United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. DuBOSE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to
Suppress and Dismiss and the United States' response and
memorandum. (Docs. 27, 30, and 38). On March 13, 2017, the
Court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. Defendant
Ashley Newton (“Newton”) and her counsel Patrick
Finnegan were present. Assistant United States Attorney Sinan
Kalayoglu was present on behalf of the United States. The
additional briefing permitted at the hearing has concluded.
(Docs 44-45). Upon consideration of the relevant law,
evidence, and arguments the motion to suppress and dismiss is
January 6, 2016, between 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m., Louisiana
State Trooper Ryan Zimmerman (“Zimmerman”)
initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle being driven by Newton.
The stop occurred near mile marker 38.5 on Interstate 12 east
in Louisiana and was recorded by the dashboard camera in
Zimmerman's patrol car. The basis for the stop was
Newton's alleged violations of Louisiana Revised Statutes
32:79 (improper lane usage) and 32:53 (improper display of
Zimmerman approached the vehicle from the passenger side,
Newton rolled down the window. Zimmerman “smelled a
strong odor of air fresheners coming out of the
vehicle” and saw three air fresheners hanging from the
gear shifter. (Doc. 43 at 88). He requested Newton's license
and asked her if she had been drinking. Newton answered that
she had not. Zimmerman observed that Newton was “very
nervous” and was “shaking” when looking for
her license. (Doc. 43 at 88-89). Newton informed Zimmerman
that she was a student. Zimmerman testified that he found the
placement of textbooks in Newton's backseat unusual as
they were strewn about rather than contained in her backpack.
(Doc. 43 at 87-88).
Zimmerman asked Newton where she was coming from, she stated
that she was coming from her grandmother's house on
Jefferson Street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Doc. 43 at
11). Zimmerman was familiar with the Baton Rouge area but did
not recognize this location. As a result, he looked up the
location on the computer in his patrol car and could not find
it, causing him to be suspicious of Newton's statement to
him about her trip. (Id.).
Zimmerman prepared to return Newton's license and
documents to her, he instructed her to exit the vehicle so he
could explain the license plate violation. Both Zimmerman and
Newton stood at the rear of her vehicle as he explained the
problem with her plate. Within seconds, Zimmerman asked her
whether there were any drugs in the vehicle. She answered in
the negative. When specifically asked whether there was
marijuana in the vehicle, Newton said no but volunteered that
she had previously been stopped and that law enforcement had
found a part of blunt containing marijuana in her vehicle.
After this exchange, Zimmerman presented a consent to search
form to Newton. The video shows Zimmerman holding a
flashlight above the form in order for Newton to read it.
(Doc. 43 at 16). Newton takes a few seconds to read the form,
and signs it. (Id. at 20). The subsequent search of
Newton's vehicle lead to the discovery of three kilo
sized bricks of cocaine, found in a backpack in the backseat.
(Doc. 43 at 21).
are three issues before the Court: 1) whether the initial
traffic stop violated the Newton's rights under the
Fourth Amendment; 2) whether the duration of the stop was
unreasonable in light of Rodriguez v. United States,
135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015); and 3) whether Newton consented to the
search of her vehicle. As detailed herein, the answer to the
first two questions is no, and the Court finds that Newton
knowingly and voluntarily consented to the search of her
vehicle. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to suppress is
Legality of the Traffic Stop
Eleventh Circuit has explained:
“The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from
unreasonable search and seizure.”
Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d at 1275. A traffic stop,
however, is constitutional if it is either based upon
probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred or
justified by reasonable suspicion in accordance with
Terry, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889.
Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d at 1275. When determining
whether an officer had probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation occurred, the “officer's motive
in making the traffic stop does not invalidate what is
otherwise objectively justifiable behavior under the Fourth
Amendment.” United States v. Simmons, 172 F.3d
775, 778 (11th Cir.1999) (quotation omitted). The
Constitution also permits police officers to conduct a brief
investigatory stop, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88
S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), “if they have a
reasonable, articulable suspicion based on objective facts
that” an individual is engaged in criminal activity.
United States v. Powell, 222 F.3d 913, 917 (11th
Cir.2000). A determination of reasonable suspicion is based
on the totality of the circumstances, and “[i]t does
not require officers to catch the suspect in a crime.
Instead, [a] reasonable suspicion of criminal activity may be
formed by observing exclusively legal activity.”
United States v. Acosta, 363 F.3d 1141, 1145 (11th
Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Additionally, the issue is
not whether the particular officer involved “actually
and subjectively had the pertinent reasonable suspicion, but
whether, given the circumstances, reasonable suspicion
objectively existed to justify [the investigatory
stop].” United States v. Nunez, 455 F.3d 1223,
1226 (11th Cir.2006).
United States v. Harris, 526 F.3d 1334, 1337-38
(11th Cir. 2008). At the conclusion of the suppression
hearing, the Court determined that Officer Zimmerman was
credible. Zimmerman testified that he initiated the traffic
stop based on Newton's improper lane usage and obstructed
license plate. For the reasons stated on the record at the
suppression hearing, the Court has already determined that
the traffic stop was based on probable cause and therefore
did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court permitted
additional briefing on the issues of consent and whether the
extension of the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion.
Duration of ...