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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 24, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee
GROSS WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before STEWART, Chief Judge, and JOLLY and OWEN, Circuit Judges.


         Defendant-Appellant Gross Williams appeals the district court's rulings denying his motions to suppress. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Defendant-Appellant Gross Williams was convicted in 2012 in Iberville Parish on state charges of distributing marijuana and placed on five years of probation. Conditions of Williams's probation included permitting home visits from the probation officer, refraining from owning or possessing firearms, and consenting to probation officer searches of his person or property at any time with or without an arrest warrant. Specifically, Condition 13 of his probation conditions provided that Williams was required to:

Agree to searches of his person, his property, his place of residence, his vehicle, or his personal effects, or any or all of them, at any time, by the probation officer or the parole officer assigned to him, with or without a warrant of arrest or with or without a search warrant, when the probation officer or the parole officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that [Williams] is engaged in or has been engaged in criminal activity.

         Probation officer Patrick Green testified that during the term of Williams's probation, he was a model probationer and as a result, in 2014 Officer Green began the process of drafting a "petition for cause" to request that the court terminate Williams's probation early. While Officer Green was writing the petition, he received a call from his district administrator to report to his office where a meeting was being held with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Officer Green was then informed that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the DEA had determined that Williams was involved in the narcotic trafficking of large amounts of heroin. Officer Green testified that he was "shocked" at the news.

         As a result of the tip from the NOPD and DEA and his knowledge of Williams's prior criminal history involving drugs, including the offense for which he was currently on probation, Officer Green concluded that he was warranted in conducting a compliance check on Williams. Officer Green called Williams and asked him to come to his office but Williams said he could not leave his dealership because he was the only person there. Consequently, Officer Green, along with several other probation officers and law enforcement from a neighboring parish, traveled to Williams's car dealership to begin the process of the compliance check which would traditionally involve transporting Williams to his home to investigate further. When he arrived at the dealership, Officer Green testified that he walked up to Williams and "noticed that he had bulges underneath his clothing" so he asked Williams "do you have anything on you I need to know about, anything illegal, any sharp, anything that could hurt me[?]" Williams replied no but then stated that he had cash in his pockets. Officer Green testified that at that point, he Mirandized Williams and then "started to conduct a frisk, a pat-down, in which I felt large objects underneath in his pockets. I then removed those objects and they turned out to be wads of cash from both his shirt and his pants. And the reason I removed those is I wanted to see if there were any weapons on the other side of him with the large bulges. I could not tell what else was in his pockets." Officer Green testified that as a result of the pat-down, he found in Williams's shirt and pants pockets "wads of cash that had been . . . folded over in half of varying denominations, ones, fives, tens, 20s, 100s-not all of it in the same numerical order and varying amounts in different pockets." Officer Green continued, "I asked him where the money came from, and he told me that the money had come from the car dealership from him selling the cars." Although Williams had estimated that the cash totaled approximately $14, 000, law enforcement counted $10, 000. Officer Green testified that he found this large amount of cash odd since Williams had previously reported that he made approximately $2, 500 per month in income. Officer Green further noted that it seemed strange that Williams had reported that he was alone at the car dealership but when officers arrived, Williams's wife was there.

         Thereafter, Officer Green continued conversing with Williams and obtained his consent to search his business. Officers walked a drug dog around the dealership and nothing was discovered except approximately $2, 000 in cash. DEA agents then arrived and asked Williams where the cash on his person came from. He replied that a person named "Twon" had given him the money to buy cars at an auction. Officer Green testified that this information put him on alert because not only was it a contradictory answer to the explanation Williams had given him for having the money but also because Twon was "the largest drug dealer in the New Orleans East area." A drug dog subsequently alerted to the presence of drug residue on the cash that was found on Williams's person.

         Officers then obtained consent to search Williams's mother's home on Caffin Street because her address was listed on the incorporation papers to his business. In an effort to end the ongoing search of his mother's home, Williams voluntarily stated to officers: "What you are looking for is at my house. I have a gun and money at my residence." No contraband was discovered at Williams's mother's house. Officers then traveled to Williams's personal residence on Sandalwood where they again formally obtained Williams's consent to search. There, officers found $2, 000 on a closet shelf and subsequently seized over $425, 000 in cash in a safe and a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol in the nightstand drawer. A K-9 unit again alerted to the presence of drug residue on the cash. The probation officers turned the gun over to the NOPD who arrested Williams on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

         In January 2015, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging Williams with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and distributing heroin and cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and money laundering. Following his indictment, Williams moved to suppress the evidence officers seized on the day of his arrest. The district court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion, concluding that Officer Green had "sufficient probable cause and reasonable suspicion, under the case law, to justify the actions that took place [after the initial frisk of Williams's person] at the two addresses, the Caffin Street address and the Sandalwood address." Later, Williams filed a "Second Motion to Suppress Evidence" which was construed as a motion to reconsider the denial of his motion to suppress and the motion was again denied.([1])([2]) In denying the motion, the district court stated, "In short, Williams' instant motion raises no evidence or argument not previously considered in connection with his first motion."

         Williams ultimately entered a guilty plea to two counts and signed a factual basis admitting to criminal conduct. The two counts were: (1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1kg or more of heroin and 5kgs or more of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846, 851(a)(1); and (2) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). He was sentenced to 23 years of imprisonment to be followed by a ten-year term of supervised release. In his plea agreement, Williams retained the right to appeal the district court's rulings on his motions to suppress and to withdraw the plea if the appeal was successful. This appeal followed.

         II. ...

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