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United States v. Williams

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

June 17, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Joseph Williams's Motion to Suppress Evidence. [DE 17]. The Court held a suppression hearing. [DE 23]. Briefing is complete, and the motion is ripe. [See DE 20; DE 29; DE 32]. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Williams's motion.


         On November 23, 2017, Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) Detective McCauley, Sergeant Keeling, and Detective Barton were conducting surveillance on the Georgetown Apartment complex in Louisville, an area with a history narcotics trafficking. [DE 24, Tr. Supp. Hearing at 106:21-25, 107:1-15]. Detective McCauley observed a vehicle idling in the vicinity of the apartment complex. [Id. at 107:3-24]. The vehicle left the apartment complex, turned without signaling, and passed Detective McCauley's unmarked vehicle. [Id. at 107:17-21]. Detective McCauley recognized the driver as Williams, whom Detective McCauley knew from an earlier traffic stop. [Id. at 105:11-17]. Detective McCauley communicated over police radio that the vehicle had turned without signaling. [Id. at 108:5-9].

         Around the corner from the apartment complex, LMPD Detectives Flynn and Mayo stopped Williams's vehicle for failure to signal, excessive windshield tinting, and an obstructed license plate. [Id. at 67:6-25, 68:1-14]. After Detectives Flynn and Mayo signaled for Williams to pull over, Williams drove about “the length of a football field” before stopping the vehicle. [Id. at 68:18-25]. As Williams stopped, Detective Flynn saw Williams's head “duck down to what appeared to be underneath the driver's seat.” [Id. at 69:4-8].

         Detectives Flynn and Mayo approached the vehicle, and Detective Flynn saw Williams still reaching under the driver's seat. [Id. at 69:10-19]. Detective Flynn shined his flashlight through the windshield and saw what “looked to be the butt end of a pistol” under the driver's seat. [Id.]. Detective Flynn signaled to Detective Mayo, who was approaching the driver's side door to speak with Williams, that a firearm was likely in the vehicle. [Id. at 95:9-17]. Williams then lifted his arms from beneath the seat, and Detective Mayo secured Williams's arms and removed him from the vehicle. [Id. at 98:17-23]. As Detective Mayo removed Williams from the vehicle, Williams's hands moved toward his waistband. [Id. at 75:19-22]. The officers told Williams to remain still and handcuffed him. [Id. at 76:3-5]. Detective Flynn testified that they removed and handcuffed Williams because the “totality of the circumstances, ” including Williams's “furtive movements” and the likely firearm, created a concern for officer safety. [Id. at 99:3-15].

         Detective McCauley arrived to assist with the traffic stop. [Id. at 108:24-25, 109:1-6]. He approached the open driver's side door and saw the back of the firearm in Williams's vehicle. [Id. at 109:8-15]. Detective McCauley testified that seeing Williams and the handgun was significant because he “knew” Williams was “a convicted felon and known violent offender.” [Id. at 109:18- 21]. Detective McCauley announced a code to the other officers signifying the presence of the firearm. [Id. at 109:22-25, 110:1-6]. Because Williams was a felon and possessed a gun, Detective McCauley considered Williams under arrest. [Id. at 109:20-21]. That said, the officers did not inform Williams that he was under arrest at that time. [Id. at 120:19-22].

         After the officers removed Williams from the vehicle, Sergeant Keeling patted Williams down and found a stack of currency in Williams's pocket and a bag of hydrocodone in Williams's underwear. [Id. at 114:2-24]. The officers then searched Williams's vehicle but found no additional contraband. [Id. at 122:2-10]. During the search, Williams made several incriminating statements, including “that's all I had was the gun” and that the hydrocodone was for personal use and “not trafficking.” [Id. at 122:2-6, 125:1-2]. Detective McCauley then transported Williams to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections. [Id. at 125:9-12].

         A grand jury charged Williams with drug and firearm offenses. [DE 1]. Williams now moves to suppress evidence discovered during the stop and search of his vehicle. [DE 17]. The Court held a suppression hearing [DE 23], and the parties filed post-hearing briefs [DE 29; DE 32].


         Williams makes several arguments in favor of suppression. First, Williams argues that the LMPD lacked probable cause to conduct the initial stop. [DE 29 at 162-65]. Second, Williams contends that the stop violated his right to due process because the LMPD was targeting poor and minority communities when conducting stops. [Id. at 165-66]. Third, Williams argues that the LMPD lacked probable cause to search his vehicle. [Id. at 166-69]. Finally, Williams asserts that the Court should suppress his incriminating statements because the officers' actions amounted to a custodial interrogation without a Miranda warning. [Id. at 169].

         A. The Stop of Williams's Vehicle was Proper.

         First, Williams asserts that the LMPD improperly stopped his vehicle. [DE 17 at 38-39; DE 29 at 162-65]. Police officers can lawfully stop a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that the driver committed a traffic violation. United States v. Ferguson, 8 F.3d 385, 391 (6th Cir. 1993). And a stop based on a traffic violation is permissible even if it is pretext for further investigation. 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 the officer has probable cause to make the stop. United States v. Bailey, 302 F.3d 652, 656 (6th Cir. 2002). In other words, if a stop is 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.

         Detectives Flynn and Mayo saw Williams's vehicle, among other things, take a right-hand turn without using a turn signal. [DE 24, Tr. Supp. Hearing at 67:18-25, 68:1]. Changing lanes without signaling violates Kentucky law. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 189.380. The detectives thus had probable cause to stop Williams's vehicle. And because the stop ...

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