United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
STEPHEN M. DOYLE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Cedric L. Cobb (“Cobb”) is charged with
possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Indictment & Superseding
Indictment (Docs. 1 & 23). Detective James Stewart (Det.
Stewart) of the Tallassee Police Department seized the 9mm
pistol giving rise to this charge during a traffic stop of
Cobb's Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. Det. Stewart initiated the
traffic stop because he knew Cobb was the subject of an
outstanding Elmore County arrest warrant. (Gov't Ex. 1).
He spotted Cobb driving the Tahoe into a gas station and
pulled it over. When Det. Stewart approached the Tahoe and
spoke with Cobb through the open driver's window, he
smelled the distinct odor of marijuana coming from inside the
vehicle. He instructed Cobb to exit the vehicle, secured him,
and then proceeded to search the Tahoe. Det. Stewart
discovered a loaded Taurus 9mm pistol and sixteen small bags
of marijuana hidden under the cupholder in the center
filed a Motion to Suppress arguing that the car stop was
unlawful because there was no outstanding warrant for
Cobb's arrest. (Doc. 14). Cobb subsequently amended his
motion conceding that there was an outstanding arrest warrant
but arguing that Det. Stewart's search of the Tahoe was
unlawful because Cobb was secured and moved away from the
vehicle before the search began. (Doc. 19). The Government
responded that Det. Stewart had authority to search under the
automobile exception because the Tahoe was readily mobile,
and he had probable cause to believe it contained contraband.
Gov't Opp. (Doc. 18) at 3. The undersigned held a
suppression hearing, and at the hearing the Government also
argued that the evidence is admissible under the inevitable
discovery doctrine. Tr. at 47. Upon consideration of
Cobbs' Motion as amended (Docs. 14 & 19), the
Government's Response (Doc. 18), and the evidence and
arguments presented at the suppression hearing, the
undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that Cobb's
Motion to Suppress be denied.
Stewart was the only witness called at the suppression
hearing, and the essential facts are undisputed. A few nights
before the stop at issue, Det. Stewart was on patrol and saw
the white Tahoe parked abandoned at the Tallassee boat ramp.
Tr. at 7. He ran the license plate, and the system showed the
vehicle was registered to Cobb and that Cobb had an
outstanding warrant for possession of marijuana 1st class.
Tr. at 8; Gov't Ex. 1, warrant. The system also showed a
picture of Cobb. Id.
nights later, Det. Stewart saw the Tahoe pull into a gas
station in Tallassee. Tr. at 7, 19. He observed Cobb exit the
vehicle and recognized him from the picture. Id. at
9. He waited for Cobb to get back in the Tahoe and pull out
of the gas station. Id. Det. Stewart then initiated
a traffic stop by turning on his emergency lights.
Id. Cobb pulled into the parking lot of the
Travelodge Motel and stopped. Id. Det. Stewart
waited for backup to arrive and then approached the vehicle.
Tr. at 11. Upon exiting his patrol car, Det. Stewart
activated his body camera. Gov't Ex. 4, body cam video.
Stewart approached the driver's window and spoke with
Cobb through the open window. He smelled the odor of raw or
green marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. Tr. at 11-12.
Det. Stewart is an experienced narcotics officer and is very
familiar with the distinct smell of marijuana in both its raw
or green state and when burned or smoked. Tr. at 6. Det.
Stewart did not mention the marijuana odor to Cobb or anyone
else. Tr. at 22. Det. Stewart asked Cobb to exit the Tahoe,
and he placed him in handcuffs, led him away from the vehicle
and turned him over to another officer serving as backup. Tr.
Stewart then proceeded to search the Tahoe. Tr. at 12-13. His
search revealed a loaded Taurus 9mm pistol and a green Crown
Royal bag containing sixteen small bags of marijuana hidden
under the cup holder in the center console. Id.;
Gov't Ex. 3, photos. Det. Stewart testified that he
conducted the search because the odor of marijuana
established probable cause that the Tahoe contained
contraband. Tr. at 12.
Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable
search and seizure. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. When
a defendant moves “to suppress evidence garnered
through a warrantless search and seizure, the burden
of proof as to the reasonableness of the search rests with
the prosecution.” U.S. v. Freire, 710 F.2d
1515, 1519 (11th Cir. 1983) (emphasis original). To sustain
this burden, the “Government must demonstrate that the
challenged action falls within one of the recognized
exceptions to the warrant requirement, thereby rendering it
reasonable within the meaning of the fourth amendment.”
The Traffic Stop
undersigned will briefly address the traffic stop although
defendant now appears to concede that it was lawful. (Doc.
19) at ¶ 1. “A traffic stop is a seizure within
the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” United States
v. Purcell, 236 F.3d 1274, 1277 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661 (1979)). An
arrest warrant provides express authority to make a traffic
stop for the purpose of executing the warrant on someone in a
vehicle. United States v. Foster, 2018 WL 4374239,
at *4-5 (M.D. Ala. 2018) (citing United States v.
Provens, 2009 WL 10695199, at *3 (N.D. Ala. 2009)