Undercover Investigation No Guarantee of Conviction

leifertlaw September 19, 2012 Gun Crimes

South Florida Gun Crimes Lawyer

Defendants sometimes make the mistake upon arrest or in court of assuming that if law enforcement conducted an extensive investigation, it must be an open-and-shut case.

As such, they offer statements or agree to plead guilty, believing they have no real other choice. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers want to stress that this is often not the case, and you should never reach such a conclusion without first consulting with your attorney.

U.S. v. Navedo, U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, underscores this.

This case involved the denial of a defense motion for suppression of evidence obtained by undercover officers. Prosecutors had initially argued that the subject was detained upon reasonable suspicion or probable cause, based on a two-month investigation officers had conducted. However, as it turned out, they had not crossed all their t’s, and the appellate court ruled that the district court erroneously denied a motion to suppress evidence of weapons found at the scene. As a result, the higher court vacated the conviction.

Here’s what happened:

Back in March of 2010, two police detectives were working undercover, conducting surveillance of an apartment building in relation to a shooting that had occurred several months previous. The shooting had not occurred at the apartment building, and it still isn’t clear what connection the officer’s had made between the shooting and that building. What we do know is that the two individuals who were arrested were not under any specific surveillance by police. One simply happened to live near the apartment.

The officers observed a man, later identified as the defendant, engaging in a friendly conversation with another man, who was carrying a bookbag. The defendant at one point looked inside the bookbag. The other man then pulled out an object, which appeared to be a gun. The officers believed they were observing an illegal gun transaction.

They got out of the vehicle, approached the men and identified themselves.

The man with the bookbag fled. They later caught him and found that the object inside his bag was, indeed, a gun.

The defendant also ran, into the building, up two flights of stairs. The officer tackled him as he fell into the open front door of his apartment. The district court ruled that the officers had reasonable suspicion, which justified the initial approach and that they had probable cause for arrest and were justified in making entry into the defendant’s home, based on the theory of hot pursuit. This is the theory that allows officers to enter a premises without a warrant when a delay could endanger lives or lead to an escape of the alleged perpetrator.

As such, the court denied a defense motion to suppress evidence of the guns he was found to be illegally possessing inside his apartment. Those guns were the sole evidence used to try and convict him.

However, upon appeal, the defense argued that the district court had erred in denying his motion to suppress and that officers, in fact, had no probable cause to arrest him, and therefore the entry into his home – and the discovery of weapons therein – was illegal.

What the appellate court found was that while the officers did not have to sit idly by while they observed this interaction, there are limitations as to the actions they could take to detain the defendant because their suspicions would have only justified the investigative detention of the man with the backpack.

The detectives even conceded during the original hearing for a motion to suppress that they had no prior evidence or information on the defendant, and that the defendant had merely looked at the gun in the bookbag. This alone, the court ruled, would not have been enough to justify reasonable suspicion, and therefore, a warrantless search of his home.

As such, the conviction was vacated.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
U.S. v. Alexander Navedo, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Justia Case Files
More Blog Entries:
U.S. v. Baily Grants New Trial For Improper Admission of Evidence, Sept. 5, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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