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United States v. Drummond

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
ALVIN ANDRAE DRUMMOND, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Greenville. Henry M. Herlong, Jr., Senior District Judge. (6:17-cr-00517-HMH-1)


          Joshua Snow Kendrick, KENDRICK & LEONARD, P.C., Greenville, South Carolina, for Appellant.

          Jamie L. Schoen, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Sherri A. Lydon, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before AGEE and FLOYD, Circuit Judges, and TRAXLER, Senior Circuit Judge.

          TRAXLER, Senior Circuit Judge:

         Alvin Drummond was convicted of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and he received a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). He appeals the district court's denial of his pretrial motion to suppress evidence against him, as well as the imposition of the enhanced sentence under the ACCA. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


         In May 2017, Deputy K. McGrath received a tip from a known informant that Nicholas Finley was selling methamphetamine from Room 131 of the Red Roof Inn in Greenville, South Carolina. Deputy McGrath was aware of Finley's reputation as a person involved with narcotics and firearms, and she knew that he was a convicted felon. On May 11, 2017, at approximately 4:30 p.m., she and another deputy drove to the Red Roof Inn to investigate the tip and see if there was any suspicious activity occurring there. Room 131 was located on the back side of the motel. The only car in the parking lot was in front of Room 131, and it had a fake paper tag. As Deputy McGrath was checking the VIN of the vehicle to see if it was stolen, Finley came to the door of Room 131, with a big gray pit bull at his side. Deputy McGrath recognized Finley and asked permission to enter the room. Finley agreed and put the dog in the bathroom.

         There were seven people inside Room 131, including Drummond, all of whom voluntarily produced identification. Deputy McGrath asked Finley if anyone else was present in the room, and Finley assured her that there was not. After checking the identifications provided by the occupants of the room, Deputy McGrath asked for Finley's permission to check the bathroom. He again consented. Aware that the dog was inside the bathroom, Deputy McGrath slowly opened the door. There she found a woman, who could not be identified at the time by the name given. There was an orange hypodermic needle cap near the woman's feet. Deputy McGrath asked the occupants of the room if anyone had a medical condition that would explain the presence of the needle cap. No one admitted to any such condition.

         While her partner stayed with the occupants in the room, Deputy McGrath sought a warrant to search Room 131, based on the following affidavit:

The Affiant obtained knowledge that the occupant of this room, Nicholas Finley was selling Methamphetamine from room 131 at this motel. When I performed an extra patrol of this motel, I observed a suspicious vehicle parked in front of the motel room with a fake paper tag. As I walked up to the vehicle, Nicholas Finley began exiting the motel room. I observed multiple people inside the hotel room along with a large pit bull. As Nicholas put the dog in the bathroom, I asked if I could enter the hotel room and Nicholas stated I could. Due to the large amount of people in the room I asked to see identification and asked if anyone else was in the room. I was advised there was no one else. After checking everyone's identifications, I asked Nicholas if I could check the bathroom to ensure no one else was in the room. I found a female that could not be identified at this time by her name given and I observed an orange hypodermic needle cap on the floor next to her feet. No one in the room was a diabetic and could provide a reason for having this drug paraphernalia. I believe through the execution of this search warrant, more narcotics and paraphernalia will be located.

J.A. 71. The magistrate issued the search warrant, which resulted in the discovery of firearms, ammunition, multiple baggies with methamphetamine residue, and various items of drug paraphernalia, including hypodermic needles.

         In a backpack located near Drummond's feet, the officers found a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, fully loaded with .38 caliber rounds, a Crown Royal bag containing additional .38 caliber ammunition, and job-related paperwork in Drummond's name. Drummond's fingerprints were subsequently found on the gun.

         Drummond was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the evidence seized in the search, asserting that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause. The government argued that Drummond lacked standing to challenge the search of the motel room and that, even if he did have standing, the search warrant was supported by probable cause. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Drummond was subsequently convicted by a jury of the felon-in-possession charge.

         Over Drummond's objections, the district court imposed an enhancement under the ACCA, based upon Drummond's three prior felony convictions in South Carolina for criminal domestic violence. Drummond received a sentence of 247 months' imprisonment. He appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress and the imposition of the ACCA sentence enhancement.


         We begin with Drummond's appeal of his § 922(g)(1) conviction, which was based solely on his claim that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. More specifically, Drummond contends that the affidavit prepared by Deputy McGrath was insufficient to establish probable cause for the magistrate to issue the search warrant. We disagree.

         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from "unreasonable searches and seizures," and provides that "no 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. Generally, evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment is not admissible at trial. See United States v. Andrews, 577 F.3d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 2009).

         "When considering a district court's denial of a suppression motion, we review factual findings for clear error and legal conclusions de novo." United States v. Richardson, 607 F.3d 357, 369 (4th Cir. 2010). "Although the concept of probable cause defies a precise definition, it exists where the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in the place to be searched." Id. (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). "[T]he determination of probable cause by the issuing magistrate is entitled to great deference from this court." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The magistrate "issuing a search warrant must simply make a practical, commonsense determination-based on the totality of the circumstances revealed in the affidavit-of whether there is a substantial likelihood that evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." United States v. Allen, 631 F.3d 164, 173 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230-31 (1983)). "Our duty 'is simply to ensure that the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed.'" Richardson, 607 F.3d at 369 (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238-39).

         Drummond argues that Deputy McGrath's affidavit did not suffice to establish probable cause to search the motel room because the affidavit contained no information about the informant or the informant's credibility, and because nothing in the affidavit beyond Finley's presence in the motel room corroborated the informant's tip. Drummond argues that the false paper tag on the car that was parked outside the motel room could not be relied upon to justify a search of the motel room. And Drummond argues that the hypodermic needle cap was nothing more than a piece of trash. However, "[t]he totality-of-the-circumstances test 'precludes this sort of divide-and-conquer analysis.'" Dist. of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 588 (2018) (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274 (2002)). "The totality of the circumstances requires courts to consider the whole picture," and "the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts-especially when the parts are viewed in isolation." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Nor does the probable cause analysis require a magistrate to rule out every "innocent explanation for suspicious facts." Id.

         Here, Deputy McGrath did not identify her informant or explain the basis for the informant's tip that drug dealing was occurring in Room 131 of the Red Roof Inn. She testified that this was because of the danger that the subject posed and the unwillingness of the tipster to be known. Contrary to Drummond's view, however, the affidavit for the warrant was not based solely on the informant's tip. The tip, coupled with Deputy McGrath's knowledge of Finley's drug-dealing reputation, led her to conduct the extra patrol of the motel in order to investigate the tip. This investigation, in turn, led to facts and circumstances that demonstrated probable cause to obtain the warrant.

         First, the tip provided to Deputy McGrath was partially corroborated immediately upon the officers' arrival at the motel room. Finley walked out of the specific room identified by the informant as the place where drugs were being dealt. The only car in the lot was parked directly in front of the room and had a fake paper tag. There were a large number of people in the small motel room in the afternoon hours. When Deputy McGrath asked for permission to enter the room, Finley consented, but put his pit bull in the bathroom. Finley then lied to the deputies about whether there was a person in the bathroom. After Finley consented to Deputy McGrath's ...

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