United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to
Suppress Statements and Evidence. ECF No. 38. For reasons
specified herein, Defendant's Motion is
December 7, 2017 at approximately 8:54 a.m., Sergeant J.J.
Napier of the West Hamlin Police Department (“Sgt.
Napier”) stopped a black Ford Fusion after seeing the
vehicle weave and drive left of center in the area of
Virginia Street and Route 10 in West Hamlin, West Virginia.
ECF No. 39, at 1; ECF No. 49, at 1. A video recording of the
stop was captured via Sgt. Napier's body camera, ECF No.
54-1, which Sgt. Napier turned on after he pulled the Ford
Fusion over and prepared to exit his patrol car. Sgt. Napier
approached the Ford Fusion on foot at 8:54:36 a.m.
Government's Exhibit 1 (Body Camera Video Recording), ECF
No. 54-1. At that time, Sgt. Napier found that there were
four occupants within the vehicle - Tyler Burns sat in the
driver's seat, Lucas Tomblin sat in the front passenger
seat, Robert Reid sat in the backseat on the driver side, and
Defendant sat in the backseat on the passenger side. ECF No.
49. Sgt. Napier immediately recognized Burns from having had
multiple prior interactions with him.
series of events that followed is discussed in more precise
detail below, but for purposes of background the Court will
briefly summarize it here. Sgt. Napier began the stop by
commenting on movement that he had observed in the backseat
of the car before he approached. ECF No. 54-1, at 8:55:00.
Defendant responded by handing Sgt. Napier a backpack through
the back driver side window, saying, “You can search
it.” Id., at 8:56:06. Sgt. Napier then asked
everyone in the car to produce identification. Id.,
at 8:56:17. When no one, including the driver, could produce
identification, Sgt. Napier asked the three passengers to
provide him with their names and dates of birth.
Id., at 8:57:02. Sgt. Napier then returned to his
patrol car and relayed the names and dates of birth as they
had been provided to him by the three passengers to Lincoln
911 dispatch. Id. His purpose in doing so was to
determine whether there were any outstanding warrants for
arrest as to any of the subject individuals. Id.
9:04:17, Lincoln 911 dispatch responded to Sgt. Napier's
inquiry and advised that there were two outstanding warrants
for the arrest of Lucas Tomblin, the individual seated in the
front passenger seat of the Ford Fusion. ECF No. 54-1. Upon
learning of the warrants, Sgt. Napier exited his patrol car,
returned to the Ford Fusion, and asked Tomblin to step out of
the vehicle at 9:05:08. Id. Sgt. Napier placed
Tomblin in handcuffs, searched his person, and then placed
him in the backseat of the police cruiser at 9:08:25.
9:08:45, Sgt. Napier returned to the Ford Fusion and began
searching the front passenger side of the car where Tomblin
had been sitting. Id. Sgt. Napier then opened the
rear passenger door and directed Defendant to step out of the
vehicle. Id., at 9:09:30. After briefly searching
Defendant's person, Sgt. Napier pulled a duffel bag out
from the floor of the rear passenger side of the Ford Fusion.
ECF No. 54-1, at 9:09:52. After repeatedly asking Burns,
Reid, and Defendant whose bag he had just pulled out of the
car, and after all three individuals denied any ownership or
knowledge of the bag, Sgt. Napier placed Defendant in
handcuffs at 9:10:25. Id.
Napier directed Defendant, then handcuffed, to sit on the
ground next to the Ford Fusion while he removed both Reid and
Burns from the vehicle, searched them briefly, and placed
handcuffs on each of them as well. Id., at
9:11:07-9:13:24. After all three were handcuffed and sitting
on the ground next to the Ford Fusion, and Tomblin remained
in the backseat of the police cruiser, Sgt. Napier opened the
duffel bag he had previously removed from the car and found
several firearms with price labels affixed to them.
Id., at 9:14:15. Over the remaining 12 minutes of
recording, Sgt. Napier removed the firearms one by one from
the duffel bag, placed each on the ground outside of the car,
and communicated via his radio to inform dispatch of his
discoveries and to ask dispatch to inquire as to any recent
pawn shop robberies in the area. Id., at 9:14:15-
9:26:58. The body camera recording ended at 9:26:58 a.m.
discovering the firearms, and after the conclusion of the
recording, Sgt. Napier advised Defendant of his
Miranda rights. ECF No. 39, at 3; ECF No. 49, at 6.
Thereafter, Defendant confessed to having broken into
Sportsmen's Gun and Pawn with Reid earlier in the day and
admitted that he and Reid had stolen the firearms discovered
in the duffel bag. Id. Defendant further admitted
that he had participated in a prior break-in of the same pawn
shop in May of 2017. Id. Defendant repeated these
admissions in a subsequent interview with a different
government agent. Id.
December 20, 2017, a Grand Jury returned a four-count
indictment against Defendant and Reid. ECF No. 10. Defendant
was named in two of the four counts. Id. Count Three
of the indictment charges Defendant and Reid, aided and
abetted by each other, with knowingly stealing several
firearms. Id., at 10. Count Four charges Defendant
and Reid, aided and abetted by each other, with knowingly
possessing stolen firearms. Id., at 11.
now asks this Court to suppress both the physical evidence -
the firearms recovered from the duffel bag - and the
statements that Defendant made after the firearms had been
discovered. Defendant argues that Sgt. Napier improperly
searched the vehicle in which the duffel bag was found, ECF
No. 39, and that Sgt. Napier “impermissibly extended
the stop beyond the time reasonably required to complete the
purposes of the stop, ” ECF No. 55. The Government
argues that Defendant has no standing to challenge either the
search of the vehicle or the search of the duffel bag. ECF
No. 49. The Government further argues that, to whatever
extent Sgt. Napier extended the stop beyond its original
purpose, that extension was constitutionally permissible.
