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United States v. Cox

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

September 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
STEPHEN MARK COX; and SCOTT SAMUEL GREEN DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          P.K. HOLMES, III U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Stephen Mark Cox filed a motion (Doc. 36) to suppress and brief (Doc. 37) in support of his motion. Defendant Scott Samuel Green filed a separate motion (Doc. 38) to suppress and brief (Doc. 39). The Government filed one response (Doc. 47) addressing both motions. At the Court's request, the Government also filed a copy of the dash cam video footage as a supplement (Doc. 48) to its motion. After reviewing the motions, briefs, and dash cam video footage, the motions to suppress will be DENIED.

         1. Background

         On April 17, 2019, Defendants Stephen Mark Cox and Scott Samuel Green were traveling in a white SUV heading east on Interstate 40 in Arkansas. Green was driving and Cox was in the passenger seat. At approximately 1:25 p.m., Arkansas State Trooper Christopher Short initiated a traffic stop of Defendants' SUV because Trooper Short believed the defendants were following a black pickup too closely. Dash cam footage from Trooper Short's patrol car documents approximately two-minutes preceding the traffic stop.[1]

         The video shows that before he was pulled over, Green was driving in the right lane behind a black pickup truck. Trooper Short was driving next to Green's SUV in the left lane. Early in the video, Green appears to maintain a safe distance between his SUV and the truck. However, as the video progresses, Green steadily accelerates and closes the distance between his SUV and the truck. After the two cars emerge from a curve, Green appears to return to a greater distance. However, approximately 45 seconds into the video, as the cars approach a rest area exit, Green again accelerates and closes the distance between his SUV and the truck. As the truck approaches the rest area exit, it engages its turn signal and brakes. Green-who at this point has maintained his close following distance from the pickup-is forced to swiftly apply his brakes. Green does not change lanes because Trooper Short is still driving next to him in the left lane. However, Trooper Short has little trouble moving to the right lane. Though there is no video footage of the right lane behind Green, Trooper Short's ability to change lanes would suggest that there was nobody behind Green.

         Trooper Short engaged his blue lights and pulled Green over for following the black pickup too closely in violation of Ark. Code Ann. § 27-51-305. Trooper Short noted in his report that Green's SUV was approximately two car lengths away from the pickup truck, and the cars were travelling at 60 miles per hour. Green exited the interstate at the next exit and stopped on the side of the road at the end of the exit ramp.

         Trooper Short initially approached the passenger window. He noted that both passengers appeared nervous. Trooper Short explained that he pulled Green over because he was following the pickup “a little bit close.” Trooper Short requested Green's driver's license but stated that he did not intend to issue a ticket. Trooper Short asked the defendants about their line of work, and Green replied that they were in fugitive recovery. After discovering the car was a rental, Short asked for a copy of the rental paperwork. At that point, Trooper Short asked Green to return to his patrol car with him and promised that they would be on their way soon.

         Green and Trooper Short returned to the patrol car approximately a minute and a half after the traffic stop began-that is, after the cars came to a complete stop on the exit ramp. Once in the car, Trooper Short asked Green about their destination, and inquired as to their travel plans and purpose-including the fugitive they were after and the length of their stay in Virginia. Green informed Trooper Short they were staying in Virginia for three days. Trooper Short then radioed dispatch to obtain the defendants' criminal history.

         While waiting on a response from dispatch, Trooper Short returned to the SUV to speak with Cox. Trooper Short asked Cox the same questions he had asked Green to corroborate Green's answers. Cox did not know the name of the fugitive they were allegedly hunting. Moreover, he indicated that they were staying in Virginia for only one day. Trooper Short then asked Cox about his criminal history, to which Cox replied that he has a DUI. Trooper Short returned to the patrol car approximately six and a half minutes after the traffic stop began.

         Upon his return, Trooper Short asked Green whether there were any weapons in the car, noting that both defendants appeared extremely nervous. When Green replied there were no weapons, Trooper Short then asked whether they had any drugs. Green replied that there were no drugs. Trooper Short then asked Green if he could search the vehicle-approximately seven minutes after the stop began. Green stated, “I don't care” and indicated that both he and Cox had signed the car's rental paperwork. Trooper Short then discovered that, in addition to a DUI, Cox also had a prior drug charge. Trooper Short asked Green again if he could search the car, and Green again replied that he did not care. This exchange ended approximately eight minutes after the stop began.

         Trooper Short exited his patrol car and asked Green to wait in front of their vehicle. Trooper Short approached the passenger window and asked Cox to exit the vehicle because Green had consented to a search. Cox offered no objection and exited the SUV. Both defendants waited at the front of the SUV while Trooper Short performed his search. Eventually, Trooper Short discovered approximately 17 kilograms of cocaine in the vehicle's trunk and placed both defendants under arrest.

         Defendants filed the instant motions to suppress all evidence obtained from Trooper Short's search, arguing that the stop and subsequent search were unconstitutional. Specifically, Defendants argue that: (1) Trooper Short lacked probable cause to support the initial stop, and the initial stop was pretextual; (2) Green's consent was invalid because Green did not actually rent the car; (3) Green's consent was not voluntary; and (4) the scope of the investigation regarding the stop was excessive. As a result, Defendants contend that the evidence seized as a result of the stop and subsequent search is inadmissible under the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. The Court will handle each argument in turn.

         II. Analysis

         A. ...


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