United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress All
Fruits of September 6, 2016, Search Warrant (“Motion to
Suppress”) (ECF No. 32). Defendant, who is charged with
two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and
924(a)(2), challenges the search of his residence that
occurred five days after he allegedly fled from the scene of
a traffic checkpoint. As explained below, the Court
DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress.
September 1, 2016, the West Virginia State Police
(“WVSP”) conducted a DUI checkpoint on Route 34,
near the intersection of Carriage Way, in Teays Valley,
Putnam County, West Virginia. Def.'s Mot. to
Suppress, ECF No. 32, at 1; Gov.'s Resp.,
ECF No. 41, at 1. At roughly 10:00 pm, a late 2000's
model Ford Focus approached the checkpoint. Id. An
WVSP officer, First Sergeant J.T. Findley, approached the
Ford, which had stopped at the checkpoint. Id.
Nearing the car, Sergeant Findley smelled marijuana emanating
from the vehicle. Id.; Gov.'s Suppl.
Br., ECF No. 47, at 1. Sergeant Findley questioned the
driver about the smell. In response to the questioning, the
driver of the Ford handed over a small bag with a nominal
amount marijuana and a pharmaceutical pill inside.
Id.; Def.'s Suppl. Br., ECF No. 52, at
3. During the conversation between the two, the driver told
Sergeant Findley that the contents of the baggie were
“all [he had].” Ex. A to Def.'s Mot. to
Suppress, ECF No. 32-1, at 4. Sergeant Findley
instructed the driver to pull over into a designated
processing area. Id. In spite this instruction, the
driver instead accelerated through and past the checkpoint.
a different WVSP officer, Senior Trooper C.J. Eastridge,
heard a car exit the checkpoint rapidly while an officer
yelled at the car to stop. Id. Trooper Eastridge saw
the late 2000's model black Ford Focus speed away from
the checkpoint, and take a left onto Lake Chadesa Drive, a
short distance away. Id. Trooper Eastridge followed
the Ford's path, turning left down Lake Chadesa Drive,
arriving at an apartment complex located on the road.
Id. He found the black Ford Focus, but it was
unoccupied, still running, with the driver's door ajar.
he could not locate an individual in or around the car,
Trooper Eastridge found a Smith and Wesson revolver with four
chambered rounds on the ground near the driver's side
door of the Ford. Id. Inside the car, Trooper
Eastridge found a multiplicity of personal, identifying
documents. He found documents and mail addressed to, and
regarding, Mr. Malcolm Hodges (“Defendant” or
“Mr. Hodges”), including those from a banking
institution and a health insurance company. Id.
Trooper Eastridge also found probation documents for Mr.
Hodges concerning a possession of marijuana citation from
April of 2016. Id. Finally, in the vehicle, Trooper
Eastridge also located a West Virginia identification card
for Mr. Hodges. Id.
identifying documents were not the only relevant items found
in the Ford Focus. Trooper Eastridge discovered several items
that he believed were consistent with drug possession and/or
distribution, including a box of unused small plastic
baggies, a scale, and several “blunt wraps.”
left the DUI checkpoint to assist Trooper Eastridge, Sergeant
Findley arrived at the site of the still running, deserted
late 2000's black Ford Focus. Id. Sergeant
Findley told Trooper Eastridge about the series of events
that resulted in the car taking off. Sergeant Findley relayed
that a black male had been driving the now abandoned Ford.
Id. Sergeant Findley showed Trooper Eastridge the
small bag with marijuana and a pharmaceutical tablet that the
driver had produced, after being confronted about the
car's smell of marijuana. Id. Sergeant Findley
confirmed that the person pictured in the West Virginia
identification card had been behind the wheel of the black
Ford Focus at the DUI checkpoint, and had handed Sergeant
Findley the small bag. Id. Indeed, Sergeant Findley
told Trooper Eastridge that Sergeant Findley had spoken with
the individual shown in the West Virginia identification
card, and that he was the only occupant of the vehicle.
Eastridge requested a criminal history record for the
individual identified by the documents in the car.
Id. The criminal history for Mr. Hodges reflected
two convictions. Trooper Eastridge believed one was for
possession with intent to deliver cocaine base, and one for
felonious wanton endangerment with a firearm. Id.
September 6, 2016, five days after the encounter with the
late 2000's Ford Focus, Trooper Eastridge swore to the
above information as part of a warrant application to search
Defendant's residence. Id. The application
reflects that Trooper Eastridge sought evidence
“associated with the possession of a firearm by a
prohibited person, to include; firearms, ammunition, gun
cases, ammunition cases, etc.” Id. at 2.
Additionally, Trooper Eastridge believed he would likely find
evidence of “the sale, manufacturing, possessing, [or]
distribution of a controlled substance to include; controlled
substance, and drug sale paraphernalia such as scales,
baggies, and other packaging materials.” Id.
Trooper Eastridge believed he would find this evidence at the
“[l]isted address” in Hurricane, West Virginia.
Trooper Eastridge and other officers carried out the search
warrant at the family residence of Defendant. Gov.'s
Resp., at 2; Def.'s Supp. Br., at 8;
Def.'s Mot. to Suppress, at 2. During the search
of the residence, WVSP officers did not find evidence
consistent with the items found in the Ford five days
earlier. Def.'s Supp. Br., at 6. Officers found
neither evidence reflecting ownership of the .45 caliber gun
discovered near the Ford, nor evidence with any connection to
drug manufacture, possession, or distribution. Id.
However, in a multi-occupant bedroom, officers did locate a
different gun, a single bullet of a different caliber, and a
manual for a gun. Id. at 6-7.
requests that this Court suppress the items found as a result
of the search warrant execution. Defendant raises several
legitimate concerns in his Motion to Suppress. Officers
delayed the warrant application for an unknown purpose or
reason. And the affidavit for the warrant application did
have factual inaccuracies. However, despite these issues, the
relevant Fourth Amendment law compels the Court's
conclusion. The fruits of the September 6, 2016 search will
not be tossed aside. The warrant application provided
sufficient information for the magistrate to find probable
cause, authorizing the search.
essential constitutional protection, the Fourth Amendment
ensures “the right of the people to be secure in their
persons [and] houses . . . .” U.S. Const. amend. IV;
see also United States v. Hodge, 354 F.3d 305, 309
(4th Cir. 2004). The warrant requirements described in the
Constitution animate this right, providing practical steps to
protect the aspirational notion. “[N]o Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. Requiring further procedural safeguards, an
independent judicial officer must agree with the probable
cause determination, and issue the warrant, before it may be
executed. See Hodge, 354 F.3d at 309 (providing the
requirement that an independent judicial officer must issue
the warrant before officers can conduct the search).
Additionally, courts have created the exclusionary rule to
deter the ...