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United States v. Richard

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

July 24, 2019


          CAIN JUDGE



         Before the court is a Motion to Suppress [doc. 20] filed by defendant Eric J. Richard. Through this motion he seeks to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his vehicle. An evidentiary hearing on the motion was held before the undersigned on June 11, 2019. Doc. 24. The government elicited testimony from Troopers Luke Leger and Chet Moseley and video footage [doc. 25] from Trooper Leger's dash camera. Doc. 26. For the reasons stated below, we RECOMMEND that the Motion to Suppress [doc. 20] be DENIED.



         Evidence adduced at the hearing indicates that on October 25, 2017, Louisiana State Police Trooper Luke Leger stopped the defendant, Eric J. Richard, while traveling eastbound on Interstate 10 near the border between Louisiana and Texas. Trooper Leger stated that he initiated the traffic stop because Richard was following another vehicle too closely and Richard's license plate was obscured. After activating his emergency lights, Trooper Leger pulled over Richard's vehicle. Trooper Leger checked the vehicle's license plate on a computer system that tracks vehicles as they cross the border between Louisiana and Texas on Interstate 10. This check returned results showing that Richard's vehicle crossed the border into Texas earlier that day and crossed into Louisiana a short time prior to the stop.

         According to testimony elicited at the hearing, Richard exited his vehicle after the stop and began to walk towards Trooper Leger's patrol car. Doc. 26, Att. 1. Trooper Leger and Richard then shook hands at which point Trooper Leger noted Richard's hand felt “clammy.” Trooper Leger informed Richard that he stopped his vehicle because Richard was following a flatbed truck too closely and the license plate on his vehicle was obstructed. After asking for Richard's driver's license, Trooper Leger asked Richard where he was coming from and Richard responded he had left his place of work in Vinton. Richard told Leger that he worked for “Global” and that Global is “an energy . . . a light company.” Trooper Leger asked for the vehicle's documentation and they returned to the vehicle to retrieve the vehicle's documentation. Richard did not have the registration and only provided the vehicle's title. Trooper Leger then asked Richard who owned the vehicle, to which Richard answered that it belonged to a dealership which he owned. When asked whether he worked at dealership full time, Richard claimed that he did not.

         Trooper Leger next asked Richard about his prior criminal history at which point he noticed Richard's carotid artery begin to rapidly pulsate. He then asked if Richard had any guns or illegal narcotics in the car to which Richard responded that he did not. Leger then asked Richard for permission to look inside of the car to which Richard agreed. He looked through one of the vehicle's windows with his flashlight and noticed a black duffel bag on the rear floorboard. Trooper Leger then questioned Richard about the duffel bag to which Richard initially failed to respond. Later, Richard stated that the duffel bag contained work clothes and agreed to allow Trooper Leger to look inside of it. While Richard was opening the bag, Trooper Leger noticed that Richard was shaking. According to the trooper's testimony, Richard manipulated the contents of the bag such that Leger believed that defendant was attempting to mask or cover something up in the bottom of the bag.

         While Richard was opening the bag, Trooper Leger questioned Richard about the contents of the bag, namely, whether it contained a gun. Richard continued to assert that the bag only contained work clothes. Leger then took the bag from Richard and set it on the trunk. After continuing to question Richard about the bag, Leger placed the bag back inside of Richard's vehicle and instructed Richard to stay away from the bag. The trooper testified the bag felt heavy to him, as though there might be a gun inside the bag.

         Trooper Leger called for a canine unit due to his suspicion, founded on the defendant's behavior to that point, that the duffel bag contained a gun or narcotics. After calling for a canine unit, Leger called for a criminal history search on Richard. Before the criminal history search was completed, the canine unit arrived and Trooper Leger informed Richard that the canine was going to “sniff around the vehicle.” Trooper Moseley testified that the canine's sniff yielded a positive alert, after which, Trooper Leger searched the vehicle and the duffel bag where he found a kilogram of cocaine. Richard was subsequently arrested and indicted by a grand jury for possession with intent to distribute cocaine.


         Law & Application

         A. Legal Authority

         The Fourth Amendment's protection of “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” includes “vehicle stops and temporary detainment of a vehicle's occupants.” U.S. Const. amend. IV; U.S. v. Andres, 703 F.3d 828, 832 (5th Cir. 2013). The constitutionality of a traffic stop is analyzed under the two part framework promulgated by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Terry test requires courts to “determine whether the stop was justified at its inception, ” and, if so, “whether the officer's subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop of the vehicle in the first place.” Andres, 703 F.3d at 832 (quoting United States v. Macias, 658 F.3d 509, 517 (5th Cir. 2011)). An analysis of a traffic stop under Terry also mandates that “courts . . . allow law enforcement officers to draw on their ...

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