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United States v. Junkins

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

May 29, 2019




         On this day, the above-styled matter came before this Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation Recommending that Defendant's Motion to Suppress be Denied [Doc. 41]. Pursuant to this Court's Local Rules, this action was referred to Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi for submission of a proposed report and recommendation (“R&R”). Magistrate Judge Aloi filed his R&R on March 1, 2019. In that filing, the magistrate judge recommended that this Court deny the defendant's Motion to Suppress [Doc. 28]. This Court has also reviewed the briefs on the Motion as well as the transcript of the February 11, 2019, hearing. For the reasons that follow, this Court ADOPTS the R&R.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c), this Court is required to make a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate judge's findings to which objection is made. However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). In addition, failure to file timely objections constitutes a waiver of de novo review and the right to appeal this Court's Order. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363, 1366 (4th Cir. 1989); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91, 94 (4th Cir. 1984). Here, objections to Magistrate Judge Aloi's R&R were due within fourteen (14) days of receipt, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). After this Court granted an extension of time, defendant timely filed his objections on May 18, 2019 [Doc. 56]. Accordingly, this Court will review the portions of the R&R to which objection was made under a de novo standard of review. The remaining portions of the R&R will be reviewed for clear error.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         After conducting a hearing on the Motion to Suppress on February 11, 2019, Magistrate Judge Aloi made certain findings of fact that this Court hereby adopts [See D o c . 41 at 3-12]. This Court does not find it necessary to rehash them.

         The defendant was charged with three counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug offense in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 924(c)(1)(A)(I), and three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) [Doc. 2 at 1-8].

         On January 31, 2019, the defendant filed a Motion to Suppress [Doc. 28], requesting this Court to suppress all of the Government's evidence related to two incidents occurring on August 1, 2017, and November 30, 2018. In support of the motion, the defendant argues that the detention waiting for a K-9 dog sniff was unreasonable and that the defendant was subjected to questioning following this detention in which defendant allegedly made incriminating statements, which he argues are statements obtained as fruit of an illegal traffic stop. Second, defendant argues the November 30, 2018, search of his vehicle was illegal and beyond the scope of the stop.

         On February 8, 2019, the Government filed its Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Suppress [Doc. 34]. In its opposition, the Government argues that the August 1, 2017, traffic stop was initiated following two violations-littering and obstruction of a license plate, which created probable cause that the defendant had committed a traffic infraction. Additionally, the Government argues that the dog sniff occurred during the traffic stop and the stop was not unreasonably extended. As to the November 30, 2018, stop, the Government argues probable cause existed because the license plate had expired, the vehicle was parked immediately off the main road and the engine still running, which indicated the vehicle had traveled to the parking spot.

         On March 1, 2019, Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi entered his R&R, in which he found that all the evidence seized by the police is admissible and recommended that this Court deny the Motion to Suppress [Doc. 41 at 22]. On May 18, 2019, the defendant timely filed his objections to the magistrate judge's R&R [Doc. 56].

         II. Applicable Law

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A vehicle stop without articulable, reasonable suspicion violates an individual's Fourth Amendment rights. United States v. Wilson, 205 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2000). “As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996) (internal citations omitted). “Any ulterior motive [that] a police officer may have for making the traffic stop is irrelevant.” United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498, 506 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Whren, 517 U.S. at 810). Under the objective test adopted by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (“Fourth Circuit”), when a police officer observes unlawful conduct, such as a traffic offense, the police officer's subsequent traffic stop is reasonable for purposes of analysis under the Fourth Amendment; this is true regardless of any subjective motives or suspicions that the police officer may have regarding unrelated criminal activity by the occupants of the vehicle. United States v. Hassan El, 5 F.3d 726, 730-31 (4th Cir. 1993).

         The reasonableness of a traffic stop is analyzed under a two prong analysis. Id. (relying on Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)). The Court must analyze whether the police officer's conduct was justified at the time of the stop and whether the subsequent actions taken by the police officer were “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop.” Id. A police officer's observation of a traffic violation provides sufficient justification for detainment of “the offending vehicle for as long as it takes to perform the traditional incidents of a routine traffic stop.” Branch, 537 F.3d at 335 (internal citations omitted).

         Having a trained dog sniff the perimeter of a vehicle that has been lawfully stopped in a public space is not a search for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis. United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 707 (1983). However, an “alert” by a trained narcotics dog constitutes probable cause for a search. United States v. Jeffus, 22 F.3d 554, 557 (4th Cir. 1994). Such a canine sniff, even if the K-9 Unit is called to the scene of a routine traffic stop, is “constitutionally acceptable if performed within ‘the time reasonably required' to issue a traffic citation.” Branch, 537 F.3d at 335. The Fourth Circuit has specifically held that a fifteen minute time period between a traffic stop and a search of the vehicle based upon probable cause from an “alert” by a trained narcotics dog “[does] not constitute an unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Jeffus, 22 F.3d at 557.

         Under the “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, once probable cause to search a vehicle that is readily mobile has been established, police officers may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465 (1999). Such a warrantless search may be “as thorough as a magistrate judge could authorize in a warrant ‘particularly describing the place to be searched.'” United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. ...

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