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United States v. Robinson

August 10, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JERMARCUS ROBINSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:08-CR-74- Theresa L. Springmann, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 25, 2010

Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

Riding around in a car with cocaine in one's pocket is not, generally speaking, a good idea, given the myriad reasons why the police might legitimately stop the vehicle. A stop based on a traffic violation is what tripped up Jermarcus Robinson on the afternoon of June 16, 2008. Robinson was a passenger in the car driven by his friend David Robinson (no relation) that day. (We refer to the defendant as Robinson and to his friend as David Robinson.) One thing led to another after Officer Shane Pulver ordered the car to pull over, and before long, the police found a plastic bag with 54 grams of crack cocaine gripped between Robinson's buttocks. This prosecution for pos-session with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) followed. The only question on appeal is whether there is some reason for suppressing the drugs Robinson was trying to hide. We conclude, as did the district court, that the answer is no, and thus that the conviction should stand.

I.

We take our account of the facts from the district court's opinion on Robinson's motion to suppress, supplementing where helpful with information from the squad car's video of the stop. On the day in question, Officer Pulver, who had been with the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Police Department for four years, was on patrol around 3:00 in the afternoon. As he approached the intersection of Eckart and Abbott Streets, he spotted a dark-colored Ford Taurus. The driver gave him a strange look as the car passed by, prompting Pulver to check the license plate. The check reminded him that he knew David Robinson, the driver, and also that David Robinson was a habitual traffic violator who did not have a driver's license.

Pulver decided to follow up on that information and signaled the car to pull over. Around that time, he activated the car's video recording device. The following timeline continues the story; the times given reflect the 24-hour clock used by the police equipment:

14:58:58: Pulver initiates contact.

14:59:57: Pulver asks Robinson to put his hands on the roof of the car, because when Pulver peers into the car, he notices that Robinson (who was squirming around oddly) had a folded pocket knife visible in his front left pocket. Pulver takes the knife; he notices that the knife has an off-white residue on it.

15:00:04: Two women (Robinson's sister Velma and his girlfriend Sunny Thompson) drive up and park in front of David Robinson's car; they get out of their car and begin walking toward Pulver and Robinson.

15:00:37: Pulver begins a pat-down search of Robinson. Robinson straightens out and tightens his muscles. During this initial search, Pulver gets what he later describes as a quick, brief feel of something hard near Robinson's backside, but then he "loses it." He later says that he did not at that time know what the object was but that he thought it was not a weapon.

15:01:12: Officer Franceus joins Pulver at the scene.

15:01:40: Pulver interrupts his pat-down of Robinson. Robinson walks over to the rear of the car with Franceus, and Pulver begins searching the car. ...


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