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United States v. Ramdihall

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 18, 2017

GYADEEN P. RAMDIHALL, Defendant, Appellee.


          Angela G. Lehman for appellant.

          Renée M. Bunker, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Thomas E. Delahanty II, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          BARRON, Circuit Judge.

         Gyadeen P. Ramdihall appeals his conviction for conspiracy to commit access-device fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1), (a)(3), and (b)(2), and 18 U.S.C. § 371. On appeal, Ramdihall challenges the District Court's denial of his pretrial motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.


         Ramdihall, along with his co-defendant, Jervis A. Hillaire, was indicted in federal court in the District of Maine on February 25, 2014, for conspiracy to possess and use counterfeit access devices with intent to defraud, as well as for five related counts. See 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1), (a)(3), and (b)(2); id. § 371. Before their trial on those counts in federal court, Hillaire and Ramdihall submitted motions to the District Court to suppress evidence and statements that had been obtained in the previous months in connection with three traffic stops: a September 6, 2013 stop in Kittery, Maine; an October 10, 2013 stop in Ohio; and a January 24, 2014 stop in Biddeford, Maine.

         After a two-day suppression hearing, the District Court issued an oral order denying the motions to suppress. Ramdihall then conditionally pled guilty to conspiracy to possess and use counterfeit access devices in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1) and (a)(3), preserving his right to challenge the District Court's ruling on his motion to suppress.[1] He was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $17, 987.56 in restitution.

         On appeal, Ramdihall challenges the District Court's denial of his motion to suppress in connection with any evidence and statements obtained from only two of the stops: the September 6, 2013 stop in Kittery, Maine, and the October 10, 2013 stop in Ohio. We address his challenges concerning each stop in turn.


         We begin with Ramdihall's challenge to the denial of his motion to suppress concerning the September 6, 2013 stop in Kittery, Maine. Ramdihall contends that the police, in the course of this encounter, effected a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, even though the police lacked the constitutionally required basis for doing so. Accordingly, he contends that the fruits of that unlawful seizure, including evidence obtained from the search of the trunk of the vehicle he was driving, must be suppressed.

         There is no dispute that a seizure did occur at some point. Nor is there any dispute that, in light of the investigative nature of that seizure, the government could effect it so long as the government had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968) (holding warrantless investigative stops constitutionally permissible where law enforcement officer can "point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion"); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 880-81 (1975) (extending Terry to vehicle searches). So, the key questions are whether the police had such suspicion at the time of the initial seizure and whether the police continued to have a lawful basis for effecting the seizure as it persisted. For, if the police did, then the seizure was lawful and there would be no illegal fruits to suppress.

         We start by describing the facts relevant to the suppression ruling at some length, taking them from the District Court's uncontested findings and the officers' testimony from the suppression hearing. See United States v. Campa, 234 F.3d 733, 737 (1st Cir. 2000) (explaining that we "uphold a district court's decision to deny a suppression motion if the decision is supported by any reasonable view of the evidence"). We then consider the basis for the initial seizure, before turning to consider the basis for it as it continued. Finally, we address Ramdihall's additional contention that, even if the seizure was lawful, the District Court erred in refusing to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of the car's trunk, as Ramdihall contends that the District Court erred in concluding that Ramdihall voluntarily consented to that search.


         The facts concerning the Kittery traffic stop are as follows. At approximately 1:30 a.m. on September 6, 2013, John Brosnihan, a patrol officer for the Kittery Police Department, was sitting in a parked, marked police car near a 7-Eleven in Kittery, when a 7-Eleven employee approached. The employee told Brosnihan that he was concerned about people in the 7-Eleven who were buying thousands of dollars' worth of gift cards with other gift cards. The employee identified the car in the parking lot that belonged to the people buying the gift cards.

         In response, Brosnihan contacted police dispatch and requested that dispatch run the plate number of that car. He then approached the passenger's side of the car, using his flashlight to look inside. Inside the car were Ramdihall, in the driver's seat, and Hillaire, in the passenger's seat. A second officer arrived on the scene shortly thereafter.

