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United States v. Stevens

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

November 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
AJANI JOHN STEVENS DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GREG N. STIVERS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Objection (DN 31) to the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (DN 29) on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (DN 17). For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), DENIES Defendant's motion, and OVERRULES Defendant's Objection.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Summary of Facts

         This case arises out of the stop and subsequent search of a vehicle driven by Defendant Ajani John Stevens (“Stevens”). On July 26, 2018, Trooper Jeremy Duvall (“Duvall”) observed Stevens's vehicle traveling at a slow speed, and Duvall noticed that the vehicle had a dark window tint that he believed to be a violation of Kentucky state law. (R&R 2, DN 29). Moreover, the license plate was partially obscured such that the issuing state was covered, also a violation of state law. (R&R 2). Duvall briefly followed Stevens's vehicle and then initiated a traffic stop. (R&R 2).

         Once stopped, Stevens was unable to provide Duvall with a driver's license and the vehicle was not registered in Stevens's name because he said it belonged to his mother.[1] (R&R 2). Duvall asked Stevens his name, date of birth, and social security number and then communicated with dispatch to attempt to confirm Stevens's identity. (R&R 2). Stevens initially told Duvall his first name was “John” instead of “Ajani, ” which slightly delayed the identification of Stevens. (R&R 3; Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 3:00). Roughly ten minutes into the traffic stop, dispatch provided Duvall with information about Stevens's name and address and advised that his license had been revoked. (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 10:04). Duvall then requested dispatch to look into Stevens's history and to determine which state placed a suspension on Stevens's license and the reason for the suspension. (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 10:20, 19:11).

         Shortly after, Trooper Lawless (“Lawless”) arrived on the scene at Duvall's request. (R&R 3; Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 14:21). Duvall then asked Stevens to step out of the vehicle, and Duvall conducted a Terry frisk of Stevens that turned up no contraband. (R&R 3; Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 15:23). After the frisk, Duvall asked Stevens why his license was suspended and spent several minutes discussing his criminal history. (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 3, at 15:35-18:55). Stevens then consented to a search of his vehicle. (R&R 3).[2] Lawless and Trooper Justin Rountree (“Rountree”), who had arrived on the scene, then conducted a search of Stevens's vehicle. (R&R 4). Lawless and Rountree conducted a thorough search and discovered a firearm in a tool pouch stored under the floor liner of the spare tire compartment. (R&R 4). Duvall then tested the degree of tinting on the windows and determined that the tint was in violation of state law. (R&R 4; Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. 2). Ultimately, Stevens was arrested and cited for having an obscured license plate, excessive window tinting, operating a vehicle without a valid license, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. (R&R 5).

         B. Procedural History

         On January 9, 2019, Stevens was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e)(1). Stevens moved to suppress: (1) any evidence obtained as a result of an alleged illegal stop and subsequent search and seizure of his person and automobile and (2) all fruits of the alleged illegal search. (Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 17). The United States responded. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 18). The Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion (Suppression Hr'g Tr., DN 25), and the parties submitted post-hearing briefs. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 27; Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Suppress, DN 28).

         The Magistrate Judge issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation, concluding that: (1) Duvall had probable cause to initiate the traffic stop; (2) the traffic stop was not unreasonably delayed; (3) Stevens consented to the search of the vehicle; and (4) the search did not exceed the scope of Stevens's consent. (R&R 7-12, DN 29). Stevens objected to the R&R, specifically arguing that his identity was confirmed prior to the search of his vehicle and that continued detention after that point impermissibly extended the length of the stop. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 3, 5, DN 3). Furthermore, Stevens contends that the scope of the search exceeded his consent. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 5-6).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Magistrate Judge concluded, and Stevens concedes, that Duvall had probable cause to stop Stevens's vehicle. (R&R 8; Def.'s Obj. R&R 5). Moreover, Stevens does not object to the finding that he voluntarily consented to the search of his vehicle. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 5). Rather, Stevens contends, first, that he was detained longer than necessary to complete “the mission of the stop, ” and, second, the scope of the search exceeded his consent. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 5-6). The Court will address each of these objections in turn.

         A. The Mission and Length of the Traffic Stop

         The Fourth Amendment protects “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The touchstone of all Fourth Amendment analysis is reasonableness. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967). The Supreme Court has clarified that a lawful stop “justified solely by the interest in issuing a warning ticket to the driver can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete that mission.” Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 407 (2005). The officer's mission includes “ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop” such as “checking the driver's license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the ...


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