Objection to Searches
raise a Fourth Amendment claim in objection to the search of
a place or an item, a defendant must have had “a
reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched or the
item seized” at the time of the search. United
States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 874 (4th Cir. 1992).
Further, “[t]he defendant bears the burden of proving
that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Id. As explained herein, the Court finds that
Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in either
the duffel bag or the Ford Fusion and, as such, has no
standing to contest the search of either.
Objection to Search of Car
Defendant lacks standing to challenge the search of the Ford
Fusion. “[A] passenger normally has no legitimate
expectation of privacy in a car in which he asserts neither a
property interest nor a possessory interest . . .”
Rusher, 966 F.2d at 874. See also Rakas v.
Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 150 (1978) (finding that
passengers in a car who had no possessory or ownership
interest in the vehicle lacked a legitimate expectation of
privacy in the car and accordingly that they did not have
standing to raise a Fourth Amendment challenge to a search
thereof); United States v. Carter, 300 F.3d 415, 421
(4th Cir. 2002) (finding that a defendant lacked standing to
challenge the search of a car in which he was a passenger and
in which he had no property or possessory interest).
case, Defendant claims no property or possessory interest in
the Ford Fusion that was searched. Additionally, he was a
passenger in the car at the time Sgt. Napier stopped the
vehicle and subsequently searched it. Accordingly, Defendant
had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the car at the
time of the search. As such, he now lacks standing to
challenge the propriety of Sgt. Napier's search of the
Objection to Search of Bag
addition to lacking standing to contest Sgt. Napier's
search of the Ford Fusion, the Court finds that Defendant has
no standing to contest Sgt. Napier's search of the duffel
bag. “The law is well established that a person who
voluntarily abandons property loses any reasonable
expectation of privacy in the property and is consequently
precluded from seeking to suppress evidence seized from the
property.” United States v. Leshuk, 65 F.3d
1105, 1111 (4th Cir. 1995) (declining to suppress evidence
where the defendant denied ownership of certain backpacks and
a garbage bag and police officers thereafter searched them,
recovering the items the defendant sought to suppress).
“Denial of ownership . . . constitutes
abandonment.” United States v. Han, 74 F.3d
537, 543 (4th Cir. 1996).
the stop in this case, after directing Defendant to step out
of the vehicle, Sgt. Napier reached for the duffel bag on the
floor of the backseat and asked Defendant, Reid, and Burns,
“Whose bag's this?” ECF No. 54-1, at 9:09:54.
No. one replied. Id. Sgt. Napier asked the same
question for a second time at 9:10:10 a.m. Id.
Again, no one replied. Id. Sgt. Napier then removed
the duffel bag from the vehicle and raised his voice, asking
more forcefully, “Whose bag is this? I'm not going
to ask again. Whose bag is this?” Id., at
9:10:05. When no one responded, Sgt. Napier pointed to
Defendant and asked Defendant directly, “Is it your
bag?” ECF No. 54-1, at 9:10:11. Defendant responded by
vigorously shaking his head no and saying, “It's
not my bag.” Id.
body camera recording clearly shows that Defendant denied any
ownership interest in the duffel bag at the time of the stop.
As such, the Court finds that Defendant voluntarily abandoned
the duffel bag and therefore lost any reasonable expectation
of privacy he had in it at the time of his denial.
Accordingly, Defendant is precluded from seeking to suppress
the firearms recovered during Sgt. Napier's search of the
duffel bag on these grounds.
Objection to Length of Stop
Defendant has no standing to contest the searches of the
duffel bag or the car, the Court finds that he does have
standing to challenge the seizure of his person during the
traffic stop. “[S]topping an automobile and detaining
its occupants constitute a ‘seizure' within the
meaning of the [Fourth and Fourteenth] Amendments . .
.” Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654
(1979). It is uncontested that, after seeing the Ford Fusion
weave and cross center, Sgt. Napier stopped the vehicle and
detained its occupants beginning at 8:45 a.m. on December 7,
2017. Because Defendant was detained, he thus has standing to
contest the propriety and constitutionality of that
detention. See Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 241,
259 (2007) (“If either the stopping of the car, the
length of the passenger's detention thereafter, or the
passenger's removal from it are unreasonable in a Fourth
Amendment sense, then surely the passenger has standing to
object to those constitutional violations and to have
suppressed any evidence found in the car which is their
fruit.”) (internal citation and quotation omitted).
to this standing, Defendant argues that Sgt. Napier
“impermissibly extended the stop beyond the time
reasonably required to complete the purposes of the
stop.” ECF No. 55, at 1. Because a traffic stop
constitutes a seizure of a vehicle and its occupants, the
Constitution requires that limits be placed on police conduct
during routine traffic stops. Rusher, 966 F.2d at
875. To determine those limits, the Fourth Circuit requires
the Court to consider both whether a traffic stop is
“justified at its inception” and whether the
officer's actions during the stop that proceeds are
“reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which
justified the [stop] in the first place.” Id.