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United States v. Wilbon

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

February 2, 2018





         Before the court is a Motion to Suppress [doc. 29] filed by defendant Marva Flenory. Through this motion she seeks to suppress statements and physical evidence arising from a vehicle stop. Her codefendant, Joseph Wilbon, adopts the motion. Docs. 42, 43. A hearing was held on this matter before the undersigned on August 17, 2017, after which the parties submitted additional memoranda on a new basis for suppression. Doc. 52; see docs. 53, 54, 57.

         After receiving that briefing we issued an initial Report and Recommendation [doc. 58], recommending that the motion be denied. Flenory and Wilbon both filed objections to that report and recommendation. Docs. 59, 60. The case was subsequently reassigned to Chief Judge S. Maurice Hicks, Jr., who issued an order referring the Report and Recommendation to us for additional consideration. Doc. 63.

         Based on Chief Judge Hicks's order, we have considered the defendants' objections and reviewed the briefing and hearing transcript already filed in this matter. For reasons stated below, we RECOMMEND that the Motion to Suppress [doc. 29, 43] be DENIED.



         Defendants Flenory and Wilbon are each charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and aiding and abetting each other in same, a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Doc. 14. Both the charges and the Motion to Suppress relate to a traffic stop that occurred on June 8, 2016. Id.; see doc. 58, pp. 1-5 (background section of initial report and recommendation). On that date, at around 8:30 in the morning, Louisiana State Trooper Chris Hill, who was on proactive patrol, saw a vehicle with Pennsylvania plates traveling eastbound on I-10 near Lake Charles, Louisiana. Doc. 29, att. 2, p. 5. He initiated a stop after witnessing the vehicle fail to maintain its lane. Id.

         After pulling the vehicle over Hill talked to the occupants, Wilbon and Flenory, for a few minutes. During this time Wilbon stood outside of the vehicle while Flenory remained in the passenger seat. Flenory offered Hill details about her job that he did not ask for and Wilbon attempted to give him his medical card, required of commercial truck drivers, even though he was not driving a commercial vehicle. See doc. 29, att. 3, at 1:00-3:50. They also told him, separately, about their travels - agreeing that they were traveling from Houston back home to Pennsylvania after a visit with Wilbon's cousin, but providing different dates, over a week apart, when asked when they had arrived in Houston. Id.; doc. 52, pp. 18-19. Additionally, Flenory stated that they planned to stop in New Orleans, a fact Wilbon failed to mention, but she did not have an immediate answer about whether they would spend the night. Doc. 29, att. 3, 2:43; see doc. 52, pp. 11-13, 17-18.

         Hill returned to his vehicle to run checks of the defendants' licenses and vehicle. See doc. 29, att. 3, 4:00. He then walked back to Wilbon and asked him again about his travel plans. Id. at 13:14. Wilbon confirmed that he had been visiting his cousin and had arrived on Saturday. Id. When Hill asked why Flenory had stated that they arrived on Thursday, Wilbon gave an inaudible response recorded in Hill's report as stating that “she did not know what she was talking about.” Id. at 13:30; doc. 29, att. 2, p. 6.

         Hill returned to his vehicle again to receive the results of his checks. He was told over the radio that Wilbon had a lengthy arrest history, including, among others, multiple drug charges, theft, and weapons charges, with the last occurrence being a burglary arrest in 2014. Doc. 29, att. 3, 16:30. He was also told that Flenory's history included multiple arrests, though none explicitly related to drug activity, with the last listed in 2006. Id. at 17:08. Otherwise, the checks were clear, indicating no active warrants, Be On the Lookouts, or indications that the vehicle was stolen. See Id. at 17:22.

         Hill then returned to the couple and asked Wilbon to sign a consent to search the vehicle, citing the inconsistencies in their stories as basis for his suspicions. Id. at 21:34. Wilbon declined to give consent. Id. at 23:08. Hill asked Flenory to step out of the vehicle and informed them that a K-9 unit would be coming to search for drugs and that their consent was not required for this search. Id. at 23:55; see doc. 29, att. 2, p. 6. The K-9 sniff gave a positive alert to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle and a search then revealed six “brick like” packages inside a suitcase, with the packages containing approximately 15.96 pounds of suspected cocaine. Doc. 29, att. 2, pp. 6- 7; see doc. 29, att. 3, 28:03. Wilbon and Flenory were handcuffed at the scene and placed under arrest. Doc. 29, att. 2, p. 6; doc. 29, att. 3, 39:30. By her own admission in this motion, Flenory made several incriminating statements while in custody. Doc. 29, att. 1, p. 4.

         Flenory filed the instant motion to suppress, adopted by Wilbon. She argues that the traffic stop exceeded the limits imposed by the Fourth Amendment, and that the physical evidence and statements resulting from that stop should thus be excluded from trial. Doc. 29, att. 1.

         A hearing was held on this motion before the undersigned, at which Hill testified. Doc. 52. There he noted other factors, aside from those listed in his report, which had contributed to his suspicions. These included his experience working for the state police and knowledge of I-10 from Houston as a drug-trafficking corridor[1], his determination that I-10 did not provide the most direct route back to Pennsylvania from Houston; his belief that a five-day stay, based on Wilbon's account, meant a quick turnaround on a twenty-plus hour road trip; Wilbon's hesitation at naming where his cousin lived; and the fact that Flenory stated they were stopping in New Orleans, which Wilbon did not mention, but did not have an immediate answer as to whether they would stay the night. Id. at 11-13, 17-18, 27. Hill also noted that, as he began to walk away from Flenory, she attempted to continue the conversation by offering him more details. Id. at 19. Hill stated that, based on his training and experience, it was suspicious for people to offer him information that he did not ask for and that he believed that ...

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