Tuesday, July 03, 2007

No Suppression of Testimony Following Illegal Search; Proper to Look to Sentencing Facts in Suppression Review

US v. Gray: Gray and Askew were at Gray's apartment in Huntington when police arrived to conduct a "knock and talk." When Gray refused them entry into the apartment, they pushed their way in anyway, discovering Askew inside along with drugs, money, and other paraphernalia. Based on what they saw, police obtained a warrant and conducted a more thorough search. While the search was in process, two people came to the apartment to buy drugs. They were intercepted by police. One of them gave a statement at that time, while the other gave a statement to police several months later - both implicating Gray and Askew in a scheme to sell crack. Askew and Gray both filed motions to suppress. The district court denied Askew's based on lack of standing to object to the search of Gray's apartment. As to Gray, the district court granted the motion with regards to the physical evidence found in the apartment, but refused to suppress the statements of Askew or the two folks who showed up at the apartment. Askew and Gray pleaded guilty, reserving their rights to appeal the search issues.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings, 2-1. First, the court held that Askew did not have standing to object to the search of Gray's apartment. Applying Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83 (1998), the court held that Askew was more of a business visitor than social guest and therefore lacked any standing in Gray's apartment. Although the court reached that conclusion based on the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing, the court engaged in a lengthy review of Askew's sentencing proceedings, finding "confirmatory" information to support its conclusion. The court likened sentencing information to evidence produced during trial, which courts have traditionally utilized when resolving suppression issues.

Second, the court agreed with the district court that the statements of the two drug seekers and Askew should not be suppressed. As to the two drug seekers, the court held that the illegal search was not a "but-for cause of their" statements, but that it was "pure happenstance" (or stupidity, take your pick) that they came to Gray's apartment while the police were there. Regardless, their statements were given of their own free will, free from coercion (even though one of them failed to appear to testify pursuant to a subpoena). As to Askew's statements, the court held that he was not coerced into cooperated with the police, even though he was forced to cooperate due to the evidence seized during the illegal search of Gray's home (because Askew lacked standing to challenge the search).

Judge Michael unleashed a fiery dissent, disagreeing with the majority on just about everything. The dissent particularly takes issue with the majority's exploration of Askew's sentencing proceedings for evidence to support the denial of suppression, even though the majority admits it need not do so. Judge Michael calls such an approach "unprecedented." The dissent also substantively disagreed with the majority's conclusion as to Askew's standing to object to the search and the suppression of Aksew's statements in Gray's prosecution (no mention is made of the two drug seekers).

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