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United States v. Figueroa

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 24, 2013



Luis A. Ortiz, Esquire, LAW OFFICES OF LUIS ORTIZ, PHILADELPHIA, PA. Counsel for Defendant.


LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.


On June 26, 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Reinaldo Morales Figueroa ("Defendant") on a charge of knowingly possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). (D.I. 10) Defendant moved to suppress evidence, including a firearm, seized pursuant to execution of a search warrant on May 25, 2012. (D.I. 15) The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion on November 20, 2012. ( See Transcript (D.I. 24) ("Tr."))

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(d), below the Court sets forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.


In May 2012, Thomas Curley, a Wilmington Police Department ("WPD") detective with nearly 15 years of experience investigating major crimes, began an investigation into an assault case. ( See Tr. at 4-13) According to Curley's testimony at the evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion, a victim alleged that he had been assaulted by the same assailants on consecutive days, May 13 and 14, 2012. ( Id. at 4-5) The victim stated that the assaults occurred at or around the area of 5 Carpenter Street, Wilmington, Delaware. ( Id. at 5)

In particular, with regard to the May 13 assault, the victim reported that two Hispanic males "exited the garage at 5 Carpenter Street" and then punched and pistol-whipped him with a handgun before firing shots in the air. ( Id. ) Curley testified that the victim "was able to describe and draw which [side of the] garage [that] the suspect came out of as the easternmost garage in the block, on the south side on the street with a side door on the west side of the building." ( Id. at 19) Regarding the May 14 assault, the victim asserted that two Hispanic males exited a black Chrysler automobile with tinted windows and again pistol whipped him - with the same handgun that had been used the day before - at or around the area of 5 Carpenter Street. ( Id. at 5) The victim alleged that at least one of the males involved in the May 13 assault was also involved in the May 14 assault. ( Id. ) "The other Hispanic male had a baseball bat and beat him." ( Id. )

As part of his investigation, Curley went to 5 Carpenter Street, which he described at the hearing as "a single building with two garage doors and a single garage door in the middle with a No. 5 on it, and a door on the right side of the garage [where] there wasn't a doorknob. [There] was a chain in place... of a doorknob." ( Id. at 6-7) According to the victim's account as understood by Curley, the chain handled door on the right side of the premises is the door from which the assailants exited just before assaulting the victim on May 13. ( Id. at 10)

Curley further described 5 Carpenter Street as consisting of multiple garages not of the same height, having different brick colors, and looking as if they had been built at different times. ( Id. at 22, 25, 45, 48-49) As part of his investigation, Curley noticed only one electric meter at the property. ( Id. at 6) At 5 Carpenter Street, Curley further observed a black Chrysler automobile matching the description provided by the victim. ( Id. at 5, 12) Curley learned through investigation that the vehicle was registered to an owner at 1103 Cedar Tree, Claymont, Delaware. ( Id. at 12) Curley was able to ascertain that the vehicle owner's description matched the victim's description of one of the assailants. ( Id. )

Curley undertook additional investigation regarding 5 Carpenter Street. He conducted a computer-aided dispatch search ("CAD") of the property, from which he learned that the WPD had no record of any previous interaction with 5 Carpenter Street. ( Id. at 11) Curley then completed a parcel search and learned that an individual named Shakira Martinez ("Martinez") owned 5 Carpenter Street. ( Id. ) The parcel search further revealed that while 5 Carpenter Street had no rentable units ( id. at 12), it was at some point part of a multi-deed/parcel transaction ( id. at 53). The parcel search also indicated that 5 Carpenter Street was an automotive repair building. ( Id. at 12) The deed showed no subunits or listings such as A's, B's, 1's, or 2's. ( Id. at 11-12, 29-30, 33-34, 39, 46-47, 51; Def.'s Hrg. Ex. 1-2) In his search warrant affidavit and police report, Curley described 5 Carpenter Street as "a set of garages." ( Id. at 19)

Curley did not investigate whether there were any utility contracts associated with 5 Carpenter Street. ( See id. at 22) Nor did he interview the owner of the property or neighbors prior to the search, as he felt such a step would threaten officer safety. ( Id. at 30, 45)

On May 24, 2012, Curley obtained search warrants for both 5 Carpenter Street and 1103 Cedar Tree. ( Id. at 14) The search warrants were executed nearly simultaneously on May 25, 2012 around 6:00 A.M. ( Id. at 14-15) One of the alleged assailants was found at 1103 Cedar Tree, but ...

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