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United States of America v. Anthony Silva

September 19, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, GOVERNMENT
v.
ANTHONY SILVA, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 164

ORDER

Defendant, Anthony Silva, moves to suppress evidence he says was obtained from an unconstitutional search and seizure of his person and automobile. Having considered the evidence presented at a suppression hearing, the briefs filed by the parties, and the argument of counsel, the motion (document no. 17) is denied.

Findings of Fact

Daniel Pelletier, a resident of Derry, New Hampshire, went to the Derry Police Department on the evening of July 18, 2010, around 11:00 p.m., where he reported that Anthony Silva, the defendant, paid him $150.00 in counterfeit United States currency to satisfy a $100.00 bill for mechanical work Pelletier had done on Silva's car. Pelletier gave police the counterfeit currency he said he got from the defendant. He also told police that defendant could be found sitting in his car, described as a silver Cadillac, in a an apartment complex parking lot (where Pelletier lived). He said defendant was living in his car, which contained numerous personal belongings, and that additional counterfeit currency would be found in the car. He also told police that defendant was making counterfeit identification documents as well. When police asked why Pelletier was reporting defendant, he said that he was "fed up" with defendant over past financial transactions in which he thought Silva had taken advantage of him.

While it is not entirely clear who did it (it was likely Sergeant Muncie), still, the police checked Silva's name against pertinent databases to determine whether he was the subject of any outstanding warrants. They found an active electronic bench warrant for an Anthony Silva, related to an unpaid fine for driving an unregistered vehicle. Two officers (Sergeant Muncie and Office Phillips) then went to the location described by Pelletier. They found defendant sitting in his car. It was a silver Cadillac, as Pelletier had said. The car was filled with personal items, and defendant did appear to be living in it. The officers approached the car.

Defendant was asked for his driver's license. He resisted, claiming he had a right to be there and did not have to identify himself. Muncie insisted, telling defendant that if he did not produce his driver's license he would be arrested for disobeying a police officer.*fn1 Defendant then produced a New Hampshire driver's license. Muncie handed the license to Officer Phillips, who radioed defendant's name and date of birth to the police dispatcher, who in turn ran another warrant check, confirming that defendant was subject to arrest on the outstanding warrant. Defendant was placed under arrest pursuant to that warrant, and searched incident to that arrest.

The search of defendant's person produced an apparently counterfeit New York driver's license that was ostensibly issued to "John Smith" but displayed defendants' photograph. And, police recovered a counterfeit $10.00 bill and a counterfeit $20.00 bill from his pocket. Defendant was transported to the police station, where he was asked to consent to a search of his automobile. He declined, so police towed his car to a secure lot to await execution of a search pursuant to a warrant they intended to seek. Defendant was released from custody early in the morning of July 20, 2010.

The following afternoon another police officer spoke to Pelletier about defendant. Pelletier said that he had spoken to the defendant earlier that morning and that defendant acknowledged that he was in "big trouble" because he had $3,000.00 in counterfeit currency in the trunk of his car and $200.00 to $300.00 in counterfeit currency in the glove box.

Because the case involved counterfeit currency, the Secret Service was notified and assumed investigative responsibility. An application for a search warrant was filed four days later, on July 23, 2010, and a warrant issued that same day. The warrant was executed and defendant's car searched three days later, on July 26, 2010. In an affidavit supporting the warrant application, Secret Service Special Agent Brian M. Coffee, related the information Pelletier gave to the Derry Police Department and noted the corroborating observations by police officers. He also informed the court that other counterfeit bills, bearing the same serial numbers that appeared on the bills given police by Pelletier, had been passed in nearby Manchester, New Hampshire, on July 12, 2010. Coffee also wrote that he thought Pelletier's information was trustworthy and reliable because he gave it voluntarily, without seeking or receiving anything in return, and because the information was corroborated by the counterfeit currency provided by Pelletier, the counterfeit currency taken from defendant incident to his arrest on the outstanding bench warrant, and the fact that defendant was found where and as Pelletier described.

Having heard Pelletier and a family member testify at the suppression hearing, it is apparent to me that Pelletier suffers from some degree of psychological impairment. He seemed to be decidedly confused about some major aspects of his personal history, and seemed as well to entertain fanciful, perhaps delusional, ideas about his circumstances. For example, he believes he won a substantial sum (millions of dollars) in the Massachusetts lottery (it was not shown that he did not, but still, it seems improbable), and that he owned a number of businesses in Derry that he frequents, which were unlawfully taken from him (again, although not disproved, his testimony seemed improbable). And, defendant's evidence suggested that Pelletier had made baseless complaints to the Derry Police Department in the past, and that he was regarded by the police department (in general) as both an unreliable complainant and a source of disquiet within the town. However, it is clear that neither the police officers involved in the investigation or arrest of defendant, nor Special Agent Coffee (who applied for the warrant) were aware of Pelletier's potential difficulties or his past contacts with the police department, and they had no reason to think Pelletier might not be providing reliable information or that he was anything other than an ordinary citizen providing information about potential criminal activity.

Discussion

Defendant raises a number of related issues, but essentially challenges the legality of the search of his person and automobile and seeks to suppress evidence derived from those searches. Each search, however, was completely lawful and conducted well within constitutional bounds.

Officer Donaghue, who initially spoke to Pelletier, had no reason to think him incapable of providing accurate information, nor to doubt his good faith. That Pelletier handed over the counterfeit currency he said defendant gave him provided substantial corroboration of his report. Moreover, when police officers subsequently verified that defendant was at the location described, sitting in a silver Cadillac, and that he was apparently living in the car - all as described by Pelletier - they had, under all the circumstances, at the very least, a reasonable and articulable suspicion that defendant had recently engaged in criminal activity involving counterfeit currency. See 18 U.S.C. ยง 472. Accordingly, the officers were entitled ...


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