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United States v. Singleton

filed: March 10, 1993.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TIMOTHY SINGLETON, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. CR-92-0149-CBM-1. Consuelo B. Marshall, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: J. Clifford Wallace, Chief Judge, Stephen S. Trott and Thomas G. Nelson, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Chief Judge Wallace.

Author: Wallace

WALLACE, Chief Judge:

The government appeals from the district court's order granting Singleton's motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a warrantless search of his father's house. The government challenges the district court's determination that Singleton had standing to challenge the legality of the search. The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3231. We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3731. We vacate the district court's order and remand for further proceedings on Singleton's motion to suppress.

I

On February 11, 1992, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (Agents) obtained a search warrant for a residence located at 135 West 62nd Street in Los Angeles (the front house), which authorized them to search for, among other items, cocaine and firearms. Two days later, a group of Agents and Los Angeles Police Department Officers (Officers) executed the search warrant. In conducting the search, the Agents and Officers discovered the residence owned by Singleton's father, 135 1/2 West 62nd Street (the back house), which was located behind the front house. At the back house, the Officers and Agents found four people: Singleton, Williams, Stinson, and Edwards. The Officers and Agents conducted a search of the back house and in the front bedroom discovered a semi-automatic pistol, approximately 24 grams of cocaine, and documents bearing Singleton's name and various addresses (none of which were the address of the back house).

Based on the evidence seized from the front bedroom, the government filed an indictment charging Singleton with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g); possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a)(1); and possession of a firearm in connection with trafficking cocaine, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Singleton subsequently moved to suppress all of the evidence seized during the search of the back house on the grounds the search was conducted without a warrant and without proper consent.

In support of his motion, Singleton filed declarations from himself, Williams, and Edwards. The government opposed Singleton's motion, and filed declarations in support of its opposition from Agent Arena and Officer Ruegg, both of whom helped conduct the search. At a hearing on Singleton's suppression motion, the court accepted the declarations and heard additional testimony from all those who filed declarations and also from Singleton's father.

The court sought to resolve two issues at the hearing: whether Singleton had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the back house (i.e., whether he had standing to challenge the search), and whether Singleton or Williams had given consent to the Officers and Agents to search the back house. The testimony offered diametrically opposed versions of what occurred immediately before and during the search.

As to the issue of standing, one would have expected Singleton to show his relationship to the back house and the government to show the opposite. This did not occur. Rather, Singleton's evidence tended to prove that he did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the back house, while the government's evidence tended to prove that he did. Singleton, for instance, testified that he did not live in the back house; that he did not keep any of his personal belongings there; that he had slept at the house on two or three previous occasions but not the night before the search; and that he arrived at the house shortly before the search began.

Witnesses who testified on Singleton's behalf supported his statements. Williams testified that he and Singleton's father were the only residents of the back house and that Singleton never spent a night at the house and did not keep his personal belongings there. Singleton's father testified that his son did not live in the back house and spent the night in the house only a few times. He also testified that his son only occasionally kept his personal belongings at the house. Thus, Singleton tried to show he was not guilty by distancing himself from the critical evidence. Despite this evidence presented on Singleton's behalf, Singleton nonetheless argued that he had an expectation of privacy in the residence because he was present with the consent of his father when the search occurred.

The government, on the other hand, presented evidence that suggested Singleton did live in the back house. Agent Arena stated in his declaration that before searching the front bedroom of the back house, he asked Singleton where he lived. According to Agent Arena, Singleton told him that he lived in the back house and slept in the front bedroom. The government argued at the suppression hearing that it would prove at trial that Singleton lived in the back house and kept his personal possessions there. Thus, the government tried to show Singleton was guilty by connecting him with the critical evidence. Despite the evidence presented and promised by the government, the government nonetheless contended that Singleton did not have standing to contest the search.

The court concluded that Singleton had standing to challenge the legality of the search, stating:

It is true that based on the Defendant's testimony, he would indicate that he didn't live at that house, and only kept, occasionally, some tools that were owned by he and his father at the house. If that were the evidence on which the Court . . . needed to make its finding of standing, the Court would have to find no standing, but since the Government has taken the position that the Defendant, in fact, lived at that house, occupied one of the bedrooms, and the items in that bedroom ...


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