.Ed.2d 153 (1993). After reviewing the record, we conclude that the district court did not err in finding that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest Wadley and that the arrest was valid. 2

Probable cause for a warrantless arrest exists when the totality of facts and circumstances within a police officer's knowledge at the moment of arrest are sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. See Harper v. Harris County, 21 F.3d 597 (5th Cir.1994). Although probable cause requires more than a bare suspicion of wrongdoing, it requires "substantially less evidence than that sufficient to support a conviction." United States v. Muniz-Melchor, 894 F.2d 1430, 1438 (5th Cir.1990). The presence of probable cause is a mixed question of fact and law. Id. at 1439 n. 9. We will not disturb the factual findings underlying the district court's probable cause determination absent clear error. Id. Accepting these facts, however, the ultimate determination of whether there was probable cause to arrest Wadley is a question of law that we must review de novo. Id. We now turn to the facts and circumstances surrounding Wadley's arrest to determine whether the arrest was based on probable cause.

First, Officer Adams knew that the Prince Hall complex was a high crime area with a high incidence of drug transactions. Prior to the...

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