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State v. Collins

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 4, 2019



          Leon Cannizzaro, District Attorney Donna Andrieu, Assistant District Attorney Scott Vincent, Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT/STATE OF LOUISIANA

          Drew Lafontant Orleans Public Defenders COUNSEL FOR RELATOR/DEFENDANT

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins


         Defendant, Troy Collins, seeks review of the district court's October 2, 2019 ruling denying his motion to suppress evidence and finding probable cause. Upon review of defendant's writ application and the State's response, and in light of applicable law and jurisprudence, we find the district court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress and finding probable cause. For the reasons that follow, we grant defendant's writ, reverse the district court's ruling, grant defendant's motion to suppress evidence, and find no probable cause for defendant's arrest.


         On May 29, 2019, the State filed a bill of information charging defendant with one count of possession of cocaine, in an amount less than two grams, in violation of La. R.S. 40:967(C)(1). At his arraignment on June 12, 2019, defendant entered a plea of not guilty. Subsequently, defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence.

         At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress on October 2, 2019, the State offered the testimony of Officer Frank Vitriano of the New Orleans Police Department ("NOPD"). Ofc. Vitriano testified that on March 26, 2019, he was conducting narcotics surveillance with his partner, Officer Cody Odell, and Officer Thomas Wiltz, in an area known for illegal narcotics transactions. Ofc. Vitriano explained that Ofc. Wiltz was in a surveillance vehicle, "float[ing] the area," while he and Ofc. Odell waited "on the outskirts" to hear from Ofc. Wiltz, and "then we just proceed accordingly based on his transmissions." Ofc. Wiltz transmitted over the radio that he observed an unknown African-American male, wearing a gray hooded sweat jacket and gray sweatpants, enter a house at 1619 North Villere Street and exit in a relatively short period of time. Ofc. Wiltz also relayed which direction the man was travelling on foot. Based on that information, Ofc. Vitriano and Ofc. Odell responded to that area and located defendant, who fit the description provided by Ofc. Wiltz. Ofc. Vitriano testified that they made contact with defendant, placed him in handcuffs, and read him his Miranda rights, at which time he admitted to being in possession of narcotics. Ofc. Wiltz then identified the body worn camera that was activated at the time of defendant's arrest, which the State introduced into evidence.

         On cross-examination, Ofc. Vitriano admitted that he had never seen or heard of defendant before that date and, moreover, Ofc. Wiltz had not reported observing defendant in possession of any contraband or engaged in a hand-to-hand transaction. Ofc. Vitriano also admitted that the encounter was not consensual, stating that based on the surveillance conducted by Ofc. Wiltz, they made contact with defendant, place[d defendant] in handcuffs and arrest[ed] him."

         During cross-examination, the defense played portions of the body camera footage. Our review of the body camera footage reflects that the officers immediately handcuffed defendant upon making contact with him on the porch of a residence. Ofc. Odell read the Miranda rights to defendant, asked if he understood his rights, and asked if defendant was in possession of any drugs. Though his responses are not clear on the recording, it appears that defendant acknowledged possession of drugs and indicated to the officers that they were in his front pocket. The officers seized three rock-like substances from defendant's pocket, placing them on the hood of the police vehicle. The officers then informed defendant that he was under arrest for possession of crack cocaine.[1]

         Following testimony and arguments, the district court denied defendant's motion to suppress, finding as follows:

So, based on the testimony that's been provided as well as the exhibits, 1, [2] as well as exhibit 2, in terms of the bodycam, the Court finds that based on the information that the officers had in surveilling that particular area and that particular residence, the Court finds that the State has met its burden of proof to establish probable cause. Although, I would note, that it would be helpful for the Court to have some type of history or foundation as to the surveillance and the narcotics in the crime investigations conducted with respect to that particular house, so that the Court would also have the knowledge, of the historical knowledge, that the officers had at that time of the arrest and the Court denies any suppression of evidence and out of an abundance of caution any suppression of statements.

         Defendant noticed his intent to seek a writ on the district court's ruling, and ...

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