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United States v. Willis

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

September 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTOPHER DONTA WILLIS (01)

          HICKS JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Mark L. Hornsby U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Introduction

         Christopher Donta Willis (“Defendant”) was charged by indictment with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, unlawful transport of firearms, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. Doc. 54. The charges arise out of a traffic stop for following too closely. As a result of the stop, Louisiana state troopers discovered methamphetamine in Defendant's jacket pocket and in his vehicle. Defendant's home was then searched, and the troopers discovered additional drugs and a firearm.

         Before the court is Defendant's First Motion to Suppress (Doc. 53). Defendant argues that (1) the state trooper did not have objectively reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop, and (2) La. R.S. 32:81 (Following vehicles) is unconstitutionally vague. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Defendant's motion be denied.

         Relevant Facts

         A hearing was held on the motion to suppress, and the following facts were established. Matthew Titus, a trooper with the Louisiana State Police, received information from the DEA Task Force regarding possible narcotics trafficking. Agents told Trooper Titus that someone in a gray Chrysler 300 was suspected of transporting and selling narcotics, and the Chrysler was leaving a location off of Benton Road. Tr. 17-19. Trooper Titus saw the suspect car traveling south on Airline Drive. The posted speed limit in the area was 35 miles per hour, and traffic was “pretty thick.” Tr. 5-6.

         The Chrysler was driving approximately 35 miles per hour and was less than a car length away from the pickup truck in front of it. Trooper Titus testified that, based on his training and experience, the car should have been at least two-and-a-half to three car lengths behind the truck. At that time, the two vehicles were traveling toward a light that had turned yellow. The pickup truck went through the intersection, and the Chrysler stopped at the light. Trooper Titus testified that, if the driver of the pickup truck had hit his brakes forcibly to stop at the light, the Chrysler could have rear-ended him. Tr. 7-8.

         Trooper Titus initiated his lights to stop the Chrysler for following too closely. Tr. 8. When he activated his lights, his dash camera began recording; however, the camera did not record the initial traffic violation.[1] Tr. 10.

         Trooper Titus made contact with Defendant, who was driving the Chrysler, and Jamal Walker, who was in the passenger seat. When Trooper Titus asked for Defendant's driver's license, he noticed that Defendant's hands were trembling and that defendant was constantly breaking eye contact. Tr. 11. Trooper Titus noticed that Walker's hands were also shaking. Tr. 12.

         Trooper Titus conducted a pat-down of Defendant. During the pat-down, he felt “a round-type bag that felt like narcotics” in Defendant's sweatshirt pocket. Defendant and Walker then fled on foot. Tr. 12-13. As Walker fled, he dropped his jacket. Defendant and Walker were both eventually captured and arrested. Tr. 15. Narcotics detectives located approximately 116.4 grams of suspected methamphetamine inside Defendant's sweatshirt pocket. They also found approximately 35.9 grams of suspected methamphetamine in Walker's pants pocket. Tr. 15.

         Trooper Titus put Walker's jacket back inside the Chrysler. He then deployed his K-9 on the vehicle. The dog alerted on the car, and Trooper Titus searched the vehicle. He found approximately 62.8 grams of suspected methamphetamine in Walker's jacket pocket. Tr. 15-16.

         Law and Analysis

         A. ...


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