|Florida Growhouse |
Florida Growhouse Conviction Overturned
Our friend wrote:
"Appellant Robert Joseph Valerio appealed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence that led to his arrest for growing marijuana. The central issue presented in the appeal was whether Terry v.
law enforcement officers to effectuate an investigative seizure of Mr.
Valerio nearly one week after last observing him do anything suspicious. The Eleventh Circuit held that because the
constitutional authority to make a Terry stop is dependent upon the
exigencies associated with on-the-spot observations of the officer on the
beat, the officers' seizure here was not authorized by the Fourth
"Mr. Valerio became the target of an investigation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on July 27, 2011, after he visited Green Touch Hydroponics, a retail store selling hydroponic gardening equipment. Special Agent David Lee Hibbs of the DEA was conducting surveillance at Green Touch under the view that people who purchased hydroponic equipment were likely to be involved in growing marijuana. While conducting surveillance, Agent Hibbs saw a black Chevrolet truck enter the parking lot in the back of the store. He noticed that the truck had no license plate and that it backed into a parking space, which he surmised was an attempt to conceal the truck's missing license plate. Agent Hibbs watched the driver, later confirmed to be Mr. Valerio, walk into the store and return about fifteen to twenty minutes later with a white plastic shopping bag."
"Agent Hibbs followed Mr. Valerio as he drove out of the parking lot and noted that Mr. Valerio kept looking at his rearview mirror, which Agent Hibbs interpreted as nervousness at the prospect of being followed by law enforcement. Eventually, Mr. Valerio pulled over to the side of the road and walked towards the rear of the vehicle holding what appeared to Agent Hibbs to be a license plate. As Agent Hibbs was traveling past Mr. Valerio's truck, he could not see what Mr. Valerio did with the object in his hands."
"Agent Hibbs next encountered Mr. Valerio approximately two weeks later on August 17, when he was again conducting surveillance at Green Touch. He observed Mr. Valerio drive the same black truck into the parking lot without a license plate, back into a spot, and enter the store. Mr. Valerio left the store after about twenty minutes and drove away but shortly thereafter stopped at a 7–11 parking lot. Another investigating agent observed that the truck had a license plate affixed to it when it left the 7–11 parking lot. The DEA agents followed Mr. Valerio to a warehouse in
Deerfield Beach, which the agents thought was
suitable for a marijuana grow operation. Once there, the agents saw Mr.
Valerio park near bay 15 of the warehouse and walk toward the warehouse
building but did not see where he went or witness anything else of note."
"The next night, August 18, DEA agents conducted surveillance of the area around bay 15 of the warehouse and observed lights emanating from a door in the area of bay 15, though they could not be sure which specific door. Nearly a week later on August 24, the Broward County Sheriff's Office brought a K–9 to the warehouse to sniff for drugs. The K–9 sniffed all of the doors on the side of the warehouse where bay 15 was located but only alerted to bay 14. Based on this information, investigating agents obtained a search warrant for bay 14, which they served that same day. Rather than corroborating their previous suspicions of Mr. Valerio, their search failed to uncover any new evidence that Mr. Valerio was running a marijuana grow operation out of one of the bays. They discovered that both bay 14 and the adjoining bay 13 were owned by Jeremy Staska, who operated a recording studio there. Mr. Staska told the investigating officers that bands regularly recorded in the studio until late at night, which explained the lights coming from underneath the bay door on the night of August 18. He also estimated that a third of the bands that used his studio smoked marijuana while recording. When shown a picture of Mr. Valerio, Mr. Staska told the officers that Mr. Valerio was friends with a mechanic who worked at the warehouse and that it was possible that he rented a bay on the other side of the warehouse."
"After failing to find any evidence that Mr. Valerio was involved in a marijuana grow operation from the search of bays 13 and 14 and the K–9's failure to alert to the presence of drugs in bay 15,
County Sherriff's Office Detective Scott Ambrose directed DEA Special
Agent Joseph Ahearn and Detective Joseph Lopez to go to Mr. Valerio's home
to attempt a voluntary citizen encounter, in hopes of obtaining useful
evidence based on Mr. Valerio's cooperation. The agents drove to Mr.
Valerio's home but did not knock on his door and ask to speak with him, as
instructed. Instead, they waited across the street until he emerged from
his house and entered his truck, which was parked in his driveway. At that
point, the officers blocked his exit from the driveway with their vehicle
and Agent Ahearn got out of his vehicle and approached Mr. Valerio, with
his gun drawn and pointed in the direction of Mr. Valerio, ordering him in
a loud voice to get out of his truck. Agent Ahearn was dressed in street
clothes but had on a bulletproof vest, with a black placard reading Police
over his clothes. When Mr. Valerio stepped out of his truck, Agent Ahearn
holstered his gun and immediately conducted a full-body pat-down search of
Mr. Valerio's person and escorted him to the front of his truck. Detective
Lopez then asked Mr. Valerio if he operated any warehouses in the area.
Mr. Valerio initially stated that he did not. But following further
questioning, Mr. Valerio admitted to growing marijuana inside bays 15 and
16 at the Deerfield Beach
"On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the government had conceded that this was not a voluntary encounter and that the parties had agreed that, at minimum, the officers' encounter with Mr. Valerio in his driveway constituted a seizure subject to Fourth Amendment scrutiny. The question, then, was whether the officers' stop-and-frisk of Mr. Valerio, one week after they had last observed him engage in any suspicious activity, was constitutional under the Fourth Amendment principles articulated in Terry."
"The Court stated that the investigative stop contemplated by Terry – a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot– is not a policing tool that can be constitutionally deployed in any context in which law enforcement has reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal activity. Rather, it may be used only within the rubric of police conduct addressed in Terry, for which the timing and circumstances surrounding the investigative stop matter. Terry stops, the Court held, are thus limited to situations where officers are required to take swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer on the beat."
"The Court found that the timing of and circumstances surrounding the officers' seizure of Mr. Valerio in this case placed it well outside of the Terry exception to the probable cause requirement. The stop here was not responsive to the development of suspicion within a dynamic or urgent law enforcement environment., the Court found. Rather, the officers went to Mr. Valerio's home nearly a week after they had last observed him do anything. Given this delay and the complete absence of any contemporaneous observations of Mr. Valerio that would necessitate swift law enforcement action, the Court stated that the underlying purposes behind Terry 's exception to the probable cause requirement were in no way present when the officers seized Mr. Valerio. The Court wrote that the opportunity to Terry stop a suspect, a law enforcement power justified by and limited to the exigent circumstances of the moment, cannot be put in the bank and saved for use on a rainy day, long after any claimed exigency has expired. Thus, the seizure of Mr. Valerio did not qualify for the Terry exception to the Fourth Amendment's probable cause rule. Instead, the passage of time between Mr. Valerio's suspicious activity and the officers' seizure of him made it entirely practicable for law enforcement officers to proceed with their investigation in a manner consistent with the default requirements of the Fourth Amendment, which only allow for a seizure upon a warrant or probable cause accompanied by well-defined exigent circumstances. Moreover, no exigency emerged from the simple observation that Mr. Valerio had exited his house and entered his truck. The Court concluded that as the government did not contend that its officers had probable cause that Mr. Valerio was involved in criminal activity at the time they seized him, the seizure of Mr. Valerio was unconstitutional under the circumstances discussed above."
"The Court also noted that by failing to make the argument below that the evidence was obtained through voluntary consent and that the taint of the Fourth Amendment violation has been sufficiently purged, the government had waived any such argument before the court of appeals."
See: Florida Grow House, Florida Grow House Defense Attorney, Florida Growhouse, Grow House, Growhouse, Terry, search warrant