United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Am Senior U.S. District Judge
matter is before the Court upon Defendant Joshua Kelley
Pyles's Motion to Suppress [DE 23], which co-Defendants
Jason Whitis and Robbie Neal Whitis have joined [DE 25, 28,
32]. Defendants seek to exclude evidence of firearms and
methamphetamine discovered by Kentucky State Police during a
traffic stop in April 2017. The United States submitted a
Response [DE 27], and Defendants filed their Reply [DE 33],
making the Motion ripe for the Court's review. On July
19, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing, during which
the United States presented testimony from KSP Trooper Brad
Ramsey whom Defendants cross-examined. Defendants offered no
evidence. At the close of the hearing, the Court orally
denied the Motion. This Memorandum Opinion and Order
supplements the Court's oral ruling.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
April 26, 2017, Trooper Ramsey was conducting radar
surveillance of eastbound traffic on I-64 in Fayette County.
He had parked his unmarked car in the median facing west. At
about 3:15 p.m., he observed a 1999 gold Mazda 626 traveling
east at 63 miles per hour in a zone with a speed limit of 70
miles per hour, much slower than other vehicles. As the
vehicle passed him, he saw two men sitting in front. They
seemed tense and avoided eye contact with Trooper Ramsey. He
also spotted a third person in the back seat, but did not
observe whether that individual was male or female.
Ramsey drove onto I-64 and followed the Mazda for a few
miles, running its license plate number through the Law
Enforcement Information Network of Kentucky
(“LINK”)/NCIC database. The database revealed
that the vehicle was registered to a woman named Angela
Burdine, who had an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to
appear and failure to produce an insurance card in Kentucky.
He initiated an investigatory traffic stop near the
convergence of I-64 and I-75 in Lexington.
Ramsey approached the passenger side of the vehicle, rapping
on the rear passenger-side window as he did so. He observed
Pyles, who was sitting in the rear passenger seat, attempting
to hide something under a pile of clothes in the seat next to
him. Pyles rolled down the window in response to the knock,
whereupon Trooper Ramsey detected the smell of marijuana. He
secured the Mazda and called for backup.
Trooper Ramsey asked all three men for identification. Robbie
Neal Whitis, who was driving the vehicle, complied with the
request. When Trooper Ramsey asked the other occupants for
identification, he noticed that Robbie Whitis began moving
around in the front seat and concealing his hands in his
shirtsleeves. Trooper Ramsey ordered Robbie Whitis to place
his hands on the steering wheel, and again he complied. Pyles
then provided identification. Jason Whitis stated that he did
not have any identification on his person, and proceeded to
give Trooper Ramsey a Social Security number and date of
birth that proved to be false. He also confirmed that the
vehicle belonged to his girlfriend, Angela Burdine.
thereafter, Troopers Brian Smith and Joshua Giles arrived on
the scene. Trooper Ramsey removed Pyles from the vehicle,
while Trooper Smith dealt with Jason Whitis. Trooper Giles
asked Robbie Whitis to step out of the vehicle. When he
complied, Trooper Giles noticed that he had a gun on his
person and disarmed him. The troopers searched the three men
and found nothing, then searched the vehicle. They discovered
a Wal-Mart bag under the front seat that contained fresh
marijuana. Under a pile of clothes in the back seat, they
found a weapon and more marijuana. There was also a small bag
in the back seat that held burnt roaches and marijuana
cigarettes. The trunk contained a Nike shoe box with a
grocery sack inside. The troopers found a small, clear
plastic bag of methamphetamine in the grocery sack.
25, 2017, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment against
all three Defendants for conspiracy to distribute
methamphetamine. [DE 9]. Pyles and Robbie Neal Whitis were
also indicted on charges of possession of a firearm in
furtherance of drug trafficking. [Id.]. The instant
Motion to Suppress followed shortly thereafter. In their
Motion, Defendants argue that Trooper Ramsey did not have
reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop and, thus,
all evidence discovered as a result of that search should be
excluded as fruit of the poisonous tree.
Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable searches and
seizures' by the Government, and its protections extend
to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall
short of traditional arrest.” United States v.
Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing Terry v.
Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 9 (1968)). “Because the balance
between the public interest and the individual's right to
personal security tilts in favor of a standard less than
probable cause in such cases, the Fourth Amendment is
satisfied if the officer's action is supported by
reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity may be
afoot.” Id. (internal citations and quotations
omitted); see also United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S.
411, 417 (1981) (“An investigatory stop must be
justified by some objective manifestation that the person
stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal
“make reasonable-suspicion determinations, …
[courts] must look at the ‘totality of the
circumstances' of each case to see whether the detaining
officer has a ‘particularized and objective basis'
for suspecting legal wrongdoing.” Arvizu, 534
U.S. at 273 (quoting Cortez, 449 U.S. at 417).
“This process allows officers to draw on their own
experience and specialized training to make inferences from
and deductions about the cumulative information available to
them that ‘might well elude an untrained
person.'” Id. (quoting Cortez,
449 U.S. at 417). This standard is “less demanding than
that for probable cause, ” and “considerably less
than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the
evidence.” United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S.
1, 7 (1989). ...