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United States v. Clark

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

August 14, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
EDUARDO ROJAS CLARK DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Facts, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (“R&R”) (DN 41) to Defendant's Motion to Suppress (DN 31). For the reasons outlined below, the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Facts, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (“R&R”) (DN 40) is ADOPTED, and Defendant's Objection is OVERRULED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The R&R sets forth the relevant facts in detail. The Court sees no need to recite those facts again and, therefore, incorporates them by reference. (R. & R. 2-6, DN 40).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598 (6th Cir. 2001), the Sixth Circuit articulated the proper standard of review for objections to a ruling or recommendation by a magistrate judge:

[Section] 636(b) creates two different standards of review for district courts when a magistrate court's finding is challenged in district court. A district court shall apply a “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard of review for the “nondispositive” preliminary measures of § 636(b)(1)(A). Conversely, “dispositive motions” excepted from § 636(b)(1)(A), such as motions for summary judgment or for the suppression of evidence, are governed by the de novo standard.

Id. at 603 (emphasis added) (internal citation omitted) (citation omitted). “When a [magistrate judge]'s findings and recommendations rest upon the evaluation of the credibility of a witness, the district court is not required to rehear the testimony in order to conduct a de novo determination of the issues.” United States v. Bermudez, No. 99-6097, 2000 WL 1871676, at *3 (6th Cir. Dec. 11, 2000) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980)). “Credibility determinations of the magistrate judge who personally listened to the testimony . . . should be accepted unless in [its] de novo review of the record [the district court] finds a reason to question the magistrate judge's assessment.” United States v. Johnson, No. 10-20176, 2011 WL 3844194, at *2 (W.D. Tenn. Aug. 30, 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge recommended the partial grant and the partial denial of Defendant Eduardo Rojas Clark's (“Clark”) Motion to Suppress. (R. & R. 23). In particular, the Magistrate Judge recommended suppressing any statement that Clark made to law enforcement during custodial detention after the completion of the traffic stop and prior to the issuance of a Miranda warning at the vehicle inspection facility. (R. & R. 16-18). The Magistrate Judge, however, concluded that: (i) there was probable cause for the traffic stop; (ii) the stop was not unconstitutionally extended; (iii) Texas State Trooper Robert Samuel Ben Dollar (“Trooper Dollar”) had no obligation to provide a Miranda warning relating to the routine questioning while he processed the traffic stop; (iv) Clark consented to the search of the vehicle; and (v) the officers gave Clark a Miranda warning at the vehicle inspection facility and any statements made subsequent to that warning are admissible. (R. & R. 7-16, 18-22).

         Clark objects to the R&R on the bases that: (i) Trooper Dollar did not have probable cause for the initial traffic stop; (ii) the drugs discovered during the search of the vehicle should be suppressed because of the suppression of the custodial interrogation; and (iii) Clark did not waive his Miranda rights at the vehicle inspection facility where the vehicle search occurred.[1](Def.'s Obj. 2-4). Each basis will be addressed below.

         A. Initial Traffic Stop

         Clark argues that Trooper Dollar did not have probable cause for the initial traffic stop. (Def.'s Obj. 3). “The Fourth Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth, generally prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.” United States v. Hollis, No. 5:14-70-DCR, 2014 WL 5471033, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 28, 2014). “‘An ordinary traffic stop by a police officer is a ‘seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth [and Fourteenth] Amendment[s].'” Id. (quoting United States v. Blair, 524 F.3d 740, 748 (6th Cir. 2008)). An officer may lawfully “stop a car when he has probable cause to believe that a civil traffic violation has occurred, or reasonable suspicion of an ongoing crime” United States v. Jackson, 682 F.3d 448, 453 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Blair, 524 F.3d at 748). “The probable cause determination requires a common sense, totality of the circumstances assessment of the basis for a seizure or search.” Hollis, 2014 WL 5471033, at *4. “Probable cause for a traffic stop is ‘a reasonable ground for belief, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion.'” Id. (quoting Blair, 524 F.3d at 748). A court must determine whether “‘the facts and circumstances within [the officers'] knowledge and of which [they] had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that' an offense has been or is being committed.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Hughes, 606 F.3d 311, 320 (6th Cir. 2010)). “Importantly, the probable cause standard is objective. ‘Subjective intentions play no role in probable cause Fourth Amendment analysis.'” Id. (quoting Schneider v. Franklin Cty., 288 F. App'x 247, 251 (6th Cir. 2008)).

         Clark maintains that Trooper Dollar misconstrued the Texas law-Section 545.157 of the Texas Transportation Code-upon which the stop was based, and as a result, the officer lacked probable cause for the traffic stop.[2] (Def.'s Obj. 3). In making this argument, Clark cites to Trooper Dollar's testimony early in the suppression hearing. (Def.'s Obj. 3 (quoting Suppression Hr'g Tr. 6:18-7:5, DN 38)). To the extent that there was any issue with Trooper Dollar's understanding or explanation of the statute, it was clarified during cross-examination. In response to a question posed by Clark's counsel, Trooper Dollar testified as follows:

Q. So the blue car there is supposed to be in the left-hand lane as it goes past your car; is that it?
A. Yes, sir, or slowed 20 below the posted limit.

         (Suppression Hr'g Tr. 26:24-27:1). In a subsequent colloquy, Trooper Dollar stated:

Q. Now, the statute that we are talking about here is-I think you talked about it. You have two choices. You can either-it says, β€œOn approaching a vehicle described in Subsection (a)”-which we will all agree is your car or your vehicle-you should β€œ(1) vacate the lane closest to the ...

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