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United States v. Chambers

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN CHAMBERS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On November 12, 2015, the Grand Jury for the District of Delaware indicted Defendant Kevin Chambers ("Chambers") for one count of knowingly and intentionally conspiring to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and two counts of knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute controlled substances, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) and (b)(1)(B). Presently before the court is Chambers' Motion to Suppress Evidence. (D.I. 19.) The court held an evidentiary hearing on March 7, 2017 (D.I. 38) and subsequently directed the parties to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. After having considered the testimony elicited during the hearing and the arguments presented in the parties' submissions on the issues, the court will deny Chambers' motion.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         At the evidentiary hearing, the United States called one witness: Eric Miller ("Miller"), a Special Agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). After listening to the testimony of the witness, the court concludes that the account of the facts provided by Miller are credible. The following represents the court's essential findings of fact as required by Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

         On October 28, 2015, agents executed a search warrant at the home of a drug supplier who later became a DEA confidential source ("CS"). (Tr. 10:22-24, D.I. 38.) In a subsequent interview of the CS on November 2, 2015, the CS told Miller about a man he knew as "Will" whom he supplied with kilogram quantities of cocaine and heroin. (Tr. 11:6-21.) The CS described "Will" as a black male, confined to a wheelchair, who previously lived in Delaware but currently lived out of state. (Id.) According to the CS, "Will" owed him approximately $100, 000 for the drugs he previously supplied. (Id.)

         Thereafter, Miller took steps to verify the CS's claims about the previous drug transaction with "Will." (Tr. 12:21-23.) First, Miller reviewed the CS's cellular phone for text messages between the relevant parties. (Tr. 12:18-19.) The CS directed Miller to review text messages under the contact "Cojo, " which is slang for "walks with a limp" in Spanish. (Tr. 14:2-5.) The phone number was a 281 area code, which Miller recognized as being outside of the state of Delaware. (Tr. 16:8-10.) Miller reviewed numerous text messages between the CS and "Will, " many of which, in his view, corroborated the CS's information. See generally Tr. 16-22 (referencing Government's Ex. 1). Miller testified, based upon his training and experience, that those text messages used common drug terms such as "the game" (the drug game), "bread" (money), and "[w]hole chicken" (kilogram).[1] (Tr. 16:24-25; 18:3-14; 19:19-20:6.)

         Second, Miller instructed the CS to make a recorded phone call to "Will." (Tr. 22:16-23:8.) During this call, the CS and "Will" discussed drugs, first using the word "girl" as a substitute for a kilogram of cocaine. (Tr. 25:12-26:8.) Using the term "bread" for money, "Will" explained that he had about $60, 000 for the CS to pick up. (Tr. 26:12-27:7.) Next, the conversation turned to heroin, specifically the use of different color bags and brands for the heroin "Will" was going to sell. (Tr. 27:8-29:15; 31:14-32:9..) The CS offered five or six more kilograms to "Will, " and the parties agreed that they should meet up again. (Tr. 30:25-31:13.)

         Finally, Miller continued to communicate with "Will" after the recorded phone conversations, posing as the CS. (Tr. 32:19-24.) After a failed attempt to meet up on November 2, 2015, Miller confirmed the drug order with "Will" on November 4, 2015: two "girls"-or kilograms of cocaine-for $60, 000. (Tr. 34:23-36:5) (referencing Government's Ex. 4.) After confirming via text message the meeting location as Harrah's casino in Chester, Pennsylvania, Miller parked his car on the fourth floor of the parking garage and attempted to locate Chambers inside the casino. (Tr. 38:13-39:12.) Eventually, "Will" sent a text message indicating that he was on the fourth floor. (Tr. 39:23-24.) Thereafter, Miller returned to the parking garage to look for "Will." (Tr. 40: 3-4.)

         Miller testified that he was looking for a specific person: a black male who uses a wheelchair, likely in a rental car, and was on the fourth floor of the Harrah's parking garage. (Tr. 40:5-13.) Immediately after walking out of the casino, Miller noticed a sedan that was illegally parked on the fourth floor of the Harrah's parking garage, with the motor running. (Tr. 40:17-41:14.) He observed a folded-up wheelchair in the back of the car, and that the driver, a black male, was the only occupant in the car. (Tr. 40:17-41:2, 41:19-21.)

         After finding that the defendant matched the description of "Will" and was in the same location where "Will" stated he would be to consummate a drug transaction, Miller approached the driver's side of "Will's" vehicle and knocked on the window. (Tr. 41:22-42:8.) At that time, Miller was in plain clothes, and he did not have a firearm visible. (Tr. 51:22-52:9.) Chambers lowered the window all the way down. (Tr. 42:13-15.) When Chambers lowered the window, Miller identified himself as a law enforcement officer and showed Chambers his badge and credentials. (Tr. 42:16-22.) As he identified himself, Miller noticed a large, cane-like mechanical device near Chambers' right arm. (Tr. 43:6-13.) The device was facing down towards the floorboards. (Tr. 43:20-23.)

