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United States v. Wilson

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

July 24, 2019




         Currently before the Court are Defendant Payten A. Wilson's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 37) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 38), and the Government's Response (Doc. 44). For the reasons given below, Ms. Wilson's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 13, 2018, Ms. Wilson and her codefendant, Kyle G. Thomas, were charged by Indictment (Doc. 3) with various felony counts related to methamphetamine distribution. Mr. Thomas was also charged in that same instrument with being a previously-convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Three months later, on March 14, 2019, a grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment (Doc. 28) containing essentially the same charges against the same two individuals. Ms. Wilson faces two counts: Count Four of the Superseding Indictment charges her and Mr. Thomas with conspiring together to distribute more than 50 grams of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, and Count Five charges her with possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it. See id. at 2.

         Both charges against Ms. Wilson stem from an encounter that she, Mr. Thomas, and two other individuals had with police in the early morning hours of October 29, 2018. Ms. Wilson was driving a Chrysler 300 in which Mr. Thomas and two other passengers were riding when, around 5:17 a.m., she was pulled over by a police officer with the Fayetteville Police Department named Justin Harlan. The traffic stop occurred on Interstate 49, near Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Roughly forty minutes later, following an alert by a drug-sniffing dog, police officers searched the car and found methamphetamine, marijuana, and several hypodermic syringes. Ms. Wilson and the front passenger were both arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia because the syringes were found within arm's reach of both of their seats, in the front center console. Later, Ms. Wilson informed a detective on the scene that in her sports bra she had hidden three baggies of methamphetamine, which she then retrieved and provided to him. Ms. Wilson was eventually taken from the traffic stop to the Washington County Detention Center.

         In her Motion to Suppress, Ms. Wilson asks this Court to suppress all evidence obtained from the car's search, as well as evidence of her confession and of the methamphetamine that was hidden in her sports bra. She advances three arguments in support of this request: (1) that Officer Harlan lacked probable cause to make the initial traffic stop; (2) that Officer Harlan impermissibly extended the traffic stop; and (3) that there was no probable cause to arrest her for drug paraphernalia. The Motion has been fully briefed, and was the subject of an evidentiary hearing on July 15, 2019. The Court received oral argument from the parties at the conclusion of that hearing. Thus, the matter is now ripe for decision.


         The United States Constitution imposes certain well-known limitations on searches and seizures:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.

U.S. Const, amend. IV. A large body of judicial precedent has developed, especially over the last six decades, articulating more precisely how the Fourth Amendment should be applied to a variety of factual contexts. As with so many other areas of the law, the devil is in the details.

         A police officer may briefly seize or search a person without a warrant or probable cause if he reasonably suspects that criminal activity is afoot, but only if that suspicion is based on "specific and articulable facts . . . taken together with rational inferences from those facts." See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 30 (1968). When a court is asked to determine whether that officer's suspicion was reasonable, it must ask whether "the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate." See Id. at 21-22 (internal quotation marks omitted). "Whether the particular facts known to the officer amount to an objective and particularized basis for a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is determined in light of the totality of the circumstances." United States v. Maltais, 403 F.3d 550, 554 (8th Cir. 2005).

         In a traffic stop, as with any other brief detention based on reasonable suspicion, "the tolerable duration of [a] police inquir[y]... is determined by the seizure's 'mission'- to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, and attend to related safety concerns." See Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614 (2015) (internal citations omitted). "Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are-or reasonably should have been-completed." Id. "The seizure remains lawful only 'so long as [unrelated] inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.'" Id. at 1615 (quoting Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009)) (alterations in original). However, if during the traffic stop the officer develops the reasonable suspicion that some additional criminal activity is afoot, then he may prolong the stop to investigate the new matter. See id.; see also United States v. Linkous, 285 F.3d 716, 720 (8th Cir. 2002) ("An officer's suspicion of criminal activity may reasonably grow over the course of a traffic stop as the circumstances unfold and more suspicious facts are uncovered."). "Whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to expand the scope of a traffic stop is determined by looking at the totality of the circumstances, in light of the officer's experience." Linkous, 285 F.3d at 720 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, although reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity is sufficient to expand the scope and duration of a traffic stop, probable cause is necessary to conduct a search of the vehicle. "A police officer has probable cause to conduct a search when the facts available to him would warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime is present." Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237, 243 (2013) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). This standard is not one of "rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries," but rather is based on "the totality of the circumstances." See Id. at 244. Probable cause is "a fluid concept-turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts-not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules." Id. (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983)). For example, probable cause to search a car for drugs may be provided by a reliable alert from a drug-sniffing dog-but like all probable-cause analyses, it must be based on the totality of the circumstances, with the ultimate question being "whether all the facts surrounding a dog's alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime." See Id. at 248.

         Another important wrinkle in Fourth Amendment precedent is something known as the collective-knowledge doctrine. "The collective knowledge of law enforcement officers conducting an investigation is sufficient to provide reasonable suspicion, and the collective knowledge can be imputed to the individual officer who initiated the traffic stop when there is some communication between the officers." United States v. Thompson,533 F.3d 964, 969 (8th Cir. 2008). The collective-knowledge doctrine applies not only to reasonable-suspicion inquiries, but also to probable-cause inquiries. "Probable cause for the stop and search of [a] vehicle may be based on the collective knowledge of all law enforcement officers involved in the investigation and need not ...

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