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No Fourth Amendment violation for defendant searched following encounter with police officer

In U.S. v. Williams, the defendant was convicted in federal court of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C.§ 922(g), possession of crack cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. On appeal he challenged the introduction of evidence seized as a result of an unlawful search. Williams was arrested when two Miami Police Officers approached a rooming house in the Coconut Grove section of Miami to investigate complaints that narcotics were being sold from the location. After the officers knocked on the door, Williams answered and the officer questioned him and eventually asked Williams if he had anything illegal on him. According to the officer, Williams said “go ahead, I ain’t got nothing.” When the officer reached for William’s pocket, Williams pushed him in the chest area causing the officer to stumble backwards. Following that encounter, Williams then ran inside the house to the back of the house. The two officers gave chase and caught him at the end of the house. During the struggle to place handcuffs on Williams, one of the officers saw a semiautomatic gun fall out of the William’s waistband and land nearby. The gun was recovered and after searching Williams’ pocket they found 21 small bags of crack cocaine in a cigarette box and $236 in cash.

Williams filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized on grounds the officers had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion he was dealing in drugs. Williams argued the evidence was seized as a result of an illegal, nonconsensual search. Even if the initial encounter was valid, the officer’s attempt to search was invalid because Williams never consented to the search. Finally he argued that even if he consented at first, he withdrew his consent. During the suppression hearing Williams disputed the officer’s version of the incident. He claimed he denied having any drugs when asked by the officer. When the officer asked if he would mind being searched, Williams denied giving consent and said that when the officer reached for his pockets, he only pushed the officers hands away because he already refused the consent to a search.

The court of appeals upheld the denial of the suppression motion. First the district court did not err in making a credibility finding against the defendant. There was no Fourth Amendment violation by the officer’s entry upon the private property to knock on the door. Their purpose was to investigate the present of criminal activity upon receiving complaints. The court of appeals credited the officer’s account that they obtained consent to search Williams. The officer said that Williams struck him, giving the officer probable cause to arrest Williams for resisting arrest with violence or battery on a law enforcement officer. The court noted that an officer is allowed to enter a dwelling without a warrant if he is in “hot pursuit” of a suspect. The officers could therefore pursue Williams into the house.

Evidence was sufficient to convict for possession of a firearm
Williams challenged his conviction for possessing the firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and argued there was insufficient evidence to link the gun obtained from him to a drug trafficking crime. The court of appeals found more than enough evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Williams used the pistol “in furtherance of” a drug offense because the government’s expert witness testified the drugs he carried appeared he was a street dealer and that street dealers us handguns like the Glock to defend their territory against rival drug dealers.

Any error in denying a peremptory strike during jury selection was harmless
Williams challenged the district court’s decision to sustain the government’s Batson objection to Williams” peremptory strike. The district court found that the defendant’s strike of a white juror was in violation of Batson because he could not offer a race neutral explanation for the peremptory strike after having struck three other white or Hispanic venire members. The court of appeals declined to determine whether the district court misapplied Batson in its ruling. Instead it found that the under Rivera v. Illinois the Supreme Court held even if the court erred in depriving the defendant of a peremptory strike, it does not amount to a deprivation of the Defendant’s due process right because there is no free standing constitutional right to a peremptory challenge. The court applied Rivera here, finding the defendants do not right under the constitution to peremptory challenges.. Here the court found that any error by the district court was harmless and did not require automatic reversal.