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United States v. Portis

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 12, 2017




         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. # 15). Defendant's Motion (Doc. # 15) seeks suppression of all evidence obtained as a result of the Calera Police Department's search of his vehicle on November 6, 2016, as well as suppression of any statements he made after he was pulled over. Defendant (Doc. # 15) and the Government (Doc. # 16) each submitted briefs in support of their positions. The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion on July 10, 2017. The Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for review.

         I. Findings of Fact

         Shortly before 8:00 a.m. on November 16, 2016, Calera Police Officer Nick Burnett observed Defendant traveling northbound in a white Cadillac Deville on I-65. Burnett testified that he observed the Cadillac cross the fog lane (without signaling) in violation of state law. Burnett conducted a traffic stop of Defendant's car, and requested his license and registration. (Doc. # 16-1, Police Video, 2:30). He then pointed at a number of air fresheners which were hanging from Defendant's rear view mirror and told Defendant that he could not have the air fresheners hanging like that, because it obstructed the driver's view. (Id. at 2:45). Burnett also stated that Defendant “went over the white line” and swerved out of his lane and onto the “rumble strip” on the right shoulder of the road. (Id. at 6:15). Burnett testified that he immediately noted the scent of marijuana when he approached the Cadillac.

         Another member of the Calera Police Department, Officer Krukowski, arrived on the scene to assist Burnett. (Id. at 7:00). After stepping away from the passenger side door, Burnett told Krukowski that Defendant was “trying to cover up the smell of it, with that black and mild, [a cigar] but -- but you can smell marijuana or what appears to be marijuana coming from the vehicle.” (Id. at 7:03). Burnett eventually asked Defendant to step out of his vehicle. (Id. at 7:20). Burnett noticed a bulge in Defendant's front pocket, and asked Defendant what it was. (Id. at 7:55). Defendant stated that it was money. (Id. at 8:00). The officers found a wad of cash and a pocket knife in the pockets of Defendant's pants. (Id. at 8:24-9:56). Burnett then began to search the car for marijuana, while Defendant stood on the side of the road with Krukowski. (Id. at 11:35). Defendant was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained at this time. (Id.).

         After unsuccessfully searching for marijuana in the passenger compartment of the car, Burnett told Defendant:

I am not going to let this car go before I find where that green weed is in that car. I'm telling you that for a matter of fact. I don't care what you do. I -- I -- I don't care. I'm going to tell you this, whatever I have to do, I'll seize that car and get a search warrant for it or whatever. I'm not threatening you, I'm not doing any of that.

(Id. at 14:30). In response, Defendant stated that he had been “smoking a blunt[1], ” and that he had thrown it out the window when he saw Burnett's police car. (Id. at 15:15). However, he denied possessing any additional marijuana. (Id. at 15:20-55).

         After continued searching, Burnett found marijuana, cocaine, and a loaded Taurus 9mm pistol in a backpack located in the truck of the car. (Id. at 29:23). He then placed Defendant in handcuffs. (29:30). Krukowski placed Defendant in a police vehicle, asked whether he had any other items of contraband on his person, and advised Defendant of his Miranda rights. (Video, 32:12-24

         II. Analysis

         Defendant's Motion seeks to exclude two categories of evidence. First, Defendant's Motion alleges deficiencies in the search of his car, and seeks the exclusion of the contraband that was found therein. Second, Defendant's Motion alleges that certain statements he made were coerced and the product of a custodial interrogation, and argues that those statements are due to be excluded. The court addresses each argument, in turn.

         A. The Traffic Stop and Search of Defendant's Vehicle Was Not Unreasonable

         The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” government searches and seizures. Nevertheless, the police may stop and briefly detain a person to investigate a reasonable suspicion that he is involved in criminal activity. United States v. Williams, 876 F.2d 1521, 1523 (11th Cir. 1989) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)). This legal principle permits police officers to stop a moving automobile based on a reasonable suspicion that its occupants are violating the law. Id. at 1524 (citing United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 226 (1985); United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 682 (1985)). When a traffic stop is initiated due to a traffic violation, the “tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's ‘mission' - to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns.” Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614 (2015) (quoting Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005)) (internal citations omitted).

         However, a traffic stop may last longer than just the time “necessary to process the traffic violation” when there is articulable suspicion of other illegal activity. United States v. Purcell, 236 F.3d 1274, 1277 (11th Cir. 2001). And, “[a]n officer can conduct a warrantless search or seizure of a vehicle if there exists probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or other evidence which is subject to seizure under the law and there exist exigent circumstances which necessitate a search or seizure.” United States v. Forker, 928 F.2d 365, 368 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing United States v. Alexander, 835 F.2d 1406, 1409 (11th Cir. 1988)). “[T]he requirement of exigent circumstances is satisfied by the ‘ready mobility' inherent in all automobiles that reasonably appear to be capable of functioning.” United States v. Nixon, 918 F.2d 895, 903 (11th Cir. 1990). When probable cause exists, ...

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