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United States v. Carstarphen

June 25, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
VAUGHN CARSTARPHEN



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence. For the reasons expressed below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On November 26, 2005, at approximately 1:30 pm, Camden Police responded to a 911 call from a female caller, reporting a group of individuals knocking on the door of 2823 Clinton Street in Camden, purportedly "wanting to fight." (See Government's Brief at 1; Defendant's Brief at 3.) 2823 Clinton Street is located in an area where many drug arrests have been made within a half-block radius and where prostitution and aggravated assaults have occurred within a five-block radius. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript*fn1 at 7-8, 33.) The officer patrolling the block on November 26, 2005 described it as a high-crime area. (See Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 78-79.) However, another Camden police officer, who responded to a 911 call there later that day described the area as "quiet for the most part." (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 7.)

The 911 call was placed by Edna Daniels, an occupant of 2823 Clinton Street. (See Government's Brief, Exhibit 2, Camden Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Ms. Daniels informed the responding officer that the individuals were unknown to her. (See Testimony of Officer McCray, Transcript at 61-62.) However, witness Wendy Roane, a friend of Ms. Daniels, testified that the individuals Ms. Daniels called about were her acquaintances, whom Daniels had requested come over to help her escape an abusive boyfriend. (See Testimony of Wendy Roane, Transcript at 84-85.)

No individuals were present at the scene when the responding officer arrived. (See Government's Brief, Exhibit 2, Camden Police Department Incident Report at 1.) No description of the individuals was included in either the 911 call or the incident report prepared by the responding officer. (See Government's Brief, Exhibits 1-2.)

At approximately 2:30 pm that same day, Ms. Daniels called 911 again, and reported several males outside her home. (See Government's Brief, Exhibit 3.) Ms. Daniels never identified this second group of individuals as being the same group that had prompted her to phone 911 the first time. (See Government's Brief at 1; Defendant's Brief at 3.) As per Ms. Daniels' description, the dispatcher released a radio dispatch, describing one male wearing a red and black shirt and another male wearing a red hat and possessing a firearm. (See id.)

Uniformed Officers Feliciano and White, driving separately in marked police cars, responded to the second dispatch. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 12.) The officers arrived within minutes of the call. (See Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 80.) While neither officer had responded to the first dispatch to Ms. Daniels' residence, both testified that they had heard it on the radio. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 10-11; Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 78-79.)

As Officer Feliciano arrived on the scene, he observed three males crossing Clinton Street. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 14.) One was wearing a red hat. (See id.) Officer White observed a second male wearing a black and white jacket and blue jeans, and a third male, Mr. Carstarphen, wearing an army jacket, black shirt, black wool cap, and blue jeans. (See Government's Brief, Exhibit 4 at 1; Testimony of Officer White at 69-71.) No other males were present in the area. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 14.)

As the officers exited their vehicles, the three males tried to enter a black Ford. (See id. at 16; Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 75.) The officers drew their weapons on account of the report that one individual had a firearm, and because there were three suspects versus two officers on the scene. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 15-16.) The officers then ordered the three males to step away from the car. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 16; Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 7.) Officer White and Ms. Roane both testified that Mr. Carstarphen was already inside the car by the time the police approached, and therefore needed to be ordered to step out of the car. (See Testimony of Officer White, Transcript at 76-77, and Testimony of Wendy Roane, Transcript at 87-88, 107-08.)

When the officers asked dispatch if the person with the weapon was the male in red, the dispatcher responded in the affirmative. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 27.) However, Officer Feliciano testified that he observed Mr. Carstarphen, who wore no red, with a bulge. (See Testimony of Officer Feliciano, Transcript at 17.) The officer believed the bulge could be a concealed weapon. (See id.) When Officer Feliciano frisked Mr. Carstarphen, he discovered a loaded gun. (See id. at 17-18.)

Ms. Roane testified that the officers did not find the gun on Mr. Carstarphen until they searched him a second time, after running his name. (See Testimony of Wendy Roane, Transcript at 114-15.)

DISCUSSION

A. When the Seizure of Mr. ...


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