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United States v. Foster

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

September 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
CHARLIE FOSTER DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before the Court is-Defendant Charlie Foster's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 20) and the Government's Response (Doc. 22). On May 8, 2019, Mr. Foster was charged by Indictment (Doc. 1) with knowingly possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Mr. Foster seeks to suppress evidence related to a firearm found on his person and which led to his indictment. For the reasons given below, Mr. Foster's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Mr. Foster's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. 20). On March 5, 2019, Officer Johnson with the Springdale Police Department stopped a black Toyota Avalon for "having an unsafe windshield (several cracks)." Id. at 1. Officer Johnson made contact with the driver of the vehicle, Mr. Foster, and explained, "the reason I pulled you over is you got this cracked windshield." Id. at 5. Officer Johnson then asked Mr. Foster and his female passenger for identification. Mr. Foster provided his driver's license, and the passenger, who did not have a form of identification, provided a name that was later determined to be fictitious. At that time, Officer Johnson noted that Mr. Foster and the passenger appeared to be "very nervous." Id. at 1. Specifically, Officer Johnson observed Mr. Foster's hands shaking.

         After returning to his police cruiser to check Mr. Foster and his passenger for outstanding warrants, Officer Johnson observed Mr. Foster and the passenger "moving around inside the vehicle." Id. at 1-2. Additionally, Officer Johnson learned from dispatch that Mr. Foster was on parole with a search waiver on file and that the passenger had an active warrant for her arrest. At that time, Officer Johnson returned to the vehicle and ordered Mr. Foster to step outside. Complying with that order, Mr. Foster exited the vehicle and "tugged his jacket down with his hand." Id. at 2. Officer Johnson then explained to Mr. Foster that he had observed Mr. Foster and his passenger moving around in the vehicle, to which Mr. Foster replied that the two were "putting the paperwork back in the glove compartment." Id. Officer Johnson then conducted a pat down of Mr. Foster for weapons, which revealed a handgun.

         In his Motion to suppress, Mr. Foster asks this Court to suppress the handgun found on his person. Mr. Foster advances two arguments in support of this request: (1) that Officer Johnson did not have probable cause to make the initial traffic stop; and (2) that Officer Johnson unreasonably extended the initial stop by asking Mr. Foster and his passenger for identification. Notably, Mr. Foster does not argue that the search of his person was unconstitutional. The Motion has been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for decision.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

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 persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Const, amend. IV. Simply put, the basic purpose of the Fourth Amendment "is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials." United States v. Carpenter, 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2213 (2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         For Fourth Amendment purposes, "[i]t is well established that a roadside traffic stop is a 'seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment." United States v. Jones, 269 F.3d 919, 924 (8th Cir. 2001). To be a reasonable seizure, "a traffic stop must be supported by, at a minimum, 'a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity' is occurring." United States v. Frasher, 632 F.3d 450, 453 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Jones, 289 F.3d at 924.). A traffic violation, even for a minor infraction, provides the necessary quantum of suspicion to stop a vehicle and its occupants. See Frasher, 632 F.3d at 453. Thus, a police officer may lawfully conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle when the officer is "aware of particularized, objective facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant suspicion" that a traffic violation is being committed. United States v. Martin, 706 F.2d 263, 265 (8th Cir. 1983).

         To determine whether a police officer had the requisite level of suspicion to conduct a valid traffic stop, a court must look at whether "the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search [would] warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate!.]" TeAry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although "something more than a 'hunch' of wrongdoing is necessary, the level of suspicion required to support a traffic stop is 'considerably less' than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Edgerton, 438 F.3d 1043, 1047 (10th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, "mistakes of law or fact, if objectively reasonable, may still justify a valid stop." United States v. Hollins, 685 F.3d 703, 706 (8th Cir. 2012). "[I]n mistake cases the question is simply whether the mistake, whether of law or of fact, was an objectively reasonable one." United States v. Smart, 393 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2005). In sum, the determination of whether reasonable suspicion existed "is not to be made with the vision of hindsight, but instead by looking to what the officer reasonably knew at the time." Hollins, 685 F.3d at 706 (quoting United States v. Sanders, 196 F.3d 910, 913 (8th Cir. 1999)).

         Following a valid traffic stop, a police officer may conduct "routine tasks related to the traffic violation" United States v. Chartier, 772 F.3d 539, 543 (8th Cir. 2014). In addition to determining whether to issue a traffic citation, such tasks include "checking the driver's license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance." Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615 (2015). "If, during the course of completing these routine tasks, 'the officer develops reasonable suspicion that other criminal activity is afoot, the officer may expand the scope of the encounter to address that suspicion.'" Chartier, 772 F.3d at 543 (quoting United States v. Peralez, 526 F.3d 1115, 1120 (8th Cir. 2008)). Absent suspicion of other criminal activity, a traffic stop "remains lawful only 'so long as [the] unrelated inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.'" Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1615 (quoting Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009)).

         In a criminal case, a defendant may move to suppress the use of evidence at trial that the defendant believes was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, including any "fruit" deriving from that evidence. See Wong Sun v. United States,371 U.S. 471, 484-86 (1963). Such evidence is suppressed only when two separate determinations are made: (1) that "the Fourth Amendment rights of the party seeking to invoke the rule were violated by police conduct, " and (2) that "the exclusionary ...


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