United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARTIN REIDINGER, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court for resolution of the Defendants' Motions to Suppress [Docs. 18; 33], and the Defendants' Objections [Docs. 91; 94] to the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation ("M&R") [Doc. 82]. For the reasons that follow, this Court will accept the Magistrate Judge's recommendations and will deny the Defendants' suppression motions in full.
On October 2, 2012, the Defendants Lloyd Dodwell ("Dodwell") and Darren Hill ("Hill") were named in a Bill of Indictment and charged with possessing with the intent to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). [Doc. 1]. The grand jury also found probable cause to believe that $30, 504 in United States currency was subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 853. [Id.].
On January 24, 2013, Hill filed a motion to suppress [Doc. 18], amending it with a supplemental filing the following day. [Doc. 19]. On February 15, 2013, Dodwell filed a motion to suppress. [Doc. 33]. The Magistrate Judge joined for hearing the Defendants' suppression motions and took evidence and testimony over the course of two days beginning August 1, 2013. On January 17, 2014, Magistrate Judge Howell issued his M&R. [Doc. 82]. He recommended that the Court deny the Defendants' suppression motions. [Id. at 41]. The Magistrate Judge informed the parties they could file any objections to his M&R within fourteen days' of service thereof. [Id. at 42]. Dodwell filed his objections on February 21, 2014, [Doc. 91] and Hill filed his objections March 7, 2014. [Doc. 94].
The Defendants' Motions to Suppress and Objections to the M&R are now ripe for the Court's consideration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Since the Defendants have raised various objections to the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation, the Court will review the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and conclusions de novo 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Crim.P. 59(b)(3).
The detailed factual background of this case is straight forward and is set forth in the M&R. Therefore, it will not be reproduced here. The undisputed, salient facts are as follows. On May 2, 2012, at approximately 6:40 p.m., Henderson County Deputy David McMurray was on patrol in an unmarked vehicle traveling west on Interstate 26 between Hendersonville and Asheville. [T. at 32]. Prior to his employment with the Henderson County's Sheriff's Office, Deputy McMurray was a trooper and canine handler with the North Carolina Highway Patrol for approximately nine years. [T. at 9-12]. While observing traffic on I-26, Deputy McMurray noticed two vehicles traveling within a car length of distance between them. [T. at 33]. The vehicles were each traveling at a speed of approximately 60 mph. [T. at 33]. In the opinion of Deputy McMurray, the second vehicle was following the first vehicle too closely, and thus, violating North Carolina law. [T. at 34-35]. Accordingly, Deputy McMurray activated his blue lights in order to stop the second vehicle, a Chevrolet Equinox SUV. [T. at 38]. At the time, Deputy McMurray had with him his drug detection dog, Kira, a Belgium Malinois. [T. at 12-13].
When Deputy McMurray activated his blue lights, the audio and video equipment in his patrol car automatically engaged. [T. at 38; 135-136]. The video equipment is designed to record onto media a split-screen view of events. The top half of the screen shows a view over the hood of the patrol vehicle looking forward through the windshield. The bottom half of the screen shows a view into the interior of the patrol car of the driver seat, the front passenger seat, and Kira's kennel located behind the front passenger seat. [T. at 39; 135-136]. Deputy McMurray wears a body microphone that automatically records sounds transmitted in his presence outside of the patrol vehicle. A microphone on the inside of the patrol vehicle, located in the driver's side door, records sounds transmitted within. [T. at 38-40; 83; 135-137]. Using these recording devices, Deputy McMurray attempted to record both video and audio of the stop, as well as the resulting investigation. [T. at 40-41].
When the SUV stopped, Deputy McMurray approached the vehicle from the passenger's side. Defendant Dodwell was sitting in the driver's seat of the Equinox and Defendant Hill was sitting in the front passenger seat. [T. at 44]. Deputy McMurray told Dodwell that he had stopped Dodwell because he was right on top of the vehicle he was following. In response, Dodwell admitted that he was following the vehicle too closely and explained that the vehicle he was following had been braking. [T. at 46; GX5 at 00:01:46]. Deputy McMurray then asked Dodwell to exit the Equinox and follow him back to his patrol car so that he could issue Dodwell a warning ticket. [T. at 45; GX5 at 00:03:15]. Before leaving the passenger's side of the SUV, McMurray asked Hill for a driver's license or some form of identification. Hill responded that he had no identification with him. [GX5 at 00:03:25].
After Deputy McMurray and Dodwell entered McMurray's patrol car, McMurray accessed his police computer and began the process of verifying Dodwell's documentation in order to issue him a warning ticket. While Deputy McMurray was entering data and then waiting for his computer to respond, he asked Dodwell a number of questions, some pertaining to the vehicle stop and others having no bearing on the stop. [GX5 at 00:04:10 to 00:13:37]. During this approximate nine minutes of conversing, Deputy McMurray became suspicions of a number of Dodwell's answers, and further, learned from Dodwell that both Dodwell and Hill had previously been arrested for drugs. [GX5 at 00:12:20]. Deputy McMurray attempted to run a records check on Hill but was unsuccessful without some form of identification from Hill or his date of birth. Deputy McMurray then exited his patrol car telling Dodwell he was going to ask Hill his birthdate, obtain the vehicle identification number of the SUV, and return the SUV's registration material to Hill. [GX5 at 00:13:37].
After leaving his car, Deputy McMurray approached the SUV and then spoke with Hill. Hill made several statements to Deputy McMurray that conflicted with statements Dodwell made to Deputy McMurray. Approximately two minutes after approaching Hill, Deputy McMurray finished speaking with him and returned to the patrol car and began entering data into the police computer. [GX5 at 00:15:25]. Deputy McMurray did not obtain the VIN from the SUV testifying that he did not want to be distracted from the discrepancies between the statements of Hill and Dodwell. [T. at 91]. While entering data and waiting for his computer to respond, Deputy McMurray continued to speak with Dodwell growing more suspicious as some of Dodwell's answers refuted information that Hill had just provided to McMurray. [Doc. 82 at 15-16]. Two minutes after Deputy McMurray returned to his patrol car, his police computer printed out Dodwell's warning citation. [GX5 at 00:17:25]. Deputy McMurray returned Dodwell's license to him and gave him the warning ticket. Dodwell thanked Deputy ...