by David Darr
Today, in United States v. Moore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District of Maryland’s judgment finding the Defendant guilty of drug trafficking, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and possession of a firearm by a felon. The defendant, Corey A. Moore, appealed his conviction based on the District Court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence of a police officer’s stop and the District Court’s finding that his possession of a firearm was “in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.”
On September 25, 2010, an officer observed Moore walking down the street carrying a green bottle. Thinking this bottle might be alcohol, the officer initiated a stop and Moore took off running. The officer and two bystanders observed Moore toss a package in the dumpster. That package contained a half kilogram of cocaine, worth over $10,000. Moore was then arrested. Two days later, there was an attempted break-in at an apartment rented by Moore. Upon discovering Moore resided in the apartment (he had given them a different address when he was arrested), the police obtained a search warrant. In the apartment, the police found 2.8 kilograms of PCP, drug distributing materials with traces of cocaine on them, $45,000 in cash, and two handguns. Moore was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and PCP, possession firearms in the furtherance of drug trafficking, and possession of firearms by a felon. Before closing arguments, the defense moved to suppress all tangible evidence on the grounds that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop Moore in the first place. The District Court denied the motion on the grounds that the defense had waived the right to suppress evidence by not raising it before the trial as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court then found Moore guilty on all counts and sentenced Moore to 271 months in prison. Moore raised two issues on appeal; the District Court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence and the District Court’s finding that Moore possessed firearms “in furtherance of drug trafficking.”
Moore first claimed that the District Court did not decide that he waived his right to a motion to suppress evidence, but instead found on the merits of his motion that no Fourth Amendment violation had occurred. Alternatively, Moore claimed that he qualified for a “good cause” exception to the waiver rule because he learned new evidence at the trial. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require parties to raise motions to suppress evidence before trial, unless the court grants relief for a good cause. This rule is not merely procedural and it is an important rule due to fairness considerations. The rule helps parties to know what evidence to base their case on before the trial. The rule also prevents from unnecessary delays in the trial that may inconvenience the jury. The Fourth Circuit ruled that despite that the District Court briefly brought up the merits of Moore’s motion when it decided the issue was waived, the court was very clear that it was deciding that the issue was waived. The Fourth Circuit decided that the District Court waived the motion instead of deciding the issue on its merits. The Fourth Circuit also decided that new information is not sufficient good cause because new information is learned all the time at trial. It does not change that the evidence could have been challenged before the trial. Because the District Court properly and correctly decided the issue was waived and that there was no good cause for the motion coming late, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision to deny the motion to suppress evidence.
Moore next claimed that the firearms found in his apartment with the drugs were insufficient evidence that the firearms were used in the furtherance of drug trafficking. The Fourth Circuit reviewed this issue on a clearly erroneous standard because the nexus between the firearms and the drug trafficking crime is a factual question. The Fourth Circuit found plenty of evidence in the record supporting a close nexus between the firearms and drugs. The cash and amount of drugs found with the firearms suggested that Moore was dealing the drugs. Further, Moore did not challenge his conviction on the drug trafficking charges. The firearms being beside Moore’s bed was evidence that Moore used the firearms for protection of the drugs. Another factor that the Fourth Circuit considered was that Moore was not allowed to legally own firearms in the first place as a convicted felon. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Courts conviction on this count because it was completely reasonable for the court to find the firearms were in the furtherance of drug trafficking. Ultimately, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Moore’s conviction on all counts.