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United States v. Vance

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

June 6, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT J. VANCE DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress [DN 15] and Motion in Limine [DN 16]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision. For the following reasons, both of Defendant's Motions are DENIED.

         I. Background

         On December 17, 2015, Detective Ryan Whitford and Officer Patrick Lawrence were patrolling the high crime neighborhood of Portland in Louisville, Kentucky. While traveling down 29th Street, they observed an unattended van at the corner of 29th Street and Alford Avenue with its passenger door open. Across the street, they saw a tan 2002 Toyota Sequoia with the driver door ajar and an individual standing on the sidewalk outside the door. As they passed, the man next to the Toyota, later identified as Defendant Vance, gave them a “deer-in-the-headlights” look. Because vehicle thefts are common in this area and because the two officers believed he may have been breaking into vehicles, they decided to investigate further. The officers returned to where Vance was standing, and Lawrence attempted to engage Vance in conversation. At this time, Vance turned and ran down 29th Street into an alley. Lawrence pursued him on foot, and Vance tripped over a black object in the alleyway and fell.

         Lawrence secured Vance while Whitford further investigated the scene. Whitford observed that on the ground several feet from Vance lay a Chicago Bulls cap and a green Crown Royal bag with yellow seams. Whitford found that the green bag contained a Glock Model 21 .45 caliber pistol and a very large “rock” of crystal methamphetamine, which reportedly weighed 111.1 grams. However, no field test of this substance was conducted. Vance repeatedly denied that this bag belonged to him. He did, however, claim the Chicago Bulls hat.

         On Vance's neck was a chain with keys attached, one of which was a key that matched the 2002 Toyota Sequoia. Lawrence and Whitford arrested Vance and went back to Vance's Toyota, which was 50 to 60 feet away from the scene of arrest. There, a holster could be seen from outside of the vehicle. The door of the Toyota remained open after Vance was in custody, and the officers searched the vehicle. From the search, they discovered the holster that contained extra ammunition for a .45 caliber Glock-the same type of weapon located in the green bag- and drug paraphernalia.

         The owner of the van across the street confirmed that Vance was not breaking into his vehicle, but his vehicle's door was open because he was moving personal effects into his apartment. Lawrence and Whitford then transported Vance to the police station. The officers processed the evidence and completed the necessary attendant paperwork. The firearm, ammunition, and methamphetamine were entered into evidence. The substance recovered from the scene was later tested by the Kentucky State Police laboratory and the DEA laboratory in Chicago. Both tests concluded that the substance in question was indeed methamphetamine.

         II. Discussion

         Now before the Court is Vance's Motion to Suppress Evidence [DN 15], arguing police conducted an unlawful search and seizure, and Vance's Motion in Limine [DN 16], contending that gaps in the chain of custody of certain evidence render it inadmissible. The Court will address each Motion in turn.

         A. Motion to Suppress

         First, Vance claims that any evidence obtained directly or indirectly was the result of an illegal stop, arrest, and subsequent search and seizure of his vehicle. Vance states that the stop of his person was warrantless, not consensual, and not made with probable cause to believe or a valid reason to suspect that Vance had been, was, or was about to be engaged in criminal activity. Therefore, he argues that all fruits of this illegal stop, arrest, and search must be suppressed.

         The Fourth Amendment, which applies to the states through incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment, protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Ingram v. City of Columbus, 185 F.3d 579, 586 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV); see Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 654-57 (1961). This case requires the Court to determine whether, at that time Vance was seized, the officers had reasonable suspicion that he was engaging in criminal activity sufficient to justify an investigatory stop.

         A person is seized when an officer “by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained [his] liberty, ” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16 (1968), such that “in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave, ” Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 573 (1988). See United States v. Johnson, 620 F.3d 685, 690 (6th Cir. 2010). “A suspect is seized ‘within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment where an officer applies physical force to restrain [the] suspect or a show of authority . . . has in some way restrained the liberty of [the] citizen.'” United States v. Ray, 597 F. App'x 832, 837 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Jeter, 721 F.3d 746, 751-52 (6th Cir. 2013); Terry, 392 U.S. at 19 n. 16). If physical force or submission to the assertion of authority is absent, no seizure occurs. Id. (citing California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 626 (1991)). A seizure requires “a laying on of hands or application of physical force to restrain movement, even when it is ultimately unsuccessful. . . . [The Fourth Amendment] does not remotely apply, however, to the prospect of a policeman yelling ‘Stop, in the name of the law!' at a fleeing form that continues to flee. That is no seizure.” Hodari, 499 U.S. at 626; United States v. Logan, 526 F. App'x 498, 501 (6th Cir. 2013). It is, at most, an attempted one. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254 (2007).

         In this case, although the patrol cars converging on Vance and Officer Lawrence speaking to Vance[1] was certainly a show of authority on the part of the officers that could potentially amount to a seizure, Vance was not seized from the outset of the encounter because he did not submit to the show of authority. Instead, Vance immediately began to run on foot away from the stopped patrol car and the officers. See Logan, 526 F. App'x at 501. “[A]n individual must actually yield to the show of authority to be seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” Johnson, 620 F.3d at 690. As explained the Supreme Court in Brendlin, “one sitting in a chair may submit to authority by not getting up to run away.” Logan, 526 F. App'x at 501. Here, Vance did not remain near the car, and his decision to abruptly run ...


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