Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Morris

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston

October 11, 2017



          John T. Copenhaver, Jr. United States District Judge

         Upon the evidentiary hearing held on September 11 and 12, 2017, on the defendant's Motion to Suppress, the court makes the following findings of fact by a preponderance of the evidence, as well as the conclusions of law that follow.

         I. Findings of Fact

         On November 17, 2016, and for years before as well as now, Russell Atkinson has held a Highway Route Contract (“HRC”) with the United States Postal Service. The defendant, Richard Thomas Morris, Jr., is his son-in-law who along with his family resides with him. The defendant has served from time to time as the unpaid driver for the route assigned to Mr. Atkinson. Recently, he has been the regular driver six days each week.

         The route includes the link from Ravenswood to Belleville, West Virginia, which was traversed by the defendant on a daily basis, leaving the Ravenswood post office at about 2:00 p.m. after picking up the mail there, and arriving at the post office in Belleville, approximately 14.7 miles away, as part of a tight schedule that assured timely pickup and delivery. In recent months prior to November 17, 2016, the post office received persistent customer complaints about delivery failures related to the 2:00 p.m. link from Ravenswood to Belleville.

         Those complaints prompted the postal authorities to include, in the batch of mail picked up at the 2:00 p.m. departure from Ravenswood, eight “test pieces” of mail, one on each of eight occasions. The eight pieces consisted of rather obvious greeting cards mail containing an enclosure of monetary value. The eight test pieces that were placed in the batches of mail delivered by the defendant out of Ravenswood were not seen to have been tampered with but the eighth, on August 29, 2016, was not delivered to the addressee.

         An ninth test piece was inserted by the postal authorities in the batch of mail that the defendant picked up in an orange tub at Ravenswood at about 2:00 p.m. on November 17, 2016. It was placed on top where it would be immediately seen. It contained a credit card-sized beacon transmitter that emitted a steady beep once every four or five seconds, referred to as the confidential sound. The beep could be detected by portable radio on a FM frequency. If the envelope containing the test piece were opened or if the test piece were bent, the confidential sound of a beep every four or five seconds became an alert sound that emitted a beep once per second.

         Four postal officers, in three cars, followed the defendant on that day to Belleville. One car was driven by Inspector Melissa Maria Belmont. Another was driven by Special Agent Todd Phillips. The third was driven by Inspector Seth Summers, with Inspector Joshua Mehall as his passenger.

         On the Route 68 trip to Belleville, the defendant drove on the two-lane open road at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour despite the 55 mile per hour limit. In view of the winding and curving nature of much of that stretch of highway, the postal officers' vehicles were unable to keep up with the defendant. As a consequence, the defendant got out of range of the confidential sound initially received by the pursuing officers. It did not matter that the confidential sound was temporarily lost or that the defendant's vehicle got out of sight. The postal officers knew that defendant was bound for the Belleville post office and that they would find him there with or without the benefit of the beacon transmitter. Consequently, they were, in effect, able to maintain visual surveillance throughout without the aid of the transmitter.

         About half way along the way, the defendant pulled his vehicle over to the side of the road and, just as Inspector Belmont in the lead car passed him, he was seen walking quickly to the rear of the truck. By the time Agent Phillips reached the defendant's stopped vehicle, he observed the defendant in the back of the truck, with the back door open, bending over the mail in the orange tub. As Agent Phillips passed the stopped vehicle, his radio picked up the alert sound indicating that the test piece greeting card had been opened. All three cars proceeded on to Belleville, but before arriving at the Belleville post office they allowed the defendant to reach that point first. Agent Phillips did so by stopping at a parking lot near the post office where his radio still received the alert tone.

         The defendant backed his truck into the loading dock at the rear of the post office. At that point, Inspector Summers, followed immediately by Agent Phillips, arrived and parked their vehicles to the right of the post office. Inspector Summers parked on the gravel driveway access leading to the rear of the post office with his vehicle located closest to the post office, with half of it on the grassy edge and half on the gravel area. Agent Phillips parked on the opposite side of the gravel driveway, on the grassy area to the right, and adjacent to the driveway. When Inspector Belmont arrived about three minutes later at approximately 2:36 p.m., she parked in line with the Summers vehicle.[1]

         When Inspector Summers arrived, he received the alert sound on his portable radio. He immediately engaged the defendant, who was standing by the driver's side of the truck. He informed the defendant that the officers were investigating complaints of stolen mail, and advised the defendant that he wished to talk to him. The defendant, who had left the engine running in his truck, was at the same time advised that he was free to leave and was not under arrest. After Inspector Summers had some conversation with the defendant, Inspector Belmont arrived just as Inspector Summers was asking the defendant for consent to search the rear of the truck. The defendant gave his consent, as heard both by Summers and Mehall. Inspector Summers informed Inspector Belmont that he had received defendant's consent to search the back of the truck. He did so in the presence of the defendant and Inspector Mehall at which time he also informed Inspector Belmont that he had let the defendant know that he was not under arrest and that he was free to leave. Inspector Summers then went into the rear of the truck and within a minute or two found the opened test piece of mail that had been emitting the alert sound.

         After examining the mail for a few minutes, Inspector Summers asked the defendant for his consent to search the cab, which consent the defendant also gave. Upon examining the cab, Inspector Summers found attached to the visor a second opened piece of mail that consisted of a greeting card from Mark Price to Jacob Cox. The greeting card had been deposited at the Ravenswood post office at about 1:30 p.m. that day.

         While the search was taking place, Inspector Belmont interviewed the defendant who at the outset admitted to nothing. The defendant initially denied opening the test piece. As the interview progressed, he gradually came to admit a limited role in the thefts, vacillating from time to time. The interview of the defendant would have commenced at about 2:45 p.m. and continued for about 50 minutes until the defendant asked to be permitted to write out a statement, which he was allowed to do. For this purpose, he went to the cab of his truck at 3:41 p.m. and returned at 3:53 p.m. with the handwritten statement that has been admitted into evidence. In that statement, he admitted that he did “knowingly take stuff that did not belong” to him and added, “I took gift card and got money out of them to pay bills . . .” He expressed sorrow for what he had done and concluded by saying, “I told the truth to Investigators to the best of my nollage [sic].” During the time that the postal officers were with the defendant, he was told by Inspector Summers at the very outset that he was not under arrest and that he was free to leave. When Inspector ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.