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United States v. Miles

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

March 19, 2018

TREYVON MILES, et al., Defendants.


          Colin Lindsay, Magistrate Judge

         Defendants Treyvon Miles, Chillvon Randolph, and Marcus Knight have filed motions to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop that occurred on November 27, 2016. (DN 25; DN 33.) This matter was referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation on October 11, 2017. (DN 36.) The Court held hearings on November 6, 2017 and December 14, 2017, whereupon evidence was presented and witnesses were heard. For the reasons stated below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that defendants' motions to suppress be DENIED.

         I. Statement of Facts

         A. Detective Ryan Whitford

         Ryan Whitford, a detective with the Ninth Mobile Division[1] (“Ninth Mobile”) of the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”), testified that while on patrol on November 27, 2016, he observed a silver Cadillac “disregard a stop sign.” (DN 39, #103.) Prior to witnessing the silver Cadillac disregard the stop sign, other Ninth Mobile officers had told him via radio that they had seen a “fast-moving vehicle” run stop signs, and that the vehicle was headed in his direction. (Id.) With the help of other Ninth Mobile officers, Detective Whitford and his partner stopped the silver Cadillac, and based on their “normal practice, ” ordered the occupants out of the vehicle. (Id. at 106.) Detective Whitford stated that during traffic stops, he usually orders the occupants out of the vehicle because of the heightened risk of violence that often accompanies his patrols. (Id.) After extracting the four occupants from their vehicle - three of whom turned out to be defendants Knight, Randolph, and Miles - Detective Whitford and the other officers on the scene patted them down for weapons and found none. (Id. at 108.) Detective Whitford was denied consent after asking to search the vehicle, but because the Ninth Mobile's K9 unit was “on hand, ” he had the police dog “[run] around the vehicle.” (Id.) While the police K9 was sniffing around the vehicle's exterior, he “indicated with great excitement” on the driver's side door, and did so again on the glove compartment. (Id. at 108-09.) Upon investigating the glove compartment, Detective Whitford noticed that it had been “disabled, ” and he could not open it by using the handle. (Id. at 109.) He eventually figured out how to open it by using a screwdriver he found beneath the glove compartment, and when he opened it, he found four handguns. (Id.)

         B. Detective Brian Wilson

         Brian Wilson, another detective with Ninth Mobile, testified that on November 27, 2016, he observed a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed “blow through the intersection” that he and his partner were stopped at. (DN 42, #196.) Having to “accelerate pretty heavily” to keep up with the vehicle, Detective Wilson followed the speeding car and watched as it “disregarded [a] stop sign.” (Id.) He stated that after following the car for a short time and seeing it fail to stop at multiple stop signs, he had to “accelerat[e] pretty much as hard as [the] car [would] go” to keep up with the speeding vehicle. (Id. at 197.) Detective Wilson watched as the car pulled into a nearly-empty gas station parking lot but parked far away from the entrance, a decision he found strange. (Id.) As he drove past the gas station and parked a short distance away, Detective Wilson saw three people huddled around the front passenger's door; he also saw someone seated in the front passenger's side. (Id.)

         Detective Wilson stated that while he had been following the car, he had been relating information about the car's movements to other nearby Ninth Mobile officers. (DN 42, #198- 99.) With the help of other officers, including Detective Whitford, Detective Wilson and his partner pulled the vehicle over, but not before seeing it disregard at least one more stop sign. (Id. at 200-01.) He had previously noticed that the car's license plate was not properly illuminated, which had make it difficult for him to read it and check to see if there were any issues with the car. (Id. at 204.) Approximately thirty seconds after stopping the vehicle, the K9 unit assigned to Ninth Mobile arrived on the scene. (Id. at 206.) After the police K9 made an indication while walking around the vehicle and again on the locked glove compartment, Detective Whitford successfully opened the locked container. (Id. at 207.) Inside, Detective Wilson saw four handguns, one of which turned out to have been stolen from Indiana. (Id. 208.)

         C. Detective Todd Benzing

         Todd Benzing, a detective and dog handler with the Ninth Mobile, also testified at the hearing. (DN 42, #253.) His K9 partner, a Belgian Malinois named Maverick, is a narcotics dog trained to find marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and other opiate derivatives. (Id. at 254-55.) Detective Benzing stated that once Maverick detects one of odors he is trained to find, he “shows a change in behavior, ” which usually manifests as the K9 sitting down and staring at where the odor is emanating from. (Id. at 255-56.) Maverick is certified every year by the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (“KLEC”), and to be certified to search vehicles, he must pass a test wherein he must locate narcotics located in six vehicles while not giving a false positive on any of the four empty vehicles. (Id. at 256.) If Maverick alerts on any one of the vehicles without narcotics, he automatically fails the test. (Id. at 277.) Aside from their regular four hours of training per week with the K9 unit, Detective Benzing and Maverick informally train in the office, where other detectives place scented hides around the office, and Maverick attempts to find them. (Id. at 257.) Detective Benzing stated that “from time to time, ” Maverick indicates an odor but the officers do not find any narcotics. (Id. at 258.) He explained that the reason for a false indication is because that the residual odor for some drugs, such as marijuana, are strong and often linger in certain objects, such as paper currency and guns. (Id.) Regarding guns in particular, Detective Benzing stated that the textured grips found on most guns retain narcotics odors. (Id. at 259.)

         On November 27, 2016, Detective Benzing and Maverick were working with the Ninth Mobile when they assisted in a traffic stop. (DN 42, #265.) As members of the Ninth Mobile, Detective Benzing and Maverick usually shadow the other detectives as they patrol an area, acting as an “auxiliary car or backup car.” (Id. at 257.) After arriving on the scene of the traffic stop, Detective Benzing deployed Maverick to sniff around the car, and the K9 “indicated almost immediately on the [driver's front] door.” (Id. at 265.) He found this behavior to be unusual because he typically would have to “run [Maverick] around a car at least once” before the police dog would indicate, if he did at all. (Id. at 267-68.) Believing that he had established probable cause to search the rest of the vehicle, Detective Benzing opened the door, where after Maverick “went straight to the glove box” and “gave [him] a second indication.” (Id. at 265-66.) After defendants were detained and the guns found in the glove compartment laid out on the car's trunk, Maverick once again indicated on them. (Id. at 271.)

         II. Summary of Law

         The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Supreme Court has stated that “searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by a judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment - subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338 (2009). The government implies that one of the few exceptions - the automobile exception - is applicable in this case. (DN 47, #325.) The automobile exception allows law enforcement officers to lawfully search a vehicle without a search warrant if the vehicle is readily mobile and the officers have probable cause to believe that it contains contraband. Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940 (1996). Probable cause has been defined in this circuit as “reasonable grounds for belief, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion, and is found to exist when there is a fair probability that evidence of a crime will be located on the premises of the proposed search.” U.S. v. Jackson, 470 F.3d 299, 306 (6th Cir. 2006).

         III. Analysis

         Because the government has relied on the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, for the undersigned to find that the search was constitutional, the government must demonstrate that (1) the officers conducted a lawful traffic stop supported by reasonable suspicion, and (2) they had probable cause to believe that defendants' vehicle contained contraband. U.S. v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 823 (1982). Defendants have made numerous arguments that attempt to undermine the government's justification of probable cause; the Court will address these arguments in the appropriate section.

         A. ...

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