United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Gerald Robinson Jr.’s
“Motion to Suppress All Evidence Obtained During
Vehicle Stop and Search.” Mot. to Suppress,
ECF No. 21. Defendant filed his Motion to Suppress on May 28,
2019, and the Government filed its Response on June 4, 2019.
Mot. to Suppress; Resp. to Mot. to Suppress, ECF No.
26. On June 10, 2019, the Court held a hearing on
Defendant’s Motion. See Hr’g Tr., ECF
No. 30. Corporal Kevin Williams and Sergeant L.J. Deskins,
two of the West Virginia State Police officers responsible
for the contested stop and search, testified at the hearing.
Consistent with the reasoning herein, the Court
DENIES Defendant’s motion.
April 13, 2017, several officers with the West Virginia State
Police were conducting routine surveillance at the
Huntington, West Virginia Greyhound Bus Station. Id.
at 3. The police were aware that individuals carrying illegal
drugs frequently come into Huntington on the bus from larger
cities, such as Detroit, known to be the source of drugs into
the area. Id. at 56. Observing from unmarked
vehicles, Sergeant L.J. Deskins and other officers observed a
bus from Detroit arrive at 6:00 a.m. and saw two male
passengers walk to a silver Mazda bearing Kentucky plates
that was waiting in the parking lot. Id. at
58–59. The officers were aware that the bus had
completed a stop in Ashland, Kentucky before arriving in
Huntington, and were curious why a car registered in Kentucky
would travel to West Virginia to pick up its passengers.
Id. at 20, 22.
officers, including Sergeant Deskins, decided to follow the
vehicle and radioed Corporal Kevin Williams and his K-9,
Feera, for assistance. Id. at 4, 59. At the time,
Corporal Williams and Feera were stationed in an unmarked
police cruiser in a business park near an entrance to
Interstate 64. Id. at 4. Corporal Williams used his
cruiser’s computer to check the registration on the
Mazda before he even began to follow it and discovered that
the vehicle was licensed in Kentucky to an owner in Ashland.
Id. at 30, 32. The suspect vehicle proceeded from
downtown at the bus station through a residential area toward
the interstate access ramp on Hal Greer Boulevard.
Id. at 4. Corporal Williams’ cruiser began
following the Mazda just before it turned to the right on the
west-bound entrance ramp. Id. As he was immediately
behind the Mazda, Corporal Williams observed that its
rear-window brake light failed to illuminate when the other
brake lights came on as the vehicle made its turn.
Id. at 5. Though he saw the broken light, he did not
immediately stop the Mazda, waiting to do so until it had
merged into interstate traffic and traveled some distance.
Id. He testified that he waited until there was more
space on the berm and he had reached a stretch of highway
where his cruiser and the stopped Mazda were more readily
seen by other traffic. Id. As Corporal Williams
recalled it, there were two or three other unmarked police
vehicles following him that also pulled over behind the
stopped car. Id. at 6. According to dispatch
records, the stop occurred at 6:07 a.m. Id. at 8.
Williams exited his vehicle and approached the passenger side
of the Mazda as Sergeant Deskins, from one of the other
police vehicles, approached the driver’s side.
Id. at 51, 61. The officers observed a driver, a
front seat passenger, and a male who was lying in the back
seat. Id. at 61. Sergeant Deskins asked for the
driver’s identification, registration, and insurance
certificate. Id. He also told the driver that the
Mazda was pulled over due to a defective brake light.
Id. Sergeant Deskins testified that the driver,
identified as Charles Cordle, produced his license and
Defendant’s license, saying Defendant had left it with
him on a prior occasion. Id. at 63. The passengers
were also asked to identify themselves and where they were
going. Id. at 62–64. The rear passenger, later
identified as Tevin Robinson, produced his Michigan
driver’s license and told Corporal Williams they were
going to visit a cousin. Id. at 9, 41. Defendant
Gerald Robinson- Tevin’s brother-was seated in the
front passenger seat. Id. at 71. Sergeant Deskins
asked the occupants why they were in a Kentucky vehicle, and
in particular why they had been picked up in Huntington only
to drive back to Kentucky, but received “no good
explanation for it.” Id. at 64. Increasingly
suspicious, Sergeant Deskins directed the occupants to exit
the vehicle because he considered this lack of explanation to
be a potential sign of drug-related travel. Id. at
65. The officers spread the occupants out along the guardrail
on the edge of the interstate, out of earshot of each other.