         Miller then asked Chambers why he was in the parking lot at Harrah's. (Tr. 42:23-25; 45:10-12.) Chambers replied that he was waiting for a girl. (Tr. 43:1.) Next, Miller asked Chambers if he had large amounts of money on him. (Tr. 43:2-5.) Chambers responded by pointing to a pink backpack that was in the rear seat on the wheelchair. (Id.)

         After asking these questions, Miller noticed two cellphones between Chambers' legs. (Tr. 44:22-45:9.) Miller then called the phone number he was using to text message with "Will." (Tr. 45:17-22.) He testified that he observed one of the phones in Chambers' lap "li[ght] up" and heard the phone ring. (Tr. 45:23-24, 46:10-12.)

         The pre-arrest interaction between Chambers and Miller took place outside of the driver's side window of Chambers' vehicle. (Tr. 46:13-16.) Miller explained that there were very few people in the parking lot at the time. (Tr. 61:11-23.) The pre-arrest interaction lasted approximately thirty to sixty seconds, Miller's voice remained calm throughout. (Tr. 51:2-7.)[2]Miller did not give any commands to Chambers. (Tr. 51:13-21.) Miller and his partner never drew their firearms on Chambers. (Tr. 52:19-23.) Lastly, no vehicles were used to "box-in" Chambers' car and prevent him from driving away. (Tr. 52:24-53:8.)

         After observing that Chambers was in possession of the phone used to arrange a drug transaction, Miller told him he was under arrest. (Tr. 53:17-23.) Miller then read Chambers his Miranda warnings, verbatim, from his DEA card. (Tr. 53:24-55:6.)[3] Miller explained to Chambers that he was arrested because he was supposed to purchase two kilograms of cocaine for approximately $60, 000. (Tr. 55:17-19.) Chambers seemingly indicated that this was true by nodding his head in the affirmative. (Tr. 55:20-24.)

         Miller testified that, based on the entirety of his investigation, he believed he had probable cause to search the vehicle, particularly for a large amount of cash. (Tr. 56:9-16.) DEA agents found approximately $52, 000 in the pink/purple backpack, and more money in a black bag under the passenger seat of the vehicle.[4] (Tr. 56:17-23.) Approximately an hour later, Chambers provided another statement to Miller. (Tr. 57:.16-58:10.) The tone and tenor of that recorded interview was "calm and relaxed." (Tr. 59:22-60:1.) During this questioning, Chambers acknowledged that he was read his Miranda warnings earlier in the evening. (Tr. 60:7-13.)

         III. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Chambers asserts that the physical evidence obtained as a result of the above-described arrest must be suppressed as a product of an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (D.I. 39 at 10.) Chambers also contends that the oral statements obtained before and after his arrest should be suppressed as a violation of the Fifth Amendment. (Id.) Specifically, Chambers alleges that: (1) he was in custody during Miller's questioning and the responses to those questions should be suppressed because he was not read his Miranda rights (D.I. 39 at 20-22); (2) he was questioned without reasonable suspicion during the time Miller initially encountered him (D.I. 19 at 18); (3) Miller did not have probable cause to arrest him (D.I. 39 at 15-16, 18); (4) the search of his vehicle was unreasonable because there was no warrant and no exception to the Fourth Amendment applied (D.I. 39 at 17-19); (5) the phone call placed by Miller to his cell phone was an unlawful search (D.I. 19 at 16); and (6) his arrest, the search of his vehicle, and the phone call placed to "Will's" phone were all tainted evidence that should be subjected to the exclusionary rule. (D.I. 39 at 24.)

         Conversely, the government argues that the physical and oral evidence obtained from Chambers were legally obtained because: (1) during the initial encounter between Chambers and Miller, he was not in custody (D.I. 42 at 6-12); (2) as a result, Miller was not required to read Chambers his Miranda rights during this interaction (D.I. 42 at 7, 9-12); (3) Chambers validly waived his Miranda rights post-arrest (D.I. 42 at 12-13); (4) Miller had probable cause to arrest Chambers and to search his vehicle pursuant to a search incident to arrest and automobile exceptions to the Fourth Amendment (D.I. 42 at 15-19); and (5) Miller's call to Chambers' cell phone did not amount to a search. (D.I. 42 at 13-15.)

         A. Validity of Miller's Pre-arrest ...


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