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United States v. Wright

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

October 12, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KIONTA WRIGHT

          RULING AND ORDER

          JUDGE BRIAN A. JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA.

         Before the Court is the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 16) filed by Defendant, seeking the suppression of statements made and evidence seized during a traffic stop that occurred on July 5, 2017. (Id. at 2). The United States filed a Response. (Doc. 20). On August 16, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. For the reasons herein described, the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 16) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 5, 2016 East Baton Rouge Sheriffs Office Deputies Jared Wilson and Michael Fontenot were on patrol in a marked police vehicle as part of the Special Community Anti-Crime Team ("SCAT'). According to the United States, SCAT's goal is to eliminate street-level narcotics, prostitution and gang-related crimes, and its officers regularly patrol certain areas of the city to search for evidence of such crimes. Deputy Wilson and Deputy Fontenot testified that on July 5, 2016, they spotted a black Toyota Camry approaching from the opposite direction. Deputy Wilson, who was driving the marked police vehicle, testified that he observed a crack in the windshield on the driver's side of the Camry, which he believed to be a violation of Louisiana Revised Statutes § 32.282. Deputy Wilson made a U-turn to stop the Camry, but it disappeared from view. The deputies testified that they drove for several blocks searching for the Camry before spotting it again. They followed the Camry, activated the emergency lights, and came up behind the vehicle as it pulled into a parking lot.

         Video evidence showed that Deputy Wilson approached the driver's side of the Camry while Deputy Fontenot approached the passenger's side. Tamond Brown, who is not a party to these proceedings, sat in the driver's seat and Defendant sat in the passenger's seat. Deputy Wilson and Deputy Fontenot both testified that as they reached the Camry, they smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle's windows.

         Deputy Wilson testified that he immediately communicated the purpose of the stop to Mr. Brown and asked for his license, registration and insurance information. The deputies then instructed both Mr. Brown and Defendant to exit the Camry and place their hands on the roof of the vehicle. Both deputies testified that they decided to conduct a pat down search of Mr. Brown and Defendant because of the smell of marijuana and because of the two individuals' nervous reactions, particularly Defendant's. Specifically, both deputies testified that Defendant immediately threw his hands in the air as the officers approached the vehicle and was trembling and sweating throughout the course of the traffic stop. It is undisputed that the deputies did not discover contraband or evidence during these pat down searches.

         Video evidence shows that Deputy Wilson then conducted a search of the vehicle for evidence of marijuana. During this search, Deputy Wilson discovered a Glock Model 27 .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun, equipped with an extended 22 round magazine and loaded with seventeen rounds of ammunition, beneath the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Deputy Wilson testified that at some point, Defendant confessed that the gun belonged to him. The deputies then placed Mr. Brown and Defendant in the back of the police vehicle. The deputies ran Defendant's name through their computer system and discovered that he had previously been convicted of armed robbery. Ultimately, the deputies did not discover any evidence of marijuana in the Camry. Defendant was charged in a one-count indictment with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Suppression of Defendant's Statements

         Defendant seeks to suppress any statements he made on the date of his arrest, to include shaking his head up and down to indicate "yes" when Deputy Wilson inquired if the firearm belonged to him. (Doc. 25 at pp. 2-3). The United States has asserted that it will not seek to introduce any statements made by Defendant on the date of his arrest. (Id.). Accordingly, the portion of Defendant's motion to suppress seeking the suppression of his statements, at trial, is denied as moot.

         B. Suppression of Evidence Discovered in Vehicle

         Generally, "[t]he proponent of a motion to suppress has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, that the evidence in question was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights." United States v. Turner, 839 F.2d 429, 432 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Smith, 978 F.2d 171, 176 (5th Cir. 1992)). However, in cases where a warrantless search occurs, the United States bears the burden of proving that the search was valid. United States v. Waldrop, 404 F.3d 365, 368 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Castro, 166 F.3d 728, 733 (5th Cir. 1999)). It is undisputed that the deputies did not have a warrant to search the vehicle in this case; thus, the Government bears the burden of proving that the search of the vehicle satisfies the constitutional standards.

         I. Initial Stop of the Vehicle

          The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that the legality of a traffic stop is determined through a two-tiered reasonable suspicion inquiry. First a determination must be made as to whether the officer's action was "justified at its inception." United States v. Lopez-Moreno,420 F.3d 420, 430 (5th Cir. 2005). Second a determination must be made as to whether the actions of the officer were ...


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