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United States v. Stokes

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 20, 2013

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Vaughn STOKES, also known as Qua, Defendant-Appellant.[*]

Argued: May 28, 2013.

Page 439

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 440

Barry D. Leiwant, Federal Defenders of New York, Appeals Bureau, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant Vaughn Stokes.

Benjamin Allee, Assistant United States Attorney (Jennifer G. Rodgers, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY.

Before: WINTER, HALL, and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.

GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge:

Following a bench trial on stipulated facts, Defendant Vaughn Stokes was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which criminalizes possession of firearms by convicted felons, and 18 U.S.C. § 922( o )(1), which criminalizes the possession of a machine gun by any person.[2] Stokes appeals, contending that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the firearms, which were discovered after a warrantless entry into Stokes's motel room. As this case comes to us, the government concedes that Stokes did not consent to the search, that no arrest or search warrant had been sought, and that the warrantless entry was not otherwise justified by exigent circumstances. The district court based its denial of Stokes's motion on the inevitable discovery doctrine, concluding that it had a " high level of confidence" that every possible course of events in the absence of the illegal entry would inevitably have led to the guns' discovery. Because we conclude that the district court erred in its application of the inevitable discovery doctrine, we vacate the judgment of conviction, reverse the denial of the suppression motion, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

I. Events Prior to the Unlawful Entry

The facts as found by the district court in denying Stokes's suppression motion are not in dispute. In the early morning hours of June 24, 2010, Stokes and Donovan Gilliard were arguing with Kareem Porter outside the Congress Bar in Poughkeepsie, New York. As the verbal altercation escalated, Gilliard pulled a knife from his pocket, and he and Stokes chased Porter down the street. After Porter fell to the ground, Gilliard jumped on top of him and stabbed him in the chest and torso, while Stokes punched and kicked Porter in the head. Porter died from the knife wounds. The knife was recovered by the police that night, and there is no indication that any other weapons were used during the course of the homicide.

After interviewing several eyewitnesses and reviewing surveillance video, Detective Robert Perrotta, a twenty-four-year veteran of the Poughkeepsie Police Department, sought to interview Stokes and Gilliard. Perrotta had known Stokes since the mid-1990s, and had interviewed him nine

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months earlier during the course of another homicide investigation. Unable to locate Stokes in Poughkeepsie, Perrotta determined that Stokes had most likely left the area, possibly armed to protect himself from retaliation by Porter's associates.

Perrotta contacted Agent Sean McCluskey, his liaison with the United States Marshal Service, and provided McCluskey with Stokes's cell phone number in order to enlist the marshals' assistance in finding Stokes outside of the Poughkeepsie area. The marshals obtained a pen register and located Stokes by " pinging" his cell phone.[3] On the evening of July 11, 2010, McCluskey informed Perrotta that the marshals had traced Stokes to the Pelham Garden Motel on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. Later that same evening, Perrotta contacted Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Frank Chase to inform him that he planned to arrest Stokes the next morning at the motel. Perrotta also told Chase that the marshals would prefer to have an arrest warrant in hand. Chase declined to seek an arrest warrant. The decision was strategic. Under New York law, once an arrest warrant issues, law enforcement officers are not permitted to question suspects outside of the presence of counsel. See People v. Samuels,49 N.Y.2d 218, 223, 424 N.Y.S.2d 892, 400 ...


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