Id. at 65–66.
guardrail, Sergeant Deskins questioned each occupant
individually. Id. at 67–68. Tevin, the
rear-seat passenger, claimed they were going to visit a
cousin, James, in Marcum Terrace. Id. at 68.
Defendant likewise indicated that they were on their way to
visit a cousin named James, but that he lived in Guyandotte.
Id. In light of this discrepancy and the fact that
the Mazda had been heading toward Kentucky-away from both
locations the Robinsons had provided- Sergeant Deskins asked
Corporal Williams to deploy Feera to check for narcotics.
Id. at 68. Near the middle of the driver’s
side where the doors meet, the dog alerted and indicated that
she had detected narcotics. Id. at 47. In total, the
dog search took no more than two to three minutes.
Id. at 18.
placing the dog back in the cruiser at 6:18 a.m., the
officers searched inside the Mazda and found a black backpack
on the rear floor and a red one on the front passenger floor.
Id. at 13, 18. An inspection of the bags revealed
cocoa butter bottles containing oxycodone and Xanax.
Id. at 13–15. The Robinsons were subsequently
arrested. Id. at 15. Cordle, the driver, was
permitted to leave the scene without receiving a citation.
Id. at 36. Once the occupants provided what the
officers characterized to be conflicting explanations of
their intended destination, the defective brake light was
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. “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” the Fourth Amendment. Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996). It is thus firmly
established that “[a]n automobile stop is . . . subject
to the constitutional imperative that it not be
‘unreasonable’ under the circumstances.”
United States v. Branch, 537 F.3d 328, 335 (4th Cir.
“a traffic stop is more akin to an investigative
detention than a custodial arrest, [the Court must] analyze
the constitutionality of such a stop under the two-prong
standard enunciated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1
(1968).” United States v. Wiliams, 808 F.3d
238, 245 (4th Cir. 2015). Importantly, “the lawfulness
of a Terry stop turns not on the officer’s
actual state of mind at the time the challenged action was
taken, but rather on an objective assessment of the
officer’s actions.” Branch, 537 F.3d at
337 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Indeed,
well-settled precedent “forecloses[s] any argument that
the constitutional reasonableness of traffic stops depends on
the actual motivations of the individual officers
involved.” Whren, 517 U.S. at 813.
to this objective standard, the Court must first determine
“whether the officer’s reason for the traffic
stop was legitimate.” Id. (citing United
States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 875 (4th Cir. 1992)).
This first inquiry 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). Notably,
“[i]f a police officer observes a traffic
violation”-no matter how minor or apparently
pretextual-“he is justified in stopping [a]
vehicle.” Branch, 537 F.3d at 337.
initial stop is legitimate, the Court turns to the second
prong of the Terry test and will “examine
whether the officer’s actions during the seizure were
reasonably related in scope to the basis for the traffic
stop.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
This 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.” Bernard, 927 F.3d at 805.
“Authority for the seizure ends when tasks tied to the
traffic infraction are-or reasonably should have been-
completed.” Rodriguez v. United States, 135
S.Ct. 1609, 1612 (2015). Tasks incident to a traffic
infraction 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
outstanding warrants.” United States v. Hill,
852 F.3d 377, 382 (4th Cir. 2017). Moreover, officers may
request the identifications of any passengers in a stopped
vehicle in order to “gain [their] bearings and . . .
acquire a fair understanding of the surrounding scene.”
United States v. Soriano-Jarquin, 492 F.3d 495, 500
(4th Cir. 2007). Officers may also order a vehicle’s
driver and passengers to step out of the car pending
completion of the stop. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434
U.S. 106, 110 (1997); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S.
408, 414–15 (1997).
an otherwise lawful traffic stop, “[a]n officer . . .
may conduct certain unrelated checks” that do not stem
directly from the traffic infraction in question.
Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1615. Such unrelated checks
may include dog sniffs. See Id . at 1615
(distinguishing dog sniffs from routine traffic safety
measures). While an officer may perform certain unrelated
checks during the course of a routine traffic stop, “he
may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop.”
Id. Even a de minimis extension of a stop
violates the Fourth Amendment. Hill, 852 F.3d at
381. Put more succinctly: once a “driver has
demonstrated that he is ...