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United States v. Chafin

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

June 4, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JONATHAN CHAFIN

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements and Evidence. ECF No. 38. For reasons specified herein, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         On 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.

         The 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.

         At 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. Id.

         At 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.

         Sgt. 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. Id.

         After 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.

         On 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.

         Defendant 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. Id.

         II. Objection to Searches

         To 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.

         a. Objection to Search of Car

         First, 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).

         In this 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 car.

         b. Objection to Search of Bag

         In 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).

         During 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.

         The 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.

         III. Objection to Length of Stop

         Though 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).

         Pursuant 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.

         a. ...


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