United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Kenneth
Simpson's Motion to Suppress Auto Stop and Search of
Vehicle (“Motion to Suppress”). [DE 15]. The
Court held a suppression hearing on February 19, 2019. [DE
26]. Briefing is complete, and the Motion is ripe. [See DE
18; DE 31; DE 34]. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES
Metro Police officers Stafford, Seng, and Weber, driving
separately, were dispatched to Elliott Avenue in Louisville,
Kentucky in response to a 911 report of a man wearing a red
hat, white t-shirt, and standing outside a white vehicle
armed with a gun. [DE 26, Tr. of Supp. Hearing at 77:2-7].
The report did not suggest that the man was pointing the gun
at anyone or otherwise committing a crime. [Id. at
Elliott Avenue, the officers saw a man matching the
report's description enter a white vehicle and travel
west on Elliott Street to 26th street, where the vehicle
turned left and made an immediate right on Broadway. [DE 18
at 39]. Officer Stafford drove east on Elliott and south on
24th street before turning right on Broadway to follow the
white car, now driving west on Broadway about twenty-five
miles above the speed limit. [DE 26, Tr. of Supp. Hearing at
82:21- 25; 83:1-3]. The car crossed over the line dividing
the left and right westbound lanes of Broadway without
signaling, so Officer Stafford turned on his emergency lights
to signal for the vehicle to pull over. The car slowed but
traveled between one and one-half to two blocks before coming
to a complete stop. [Id. at 84:3-11].
Stafford drew his service weapon and held it by his side as
he approached the driver's side of the vehicle.
[Id. at 103:2-4]. Officer Stafford tried to open the
driver's side door. [Id. at 103:2-5]. Officer
Stafford then ordered the driver, Simpson, to place his hands
on the steering wheel and step out of the vehicle. After
Simpson exited the vehicle, Officer Stafford conducted a
frisk of Simpson's clothing and told Simpson to stand at
the rear of the vehicle. [Id. at 84:23-25; 85:1-25;
86:1-2]. Officer Stafford asked Simpson if there were weapons
in the car, and Simpson replied that there were not. The
officers did not see a weapon or ammunition in plain view.
[Id. at 108:1-11].
Stafford and Seng then searched the car's passenger
compartment, and Officer Seng later discovered a loaded gun
under the front passenger seat within reach of the driver.
[Id. at 86:12-20; 131:9-13; 133:6-7]. Officer Stafford
asked Simpson if he was a convicted felon, and Simpson
replied that he was. Officer Stafford placed Simpson in
handcuffs and advised him of his Miranda rights.
[Id. at 86:22-25; 87:1-3]. Officer Stafford asked
Simpson for his personal information, and Simpson responded
that his identification card was in his pocket. [DE 31 at
162- 63]. Because Simpson was handcuffed, Officer Stafford
searched Simpson's pants pocket for the identification
card. Officer Stafford found another round of pistol
ammunition in Simpson's pocket. [DE 26, Tr. of Supp.
Hearing at 88:2-9].
United States indicted Simpson for possession of a firearm by
a convicted felon and possession of ammunition by a convicted
felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and
924(a)(2). [DE 1; DE 20]. Simpson argues that the stop and
search of his vehicle were improper because the police did
not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion. [DE 15 at
30-31]. Simpson seeks to suppress the evidence found in the
vehicle as fruits of the poisonous tree. [Id. at
32]. The Court held a suppression hearing and briefing is
complete. [See DE 18; DE 31; DE 34].
Officers Had Probable Cause to Stop Simpson's Vehicle.
Simpson asserts that his vehicle was stopped without probable
cause or reasonable suspicion. [DE 15 at 30]. In his
post-hearing brief, Simpson further alleges that the 911
call, Officer Stafford's belief that a firearm was in the
vehicle, Simpson's alleged speeding, Simpson's
improper lane change and failure to signal, and the fact that
Simpson was driving on a suspended or revoked license cannot
support the probable cause or reasonable suspicion necessary
to justify the traffic stop. [DE 34 at 179-83]. As to the
improper lane change and failure to signal, Simpson notes
that he was never charged with these violations.
[Id. at 180].
enforcement can lawfully stop any vehicle when it has
probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred.
United States v. Ferguson, 8 F.3d 385, 391 (6th Cir.
1993). And a traffic stop is justified even if the traffic
violation is pretext for further investigation by law
enforcement. Id.; see also Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996). An officer's
actual motivation for making the stop is irrelevant to the
constitutionality of the stop when there is probable cause to
make the stop. See United States v. Bailey, 302 F.3d
652, 656 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, if a traffic stop is properly
supported by probable cause, “it is irrelevant what
else the officer knew or suspected about the traffic violator
at the time of the stop.” Ferguson, 8 F.3d at 391.
changing lanes, failing to signal, and speeding each violate
Kentucky law. See Ky. Rev. Stat. § 189.380 (improperly
changing lanes and failing to signal); Ky. Rev. Stat. §
189.390(2) (speeding). Officer Stafford observed Simpson
driving over the speed limit, improperly change lanes, and
failing to use his turn signal. [DE 26, Tr. of Supp. Hearing
at 82:21- 25; 83:1-3]. It is irrelevant that Officers
Stafford and Seng also ...