United States v. St. Rose

Decision Date21 April 2016
Docket NumberCriminal Action No. 2015-0028
Parties UNITED STATES of America and People of the Virgin Islands, v. Gerard St. ROSE, Jr., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Virgin Islands

Alphonso G. Andrews, Esq., St. Croix, U.S.V.I., For the Government

Omodare B. Jupiter, Esq., St. Croix, U.S.V.I., For Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILMA A. LEWIS, Chief Judge

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Gerard St. Rose, Jr.'s "Motion to Suppress Statements and Physical Evidence." (Dkt. No. 11; 15-cr-0022, Dkt. No. 25).1 The Government opposes the Motion. (Dkt. No. 17; 15-cr-0022, Dkt. No. 28). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion to Suppress.

I. BACKGROUND AND EVIDENCE

Defendant Gerard St. Rose, Jr. ("St. Rose") was indicted on September 15, 2015, on the following six charges: (1) Possession of a Firearm in a School Zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(2)(A) and 924(a)(1)(B) ; (2) Unauthorized Possession of a Firearm, in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 2253(a) ; (3) Carrying Firearm During and in Relation to Drug Trafficking Crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) ; (4) Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(D) ; (5) Possession of Marijuana Near a School, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 841(b)(1)(D), and 860(a) ; and (6) Simple Possession of Marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). (Dkt. No. 1).

On October 2, 2015, St. Rose filed the instant Motion in which he seeks to suppress "any and all physical evidence found on the Defendant or in his bag, the Defendant's statements, and any other incriminating evidence obtained as a result thereof" on the grounds that the evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal seizure in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. (Dkt. No. 11 at 8).2 The Government filed its Response on November 3, 2015, in which it argued to the contrary. (Dkt. No. 17). An evidentiary hearing was held on November 9, 2015 (the "November Evidentiary Hearing"), at which Virgin Islands Police Department Officers Anderson Poleon and Nyeim France testified.

After the November Evidentiary Hearing, St. Rose filed a "Motion to Reopen Testimony" on December 15, 2015, in order to call Shanavia Martin as a witness. (Dkt. No. 30). Ms. Martin is the Acting Emergency Communications Center Manager for the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) and was familiar with the 911 calls made on the day of the incident. (Id. at 6-7). The Court granted the Motion and a second evidentiary hearing was held on January 7, 2016 (the "January Evidentiary Hearing"), at which Ms. Martin testified. Following this second evidentiary hearing and pursuant to St. Rose's request, the Court ordered the parties to file supplemental briefing. (Dkt. No. 35). St. Rose filed his "Corrected Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements and Physical Evidence" on January 21, 2016 (the "Supplemental Memorandum") (Dkt. No. 42), and the Government filed its "Supplemental Response to Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 42)" on February 1, 2016 (the "Supplemental Response") (Dkt. No. 45). Based on the evidence presented at the November Evidentiary Hearing and the January Evidentiary Hearing, the following facts emerge.3

Around 1:00 p.m. on April 20, 2015, Officer Poleon and Officer France were traveling east on Mt. Pleasant Road in a patrol car when Officer France—who was in the passenger seat—alerted Officer Poleon to a maroon car that was traveling in the opposite direction. (Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing (Dkt. No. 31) ("Tr.") 6-7). Officer France noted that he had previously stopped the maroon car for having an outdated registration. (Tr. 6-7). Upon hearing this, Officer Poleon turned on his patrol lights and the maroon car stopped. (Tr. 7).4 When both cars had stopped, they were adjacent to each other in the middle of the road. (Tr. 7-8). Officer Poleon rolled down the passenger-side window, and the driver of the maroon car, Mr. James, and Officer France began to talk about the car's registration. (Tr. 7). After Mr. James indicated that he had not yet updated the car's registration, Officer Poleon got out of the patrol vehicle, walked around to the passenger side of the maroon car, and stood between the two vehicles. (Tr. 8). Officer France also got out of the patrol car and went around to the driver's side of the maroon car to talk with Mr. James. (Tr. 8). After Officer Poleon learned that Mr. James had been stopped multiple times for the outdated registration, he told Mr. James that he was going to tow his car. (Tr. 8-9). Officer Poleon testified that he announced his decision to tow the maroon car approximately ten minutes after the initial stop. (Tr. 10).

