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United States v. Howell

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 16, 2018

UNITED STATES
v.
RUFUS HOWELL

          RULING ON MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS AND COMPEL EVIDENCE

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         Rufus Howell is charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine and unlawful possession of a firearm. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 1. The indictment charges Howell with unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) & 924(a)(2) (Count One); with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & 841(b)(1)(C) (Count Two); with possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & 841(b)(1)(C) (Count Three); and with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) (Count Four). Howell filed a motion to compel the government to produce information regarding a Hartford Police Department (“HPD”) confidential informant, Doc. No, 20, and a motion to suppress evidence obtained during his arrest and subsequent statement to the police, Doc. No. 21. For the following reasons, both motions are denied.

         I. Background

         The factual summary that follows was provided by Alex Estrella in a sworn affidavit in support of a federal arrest warrant for Rufus Howell. Ex. A, Doc. No. 21-2, at 2. Alex Estrella is Special Deputy United States Marshal and Task Force Officer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Id.

         In May 2017, a confidential informant (“CI”) provided information to HPD that Howell possessed a firearm and was selling cocaine and crack cocaine in Hartford, Connecticut. The CI described Howell's physical appearance and car, and identified him from a Hartford police photograph.

         On June 21, 2017, HPD officers saw Howell's car parked at the Sunset Café in Hartford. They saw the driver leave the car and get into the passenger seat of a different vehicle. Minutes later, Howell's car left the café and drove to a gas station. The car had a temporary tag, which did not match up to that vehicle. HPD officers observed Howell get out of the car and then return to the driver's seat before leaving the gas station. Howell then began to drive away from the gas station. He drove above the speed limit, stopped and impeded traffic in an intersection, and made a right turn without signaling. Based on those traffic violations, HPD officers intended to stop Howell, but he parked the car before they could pull him over. The officers drew their weapons and approached the car. Officer Estrella reported that he smelled marijuana coming from the car. He asked Howell for his registration and proof of insurance, and Howell gave him permission to enter the vehicle. When Estrella opened the car door, he saw a firearm. Because of Howell's criminal history, he was then placed under arrest for criminal possession of a firearm. HPD officers then searched the rest of the car and found marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         An evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress “ordinarily is required if the moving papers are sufficiently definite, specific, and nonconjectural to enable the court to conclude that contested issues of fact going to the validity of the search are in question.” United States v. Pena, 961 F.2d 333, 339 (2d Cir. 1992) (citations and quotations omitted). A defendant seeking a hearing on a suppression motion bears the burden of showing the existence of disputed issues of material fact. Id. at 338. Furthermore, “[t]he defendant's burden is not satisfied by conclusory, non-particularized allegations of unlawful official behavior.” United States v. Tracy, 758 F.Supp. 816, 820 (D. Conn. 1991).

         Howell argues that all evidence obtained by HPD - the witness identification, the firearm, narcotics, cash, and statements - were the “direct fruits” of “Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations” and therefore the “evidence must be suppressed.” Mem. Supp. Def's Mot. to Supp. Evidence, Doc. No. 21-1, at 2.

         The government contends that “Howell has not sustained his burden of demonstrating disputed issues of fact that would justify an evidentiary hearing by an affidavit of someone with personal knowledge of the underlying facts, and therefore his request for an evidentiary hearing should be denied, at least as it relates to Fourth Amendment claims.” Gov's Opp. Mem., Doc. No. 73, at 1-2.

         For the following reasons, I reject Howell's arguments.

         1. Did the CI's identification of Howell violate due process?

         The CI who identified Howell to the police will not be called upon to testify at trial. Gov's Opp. Mem., Doc. No. 73, at 7. Therefore, the issue of whether “the Government should be prohibited from referencing the identification at trial or eliciting testimony that the CI identified Mr. Howell's ...


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