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United States of America v. Hodges

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

February 16, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MALCOLM HODGES

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On 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. Id.

         Simultaneously, 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. Id.

         Although 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.

         The 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.” Id.

         Having 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. Id.

         Trooper 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.

         On 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. Id.

         Later, 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.

         Defendant 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.

         II. DISCUSSION

         As an 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 ...


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