         Brosnihan asked Hillaire if a woman whom Brosnihan could see inside the 7-Eleven and whom he pointed out to Hillaire was with Hillaire. Hillaire said that the woman was with him. Brosnihan then asked if Hillaire knew what the woman was doing inside the 7-Eleven, and Hillaire said he did not know. Brosnihan then asked, more specifically, if Hillaire "knew anything about gift cards, buying gift cards with gift cards, " and Hillaire denied that he knew anything about using gift cards to buy gift cards. Brosnihan saw some electronic devices in boxes in the car located at Hillaire's feet. Brosnihan then went around the car and approached Ramdihall, who was in the driver's seat, and asked what he was doing at the 7-Eleven.

         Ramdihall said that he had stopped to get gas. He could not explain, however, why he had not yet gotten gas and why the car was not stopped at a gas pump. Ramdihall, too, denied knowing anything about the gift cards when Brosnihan asked him about them.

         Brosnihan then asked for identification from both Ramdihall and Hillaire. Ramdihall produced a New York driver's license. Hillaire produced a "California ID."

         Brosnihan asked to whom the car -- which had Tennessee plates -- belonged. Hillaire stated that the car was a rental that he had received as a birthday gift from his cousin. Hillaire also stated that he was a "co-renter."[2] At some point, Brosnihan saw the rental agreement and learned that neither Hillaire's name nor Ramdihall's name was on the rental agreement. The record is not clear, however, as to precisely when Brosnihan saw the rental agreement.

         When the woman inside the 7-Eleven -- later identified as Vegilia O'Connor -- exited to return to the car, Brosnihan stopped her to ask about the gift card purchases. O'Connor explained to Brosnihan that she had received the gift cards that she was using to purchase gift cards from a friend so that she could go school shopping for her kids, and that she was using the gift cards to buy new gift cards because the ones that she had sometimes did not work. She also stated that she had left New York around 4:00 p.m. that same day to travel to Maine to shop. However, she could not explain why she had left so late that she would arrive in Maine at a time when stores were closed. She said they had been shopping at "some outlets" that she could not name, and she said that those outlets were about 30 minutes away.

         Brosnihan then questioned Hillaire and Ramdihall separately, outside of the car. Both said they were in Maine to shop, but neither could name the stores at which they had been shopping. Hillaire said they had shopped for an Apple laptop in Brunswick, Maine, which he said was a 40-minute drive from Kittery. Ramdihall could not say where they had shopped, but he said the place they had shopped was about 15 minutes away from Kittery.

         Then, at 1:45 a.m., Brosnihan's supervisor, Sergeant Gary Eaton, arrived on the scene. About ten minutes later, at 1:55 a.m., a detective was called to the scene, due to the officers' unfamiliarity with how to handle an investigation into possible fraud, which Brosnihan had begun to suspect might be afoot in consequence of the evidence concerning gift card purchases. At that point, Eaton made the internal decision that the three individuals would not be allowed to leave until the detective that had been called had arrived.

         The officers then asked each individual about what, if anything, was in the trunk of the car. Originally, each said there was nothing in the trunk. Later, Hillaire and O'Connor each said there was a laptop computer in the trunk, but each said that it belonged to the other. O'Connor overheard Hillaire tell Brosnihan that the laptop computer belonged to her, and interjected to deny that it belonged to her.

         Brosnihan then asked Ramdihall again what was in the trunk. Ramdihall said he did not know. According to Brosnihan's testimony at the suppression hearing, Brosnihan asked, "[D]o you mind if I take a look?, " and Ramdihall responded, "[B]e my guest." Brosnihan then said, "[A]re you sure?, " to which Ramdihall again responded, "[B]e my guest."

         Inside the trunk was, among other things, "a lot of computer equipment, " including MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iPads, and iPad Minis. Hillaire said that one of the MacBook computers belonged to him. When Brosnihan asked to see a receipt for the computer, Hillaire initially said he had an e-mail receipt on his cell phone but did not want to show it to Brosnihan. Later, Hillaire claimed to have thrown away the receipt. Brosnihan asked the three individuals multiple times to whom the other equipment belonged. No one claimed ownership of any of the other items. At that point, Brosnihan seized the items and then let the three individuals go.

         Throughout the encounter, other law enforcement officers came and went as well. The District Court found, and the parties do not contest, that there were three police officers on the scene as of 1:45 a.m., two more by 2:32 a.m., and six in total by 2:42 a.m. The District Court also found that, throughout the encounter, "[t]here were never ...

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