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United States v. Stowe

November 12, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 95 CR 30012 Richard Mills, Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, MANION, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 21, 1996


Geary Stowe pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, but he preserved the right to challenge on appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal he claims that the Illinois "no-knock" statute is unconstitutional and that the search conducted under a no-knock warrant was unreasonable. He also challenges the voluntariness of his confession and the constitutionality of the sentencing penalty for crack cocaine. We affirm the district court.


Acting on information obtained from a confidential source, in the early morning hours of November 13, 1994, Officer James Graham of the Springfield, Illinois Police Department obtained from an Illinois Circuit Court judge a "no-knock" warrant to search an apartment in Springfield. According to Officer Graham's sworn affidavit, the police had received information from Crimestoppers on two previous occasions that a man and woman living in a Springfield apartment were selling drugs. The affidavit stated that a reliable, confidential source had visited the apartment the night before and had seen defendant with two loaded handguns and a large amount of crack cocaine. It also indicated that convicted felon Gary Stone, known as "Stef" (who is actually defendant Geary Stowe), lived at the apartment with his girlfriend and possessed the guns. The affidavit reported calls complaining of heavy traffic in and out of the apartment building and a landlord who knew of the drug transactions but did nothing because the tenant paid the rent on time. Based on these allegations, and the assertion that the apartment had steel doors, the affidavit requested and the police received a no-knock warrant.

Later that same morning, at about 5:25 a.m., the emergency response team of the Springfield Police Department, weapons drawn and dressed in masks, hoods, and dark clothing, executed the search warrant. A single blow from the team's steel battering ram broke down the door. A "distraction device" -- a type of grenade that creates a temporarily blinding flash of light and a loud explosion -- was thrown into the apartment. More than ten police officers entered and quickly secured the apartment. They found 86.5 grams of crack cocaine on the kitchen table and a loaded handgun in a kitchen drawer. Stowe was arrested.

Also present were Tiffany Hatchett, who lives at the apartment, and Mark Lewis, Officer Graham's confidential source. Hatchett, clad only in lingerie, was asleep on the couch when the police broke in. According to Hatchett, the police "screamed get down, get down" and pulled her off the couch and handcuffed her. She claims that throughout the search the apartment door was left open and, still barely dressed, she was exposed to the view of police officers searching another apartment, casual passers-by, and the officers' video camera. The government claims she was allowed to put on clothes after officers searched the bedroom. After the bathroom was searched, the officers said Hatchett could use the bathroom, but she declined because they would not remove her handcuffs. No federal agents were present.

Officer George Bonnett testified at the suppression hearing that prior to leaving the apartment at about 7:00 a.m., he informed Stowe of his Miranda rights, which Stowe waived in writing. Later that evening at the county jail, Officer Bonnett interviewed Stowe, who apparently confessed to trafficking in crack cocaine. Officer Bonnett testified that before the interview he again informed Stowe of his Miranda rights. Stowe denies this. Stowe was released from custody on November 14, 1994 at 6:00 p.m., approximately 36 hours after being arrested. He was never taken before a judge for a probable cause hearing.

Although local police conducted the raid, Stowe was later charged by federal prosecutors with possession with intent to distribute cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 841(a)(1). He pleaded not guilty. Stowe moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search. He argued that the search was unreasonable under the United States and Illinois Constitutions, that the no-knock warrant was not based on probable cause, that the Illinois no-knock statute was unconstitutional, and that Stowe's post-arrest statements were not given voluntarily and were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Illinois Constitution. The district court held that the "question of whether the search violated Illinois law and the question of whether or not the Illinois statute authorizing 'no-knock' searches is unconstitutional are irrelevant." Quoting from United States v. Singer, 943 F.2d 758 (7th Cir. 1991), the district court concluded that "[t]he only relevant inquiry is whether or not 'the search contravened federal constitutional or statutory standards.' " Id. at 761. The district court ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether "exigent circumstances existed that justified executing the search in a no-knock fashion."

Following the hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The court found that under the circumstances a no-knock entry was reasonable, the search was conducted in a reasonable manner, and Stowe's post-arrest statements were voluntary. Stowe then changed his plea to guilty but preserved his right to appeal the suppression issue. Before sentencing, he moved the court for a downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines and to declare the sentencing "disparity" between crack and powder cocaine unconstitutional. The court rejected Stowe's arguments and sentenced him to 108 months imprisonment and five years supervised release, and assessed him $50. Stowe appeals the suppression ruling and his sentence.


A. The Illinois No-Knock ...

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