United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER SUSTAINING IN PART
MILLER'S OBJECTIONS [DKT. NO. 37], ADOPTING IN PART AND
REJECTING IN PART THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [DKT. NO.
36], AND DENYING MILLER'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS [DKT. NO.
M. KEELEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
felon in possession case stems from a traffic stop conducted
on Route 7 in Sabraton, a community in Morgantown, West
Virginia. While working the midnight shift, Officer David W.
Helms (“Officer Helms”) of the Morgantown Police
Department observed a vehicle drive by with a defective tail
light. After initiating a traffic stop, Officer Helms
extended the length of the stop to deploy his K-9 partner,
Hunter, who alerted to the presence of drugs. The subsequent
search uncovered two firearms and digital scales, which
ultimately were connected to the defendant, Teresa Miller
(“Miller”), a convicted felon.
is Miller's motion to suppress this evidence, which she
claims was obtained in violation of her Fourth Amendment
rights. For the following reasons, the Court SUSTAINS
IN PART Miller's objections (Dkt. No. 37),
ADOPTS IN PART AND REJECTS IN
PART the magistrate judge's report and
recommendation (Dkt. No. 36), and DENIES
Miller's motion (Dkt. No. 22).
9, 2019, a grand jury sitting in the Northern District of
West Virginia returned a one-count indictment against Miller,
charging her with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2)
(Dkt. No. 1). After Miller moved to suppress the firearms and
other evidence on August 15, 2019 (Dkt. No. 22), the Court
then directed a response and referred the motion to the
Honorable Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Judge,
for initial review and report and recommendation
(“R&R”) (Dkt. Nos. 23, 28).
Judge Aloi conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion
(Dkt. No. 34), at which the Government presented the
testimony of Officer Helms (Dkt. No. 35). The facts adduced
at this hearing are summarized fully in the R&R, and the
Court has reviewed the evidence introduced during the hearing
and the audio recording of the hearing itself.
Report and Recommendation
September 4, 2019, Magistrate Judge Aloi recommended that the
Court deny Miller's motion to suppress (Dkt. No. 36). He
reasoned that, in light of the totality of the circumstances
and Officer Helms' extensive experience in drug
investigations and interdiction, Officer Helms had reasonable
suspicion to extend the length of the traffic stop beyond the
time necessary to issue the driver, Jennifer Phillips
(“Phillips”), a warning for a defective tail
light. Id. at 11-14. This was based on Phillips'
decision to come to a slow stop in a dark area in a known
drug corridor, her continuous and noticeable shaking, her
excessive chattiness, her nervous tapping on the driver's
side door, and the lack of eye contact by the passengers,
Joshua Tusing (“Tusing”) and Miller. Id.
objections, Miller challenges the R&R's reliance on
Officer Helms' experience and training, contending that
Magistrate Judge Aloi applied the wrong standard (Obj. No. 1)
and erred in finding certain facts supporting reasonable
suspicion to extend the traffic stop (Objs. Nos. 2-4) (Dkt.
No. 37). First, she contends Phillips was not
uncommonly nervous and did not chat excessively (Obj. No. 2).
Id. at 3-4. Second, she contends the behavior of the
occupants of the vehicle was not reasonably indicative of
suspicious activity (Obj. No. 3). Id. at 4-5.
Finally, she contends Phillips pulled her vehicle over in a
timely and safe manner (Obj. No. 4). Id. at 5-6.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
considering a magistrate judge's R&R pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court must review de novo those
portions to which objection is timely made. Otherwise,
“the Court may adopt, without explanation, any of the
magistrate judge's recommendations to which the
[defendant] does not object.” Dellacirprete v.
Gutierrez, 479 F.Supp.2d 600, 603-04 (N.D. W.Va. 2007)
(citing Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir.
1983)). Courts will uphold portions of a recommendation to
which no objection has been made unless they are
“clearly erroneous.” See Diamond v. Colonial
Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th
Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons . . . and effects . . . against
unreasonable . . . searches and seizures.” U.S. Const.
amend. IV. “Temporary detention of individuals during
the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a
brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a
‘seizure' of ‘persons' within the meaning
of this provision.” Whren v. United States,
517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996) (citations omitted). Therefore,
“[a]n automobile stop is . . . subject to the
constitutional imperative that it not be
‘unreasonable' under the circumstances.”
Id. at 810.
a traffic stop is more akin to an investigative detention
than a custodial arrest, [courts must] analyze the
constitutionality of such a stop under the two-prong standard
enunciated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct.
1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968).” United States v.
Williams, 808 F.3d 238, 245 (4th Cir. 2015); see
also Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614
(2015) (“[A] routine traffic stop is ‘more
analogous to a so-called “Terry stop” . . . than
to a formal arrest.'” (citations omitted)). The
Terry standard requires the Court to determine
whether (1) the traffic stop was justified at its inception
and (2) Officer Helm's “actions during the seizure
were ‘reasonably related in scope' to the basis for
the traffic stop.” Williams, 808 F.3d at 245
(citing United States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 875
(4th Cir. 1992)); see also United States v. Vaughn,
700 F.3d 705, 709 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing same).
first prong is satisfied whenever ‘it is lawful for
police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending
inquiry into a vehicular violation.'” United
States v. Bernard, 927 F.3d 799, 805 (4th Cir. 2019)
(quoting Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 327
(2009)). “The second prong is satisfied when the
seizure is limited to the length of time reasonably necessary
to issue the driver a citation and determine that the driver
is entitled to operate his vehicle.” Id.
(citing United States v. Branch, 537 F.3d 328, 337
(4th Cir. 2008)).
for the seizure  ends when tasks tied to the traffic
infraction are--or reasonably should have
been--completed.” Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1612
(citing United States v. Hill, 849 F.3d 195, 199
(4th Cir. 2017) [hereinafter Hill I] (“A
routine traffic stop becomes an unreasonable seizure when law
enforcement impermissibly exceeds the stop's scope or
duration.” (citations omitted)). “Ordinary tasks
incident to a traffic stop include ‘inspecting a
driver's identification and license to operate a vehicle,
verifying the registration of a vehicle and existing
insurance coverage, and determining whether the driver is
subject to ...