United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON JUDGE
the Court is the Motion to Suppress (Doc.
24) filed by Defendant, seeking the suppression of
evidence seized on January 8, 2018 during a traffic stop.
(Id. at 2). The United States filed a Response.
(Doc. 27). The Court held an evidentiary hearing. For the
following reasons the Motion to Suppress (Doc.
24) is DENIED.
arrest on January 8, 2018 fell at the intersection of two
distinct crimes - a burglary and traffic violations. Three
deputies from the East Baton Rouge Sheriffs Office, Deputy
Edward Wheeler, Deputy William Taylor, and Deputy Kevin
Johnson, testified at the evidentiary hearing regarding the
events of that day.
Wheeler testified that on January 8 at approximately noon,
East Baton Rouge Sheriffs Office deputies were dispatched to
21375 Carson Road in response to a burglary in progress.
(Doc. 26). The dispatcher warned that the burglary suspect
had escaped in a gray Ford Mustang and may have stolen a
firearm from the victim's residence. As Deputy Wheeler
drove in the direction of the burglary site, he allegedly
observed an oncoming vehicle that appeared to exceed the
speed limit. Approaching the vehicle, he noticed that it was
a gray Mustang with an expired inspection sticker. Deputy
Wheeler activated his patrol vehicle's emergency lights
and eventually the Mustang pulled into the parking lot of an
apartment complex. Defendant, the sole occupant of the
vehicle, exited and immediately strode into the apartment
complex. Deputy Wheeler testified that he did not follow
Defendant into the building alone because of the possibility
that Defendant may have possessed the stolen firearm and
that, because he was unaccompanied by other officers, an
encounter with Defendant under the circumstances posed an
unreasonable risk to his safety. Shortly thereafter however,
Defendant re-emerged from the apartment building with a
Louisiana identification in hand, which he presented to
Deputy Wheeler. The deputy cited Defendant for speeding and
driving with an expired inspection sticker. Deputy Wheeler
testified that he could not remember running the
vehicle's license plates through the DMV system to
ascertain the registered owner of the vehicle. At some point
during the stop, other deputies, including Deputy Taylor and
Deputy Johnson, arrived at the scene and assisted in the
three deputies testified that during the traffic stop they
observed, standing in the parking lot, a woman claiming to be
Defendant's sister and the owner of the Mustang. Both the
United States and Defendant admit that this woman's true
identity remains unverified. Deputy Wheeler testified that
the woman possessed the keys to the Mustang and that
Defendant identified her as his sister. Deputy Taylor
testified that the woman claimed to have moving boxes stored
inside the Mustang because she had recently moved into the
apartment building. The deputies asked the woman for her
consent to search the vehicle. Deputy Taylor and Deputy
Wheeler reportedly observed Defendant calling to the woman,
urging her not to give consent. Deputy Taylor testified that
at first, the woman refused. However, she eventually stated
that she did not want the vehicle to be towed and thereafter
consented to a search. All three deputies testified that they
witnessed the woman sign a consent form.
consent form and the identity of the woman who signed it
remain a subject of contention. The signature on the form
appears to be that of either a "Toya Wright" or
"Joyce Wright." U.S. Exhibit 1. The lack of clarity
in the handwriting renders it difficult to ascertain the
woman's first name. Id. The Mustang's
registration form identifies as the owner of the vehicle a
"Tina Wright." Defense Exhibit 1. It is unclear if
the woman who signed the consent form was indeed the
registered owner of the vehicle. Regardless, it is undisputed
that after she signed the form, deputies at the scene
searched the vehicle. The search revealed evidence that
Defendant now moves to suppress.
party has raised Defendant's standing to challenge the
legality of the search of the vehicle. The Court's own
review of the facts indicates that Defendant has standing to
seek the exclusion of the evidence. The United States Court
of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that where a
defendant is the sole and lawful occupant of a vehicle when
it is stopped and searched, he has standing to challenge the
validity of the search. U.S. v. Edwards, 577 F.2d
883, 892 (5th Cir. 1978). See also Byrd v.
United States 138 S.Ct. 1518, 1531 (2018) (finding that
a driver in lawful possession of a rental car, even if he is
not the authorized driver, has a reasonable expectation of
privacy in the vehicle). Here, Defendant was the sole
occupant of the vehicle at the time of the search, and as
such has standing to challenge the search.
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
"reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which
justified the interference in the first place."
traffic stop to be justified at its inception, an officer
must have "objectively reasonable suspicion" that
some sort of illegal activity, such as a traffic violation,
occurred or is about to occur before stopping the vehicle.
Id. The Court finds that Deputy Wheeler had
reasonable suspicion of illegal activity given that Defendant
both was speeding and driving a vehicle with an expired
officer's actions must also be reasonably related to the
circumstances that justified the stop. Here, Deputy
Wheeler's decision to pull over Defendant with the
intention of giving him a warning or ...