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United States of America v. Shawn Coleman

July 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge:



Defendant Shawn Coleman is charged in a one-count Indictment with being a previously convicted felon in possession of a loaded handgun on November 5, 2009, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 922 (g)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Presently before the Court are: (1) Defendant's motion to suppress evidence consisting of the gun and several statements obtained by the arresting officers; and (2) the United States' motion for admission of certain evidence of a prior conviction and other bad acts under Rule 404(b), Fed. R. Ev., and to utilize all of defendant's prior convictions to cross-examine defendant and to impeach his credibility should he choose to testify at trial.

The Court has received the briefs and supplemental briefs of counsel and evidence submitted at a suppression hearing. The principal issue to be decided is whether the United States has demonstrated just cause for police officers to enter the vehicle in which defendant was asleep or unconscious in the driver's seat with the engine running and to seize a handgun found next to him in the front console, under the emergency exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The Court must also decide whether the United States has demonstrated that several post-arrest statements by defendant, at the scene, during a subsequent police car ride and during booking procedures are admissible and not in contravention of defendant's rights.


About 2:00 A.M. in the early morning hours of November 5, 2009, the Lindenwold, New Jersey Police Department received a telephone call from a resident of the Pine Ridge Apartments complaining about a motor vehicle. The caller told police that an unknown vehicle was parked with its bright lights shining in the apartment's window, and the police were requested to investigate. The police dispatcher put out a call to officers on patrol and two officers responded in their vehicles, namely Ptl. Arthur W. Hall and Ptl. George Przybylski.

Officer Przybylski testified that he arrived first at the scene, and Officer Hall arrived within a minute as his backup. Przybylski and Hall parked their police vehicles to illuminate the suspicious vehicle, which was a Saturn SUV with New York license plates. The officers saw the vehicle was running with its high beams illuminating the apartment's windows. They saw a man seated in the driver's seat, with the radio playing loudly inside the vehicle. The officers saw no signs of the man's movement or breathing. The officers stood on either side of the vehicle and Officer Przybylski knocked on the driver's side window with his flashlight and hollered in an attempt to rouse the man, and Officer Hall did the same on the passenger side window. The man made no response despite the officers' commotion. The man seemed to be in a deep sleep or daze, according to Hall's testimony. Przybylski believed the driver was sleeping, intoxicated, or had a medical problem. Both officers reasonably believed that knocking their flashlights on the window and shining them into his face should have been enough to rouse someone who was just sleeping.

Both officers reached the conclusion that there was an emergency that required them to enter the vehicle to attempt to rouse and assist the driver and to shut off the engine and lights.

Przybylski opened the unlocked driver's door, while Hall opened the unlocked passenger side door. Przybylski shook the driver on the shoulder to try to rouse him, again without success, as Hall reached in across the passenger seat to the ignition key to shut off the engine and remove the key. This was necessary to protect the officers in case the man was startled to consciousness and would reflexively try to drive away. Officer Hall then reached up to take the man's pulse at his neck, when he saw the butt of a handgun sticking out of the center console, depicted in photographic exhibits (Ex. G-3, 4, & 5). Hall alerted Przybylski to the gun. The console was in its open position and the gun was easily visible to Officer Hall from the passenger side as demonstrated in these photos. Hall took the handgun from the console and secured it in his left pants pocket. Przybylski pulled the driver out of the vehicle and on to the ground, and as the driver was regaining consciousness or waking up, Przybylski placed him in handcuffs for the safety of the officers as they took him into custody.

The officers brought the driver, who turned out to be Shawn Coleman, to his feet. Hall asked him why he was carrying the gun, and whether he was an off-duty officer or someone permitted to have the gun, to which Coleman responded it was for protection. Hall also asked him whose car it was, and Coleman said it was rented by his girlfriend.*fn1

The officers patted Coleman down and escorted him to Przybylski's patrol car, and they asked him no further questions. Przybylski advised him that he was being detained for the firearm but did not administer Miranda warnings at that time. The officers spent an additional 10-30 minutes searching the Coleman vehicle for identification papers, registration, or narcotics, and then secured the vehicle, while Coleman waited in Przybylski's patrol car in handcuffs.

A. The First Disputed Uncounseled Statement

As Hall pursued other aspects of the investigation, such as tracking down the vehicle's registration to a rental car company and discovering no stolen vehicle report, Przybylski drove Coleman on the three minute trip back to the police station. Coleman asked for his cell phone so he might make a call, and Przybylski replied that Officer Hall probably had it. Przybylski asked no questions and was listening to the police vehicle's AM/FM radio when a report about the Yankees/Phillies World Series game came over the radio, recapping the Yankees' loss. Coleman, evidently a Yankees fan, spontaneously responded to the radio, saying words to the effect that "I'm having a bad day. I should not have left the gun in the open like that."

B. The Second Disputed Uncounseled Statement

At the police station, about 90 more minutes passed without the police initiating any questioning, until 4:49 A.M. when Officer Przybylski advised Coleman of his Miranda rights and Coleman executed the Miranda Warnings form (Ex. G-1). Coleman indicated he understood these warnings and he refused to speak or answer any questions. (Id.) Interrogation ceased. While being fingerprinted and photographed a few minutes later, he volunteered a second comment about the Yankees game, to the effect of "I can't believe I left the gun there. I'm not having a good night. The Yankees lost and now this." Przybylski reminded Coleman that he had previously exercised his right to silence, and if he wanted to speak to the officer again, Przybylski would re-Mirandize him. Coleman apparently declined to speak further and there were no further statements given.


Defendant Coleman alleges that the officers had no justification to enter the vehicle and that the gun was not in plain view and thus seeks suppression of the gun. Defendant also contests the admissibility of the alleged spontaneous statement by Coleman in the police car while being transported back to the station as a fruit of the earlier custodial interrogation by Officer Hall about why Coleman had the gun. Defendant contests the admissibility of ...

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