Mr. James got out of the car and walked around to his car's front bumper to plead with Officer France and Officer Poleon not to tow the car. (Tr. 10). At this time, Officer Poleon was standing near the middle of the road between the unregistered car and the patrol vehicle, close to the passenger-side door of the unregistered car where Defendant St. Rose was sitting. (Tr. 8-9). Officer Poleon instructed St. Rose to get out of the car because the vehicle was going to be towed, and St. Rose got out and stood next to Officer Poleon. (Tr. 10-11). Officer Poleon then asked Mr. James if there was anything in the vehicle that he needed to remove. (Tr. 11). Mr. James replied that the only thing he had in the vehicle was his clothes, but that he did not have anything in which to put the clothes. (Tr. 11).

Officer Poleon then turned back to St. Rose, who was shaking, sweating, and looked very nervous. (Tr. 11-12). Officer Poleon asked St. Rose if he was ok, and St. Rose responded, "I do not like police." (Tr. 12). Officer Poleon became nervous and stepped back away from St. Rose and asked what he meant. (Tr. 12). St. Rose responded again, "I just don't like police." (Tr. 12). Officer Poleon then asked St. Rose if he had anything on him that could hurt the Officers, and whether he would mind if Officer Poleon patted him down. (Tr. 13-14). In response, St. Rose put his hands in the air and said "no problem." (Tr. 14).5 This occurred approximately 15 minutes after the initial stop. (Tr. 18).

During the pat down, Officer Poleon felt what appeared to be the butt of a weapon. (Tr. 14). Officer Poleon yelled, "gun!" and pulled his weapon. (Tr. 14). According to Officer Poleon, Officer France, who was still talking with Mr. James near the front of the car about the registration violation, also drew his weapon. (Tr. 14). As a result, Officer Poleon and Officer France were facing each other with their guns drawn, so Officer France stepped off to the side of Officer Poleon and ordered St. Rose to keep his hands up. (Tr. 14).6 Officer Poleon further testified that "[St. Rose] was handcuffed, and I asked him ... ‘Do you have a license for this weapon?’ And he said ‘no,’ and ... I advised him of his rights." (Tr. 14).7 St. Rose then stated that he had gotten the gun because he had recently been robbed and did not want to get robbed again, and he also told the Officers other details about how and when he acquired the weapon. (Tr. 14-15).

The Officers called 911 to advise that they had someone in custody and that a weapon had been recovered, as well as to request a forensic unit. (Tr. 16). Officer Poleon later asked St. Rose if he had anything else on his person that could hurt the Officers. (Tr. 17). St. Rose stated that the only thing he had was a dime bag in his pocket and some weed in a blue bag in the car. (Tr. 17-18). Officer France then retrieved the blue bag from the car and asked St. Rose, "[t]his is the blue bag that you were talking about?" to which St. Rose responded "yes." (Tr. 70). Officer France proceeded to open the bag and discovered, among other things, baggies and a jar containing marijuana. (Tr. 70).

The forensic officer arrived and took photographs of the gun, which the Officers had left on St. Rose so that it could be photographed in his possession. (Tr. 17, 69-70). In preparation for putting St. Rose in the transport unit, Officer Poleon again patted him down and this time discovered a small plastic bag containing marijuana in the cuff of his pants as well as a plastic vial of marijuana in his pocket. (Tr. 17-18).

The vehicle was eventually towed. (Tr. 19). Officer Poleon testified that police policy mandates that "[w]hen you're going to tow the vehicle, you are to do an inventory of what's in it." (Tr. 22). When asked on direct examination whether this involves "searching" the vehicle, Officer Poleon responded by stating that the policy did not require "searching the vehicle, just visually inspecting the trunk, visually inspecting ... where the passengers sit [in] the vehicle." (Tr. 22). Officer Poleon testified that he conducted an inventory search of the car but—in violation of the policy—did not document the results of the inventory. (Tr. 52-53). Officer Poleon also testified that there was nothing of value in the car. (Tr. 21).

II. DISCUSSION

As previously noted, St. Rose seeks to suppress "any and all physical evidence found on the Defendant or in his bag, the Defendant's statements, and any other incriminating evidence obtained as a result thereof." (Dkt. No. 11 at 8). This includes the gun and marijuana found on St. Rose's person as well as the marijuana and paraphernalia found in the blue bag in the car. The Government maintains, on the other hand, that the physical evidence was obtained as a result of a consensual search, and that St. Rose's statements are admissible either because they were not made in the context of a custodial interrogation, or were made after St. Rose received his Miranda warnings. (Dkt. No. 28 at 4-5).

This case raises several significant factual and legal issues. St. Rose presents challenges to several events that occurred during the incident, and in so doing has caused ...

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