United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
March 23, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on
defendant's motion to suppress cocaine and heroin found
in his pants pocket during a search incident to his arrest.
Docs. 19 & 20. Having carefully considered all evidence
and arguments, the Court recommends denial of the motion.
facts are as follows as determined from the police reports,
Defendant's affidavit, and the hearing testimony of
Detectives James Hutcherson and Warren Weir. Both detectives
worked in the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) of the
Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department at the time.
December 1, 2017, Detective Hutcherson observed a green
Nissan Altima in his rearview mirror while conducting
surveillance in the Cuyler-Brownsville neighborhood.
Detective Hutcherson also observed a nonfunctional left brake
light on the Altima. Based on SIU's extensive
investigative work in that neighborhood, Detective Hutcherson
knew Defendant was a suspected drug dealer who drove a green
Altima even though his driver's license had been
suspended since 2010. The Altima turned into Madison
Apartments and the driver entered apartment 75, known by
Detective Hutcherson to be the residence of Defendant's
girlfriend. When the driver exited the Altima and entered the
apartment, Detective Hutcherson positively identified him as
later, Defendant exited the apartment and drove away in the
Altima with a female from the apartment as a passenger.
Detective Hutcherson radioed units in the area that Defendant
was driving a green Nissan Altima with a nonfunctional left
brake light. Detective Hutcherson and other units surveilled
Defendant until Detective Weir activated his police lights to
initiate a traffic stop. Defendant stopped for the female
passenger to exit the Altima, then accelerated and nearly
collided with Detective Hutcherson's unmarked car.
Defendant drove erratically to flee the police and ran nine
or ten stop signs at a high rate of speed until the officers
discontinued the pursuit because of the danger posed to
Weir never saw the Altima driver's face during the chase,
and instead relied on the radio message from Detective
Hutcherson that Defendant was the driver. There is no camera
footage of the attempted traffic stop and chase because the
police vehicles involved in the chase do not have dash
on Detective Hutcherson's identification of Defendant,
Detective Weir prepared a warrant application and affidavit
that resulted in the December 5, 2017 issuance of four state
arrest warrants for the following offenses: felony fleeing to
elude; reckless driving; driving on a suspended license; and
a brake light violation. With the warrants in hand, Chatham
officers spotted Defendant that same day and arrested him. In
the search incident to the arrest, an officer recovered
baggies from Defendant's pants pocket containing cocaine,
crack, and heroin. These drugs form the basis of the
affidavit, Defendant contends “he was not behind the
wheel of a moving vehicle” on December 1, 2017, the
date of the police chase. Doc. 20 at 1 (citing Affidavit of
Robert Jivens at ¶ 3). Because Detective Weir never saw
the driver's face and there is no dash camera footage,
Defendant contends there is no proof he was the driver and
the warrants lacked probable cause for his arrest. Without a
valid arrest warrant, Defendant contends there was no basis
for his arrest and the search incident to that arrest which
resulted in discovery of the cocaine and heroin. Docs. 19
Hutcherson positively identified Defendant as the driver of
the Altima and radioed nearby units, including Detective
Weir, to convey this information immediately preceding
Detective Weir's attempted traffic stop and the police
chase. Detective Weir reasonably relied on this
identification when initiating the traffic stop and attesting
in the warrant application that Defendant was the driver.
cause deals with probabilities that need not come from direct
observation but may be inferred from the particular
circumstances or based on evidence that would not be legally
competent in a criminal trial. Draper v. United
States, 358 U.S. 307, 311-12 (1959); United States
v. Jenkins, 901 F.2d 1075, 1080 (11th Cir. 1990).
Importantly for the case sub judice, probable cause
may also be rooted in “the collective knowledge of law
officers if they maintained at least a minimal level of
communication during their investigation.” United
States v. Willis, 759 F.2d 1486, 1494 (11th Cir. 1985).
Certainly, the hearing testimony conclusively established
that SIU investigators, and all units surveilling and chasing
Defendant, worked together as a team and engaged in frequent
conversation during their investigation, including Detective
Hutcherson's contemporaneous radio message when he
identified Defendant as the Altima driver. Detective Weir was
entitled to rely on the information supplied by these
officers in his affidavit supporting the warrant application.
Zargari v. United States, 658 Fed.Appx. 501, 507
(11th Cir. 2016) (“‘the collective knowledge of
the investigating officers'” may “‘be
imputed to each participating officer'” (quoting
Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1252 (11th Cir.
Defendant was not the driver (as he claims), the Court
credits Detective Hutcherson's testimony that he was
familiar with Defendant's appearance and honestly
believed he observed Defendant exiting the apartment of
Defendant's girlfriend and driving away in the Altima.
Detective Weir reasonably relied on Detective
Hutcherson's identification. The Court rejects any
implication by Defendant that Detectives Weir and Hutcherson
concocted the identification, obtained the warrant by
fraudulent means, and lied under oath to this Court during
the evidentiary hearing. On the contrary, the officers'
testimony was consistent and they were candid on the stand.
United States v. Ramirez-Chilel, 289 F.3d 744,
749-50 (11th Cir. 2002).
of these reasons, even if Defendant was not the driver of the
Altima during the police chase, the good faith exception to
the exclusionary rule attaches pursuant to United States
v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Under Leon, there
are four scenarios under which the good faith exception to
the exclusionary rule would not apply. The exception does not
apply where the judge issuing the warrant was misled by
information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false
or would have known was false except for his reckless
disregard of the truth. Id. at 923. Nor does the
exception apply in cases where the issuing judge
“wholly abandoned” his or her detached and
neutral judicial role such that no reasonably well trained
officer would rely on the warrant. Id. The warrant
must not be based on an affidavit “so lacking in
indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its
existence entirely unreasonable, ...