United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Robert Paul Ritzie's Motion to Suppress [DE-30]. The issues have been fully briefed and are now ripe for ruling. For the reasons more fully stated below, Ritzie's Motion to Suppress is DENIED.
Findings of Fact
On August 15, 2013, Sgt. J. Collier and Officer J. Rowan were traveling South on U.S. 158 Business/U.S. 1 Business in Henderson, North Carolina. Sgt. Collier and Officer Rowan observed a gray Chevy Malibu two vehicles ahead of them that was following too closely to the vehicle ahead of it. The Malibu began to cross the center line and then made an erratic movement to the right that caused the Malibu to run over the fog line. It appeared the driver of the Malibu was under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, so Sgt. Collier and Officer Rowan initiated a traffic stop.
Officer Rowan approached the vehicle on the passenger side and informed the driver that he had been stopped for following too closely and failure to maintain lane control. Officer Rowan asked the driver for his identification and registration. Officer Rowan asked the driver to step back to the patrol vehicle while Sgt. Collier issued him a warning citation.
The driver of the Malibu was identified as Robert Paul Ritzie. Ritzie stated that he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and Officer Rowan did not smell any alcohol on him. Ritzie further stated that he was tired because he had been traveling from New Jersey. Ritzie explained that he left in the afternoon on August 14, 2014, the day before, to take his girlfriend's children to their grandparents in New Jersey.
The passenger in the car was Ritzie's girlfriend, and her story was inconsistent with that provided by Ritzie. Specifically, Ritzie's girlfriend stated that she and Ritzie left for New Jersey at night and that it was a couple of days before.
Officer Rowan asked Ritzie if he had ever been arrested. Ritzie stated, "Yes, back in the day." When asked what he was arrested for, Ritzie responded that he was arrested for trafficking co came.
Sgt. Collier advised Ritzie that he was getting a warning ticket for following too close and would be released. Sgt. Collier returned Ritzie's identification and handed him the warning citation. Sgt. Collier advised Ritzie that he was free to leave. Sgt. Collier then asked Ritzie if he could ask him one more question. Ritzie responded "yea." Sgt. Collier proceeded to ask Ritzie if he had anything illegal, such as weapons or drugs, in the vehicle. Ritzie responded, "No, you can search if you want. There is nothing illegal in the vehicle." Officer Rowan asked Ritzie and his girlfriend to step back to the patrol vehicle while the vehicle was searched.
During his search of the engine compartment, Officer Rowan noticed that the screws to the air box were not screwed in all the way. Officer Rowan also noticed that the screws showed numerous tool marks, which was unusual for a new rental vehicle. Officer Rowan located a screw driver in the passenger area of the Malibu that matched the screws in the lid of the filter. Officer Rowan unscrewed the air box and lifted the lid. Officer Rowan discovered a white t-shirt wrapped around a gallon size Ziploc bag containing eighty-four (84) bricks of heroin.
On June 10, 2013, Ritzie was charged in a two-count indictment. See Indictment [DE-l). In Count One, Ritzie was charged with conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally distribute and possess with the intent to distribute heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 84l(a)(l). Count Two charges Ritzie with knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(l).
Ritzie filed the instant Motion to Suppress [DE-30] on July 31, 2014. On August 12, 2014, the ...