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United States v. Williams

July 1, 2005

UNITED STATES APPELLANT IN NO. 04-2807
v.
EUGENE IVOR WILLIAMS
UNITED STATES
v.
EUGENE IVOR WILLIAMS APPELLANT IN NO. 04-2903



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands. (D.C. No. 04-cr-00016). District Judge: Honorable Chief Judge Raymond L. Finch.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued December 14, 2004

Before: SLOVITER, FUENTES, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

This appeal arises out of two separate events involving Eugene I. Williams, twice arrested by the Virgin Islands Police Department on the island of St. Croix for offenses involving firearms and drugs. In the first event, several police officers approached a parked van with the rear doors open and found Williams inside bagging marijuana. The officers, upon seeing a leafy green substance, proceeded to stop, search, and arrest Williams. The District Court granted Williams' motion to suppress evidence seized in connection with this arrest on the grounds that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to approach the van. In the second incident, Williams, who was standing on a street with a group of people, fled when he saw a police cruiser approach.

During the ensuing chase, Williams threw away a loaded firearm and was later found hiding in the bathroom of a stranger's house with marijuana in a nearby bathtub. The District Court denied Williams' motion to suppress with regards to the second arrest, finding that his flight created reasonable suspicion for the police to pursue and that, in any event, Williams lost any expectation of privacy in the firearm and marijuana once he discarded them.

The United States filed an interlocutory appeal with regards to the suppression order relating to the first arrest, while Williams filed an interlocutory cross-appeal with regards to the denial of his motion relating to the second arrest. Because we find that the police did not need reasonable suspicion to approach the parked van in which Williams was bagging marijuana, we will reverse the District Court's suppression order. However, with regards to Williams' cross-appeal, we conclude that we lack jurisdiction over his interlocutory appeal and accordingly will dismiss it.

I.

On May 27, 2004, a Grand Jury sitting in the District of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix, returned a five-count superseding indictment charging Williams with the knowing possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(k); unauthorized possession of a firearm in violation of V.I. Code Ann. Tit. 14, § 2253(a) (2004); possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A); and unauthorized possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number in violation of V.I. Code Ann. Tit. 23, § 481. The indictment stemmed from two separate arrests of Williams for criminal conduct, the first occurring on August 27, 2003 (the "First Arrest"), and the second on January 29, 2004 (the "Second Arrest").*fn1

A. First Arrest

On the afternoon of August 27, 2003, Officer Uston Cornelius of the Virgin Islands Police Department and three other officers were on routine patrol in a marked police cruiser in an area of St. Croix known as the Castle Coakley residential area. They came upon a parked blue van, with its rears doors open, such that the officers could see straight into the vehicle. As the officers approached the van, they observed an individual (later identified as Defendant Williams) seated in the rear of the van engaged in some sort of activity. The officers stopped their car, exited, and approached the van. Officer Cornelius later testified that he had no suspicion that criminal activity was taking place when he began his approach toward the van.

From a distance of about twelve or thirteen feet, Officer Cornelius saw Williams holding a large ziplock bag containing a green leafy substance that appeared to be marijuana and several smaller ziplock bags in his lap containing the same green leafy substance. When Williams noticed the officers approaching, he attempted to discard all the bags in his lap and hands. Williams was removed from the van, searched and handcuffed. A search of the van revealed the larger bag and fourteen smaller bags. The green leafy substance field-tested positive for marijuana. After receiving ...


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