United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
COGBURN JR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the court on defendant's Motion
to Suppress (#19). This Motion has been fully briefed and a
hearing was held on August 16, 2017. At the hearing, the
court heard testimony from multiple police officers, took
into evidence authenticated exhibits, and instructed the
government to provide additional recordings if any existed.
The government's post-hearing response (#28) noted that
no further recordings were available. Having considered the
motion and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the
case involves a stop and search of a car at a Shell gas
station located at 2624 Sam Wilson Road in Charlotte, North
Carolina. Defendant contends that the stop was unlawful.
(#19) at 1.
December 21, 2016, an undercover police officer observed a
white van park at gas pumps in such a manner that its gas
tank was on the opposite side of the pumps. The van was
sitting in that location for ten minutes. Another car arrived
and parked directly behind the white van. The officer then
observed a man leave the van and enter the passenger side of
the red car parked behind the van. These individuals were
looking downward and made motions toward the center console.
According to officer testimony, the area was considered a
high crime area and a thoroughfare for drug trafficking given
its proximity to the interstate. Further, the officer, based
on his training and experience, suspected that the
individuals' behavior was indicative of a drug
officer then radioed for a marked police car to respond. Two
other officers arrived. As these officers approached the car,
one officer observed quick motion from within the red car.
When the officer asked the defendant to roll down the window,
the officer smelled marijuana coming from inside the vehicle.
brief search of the defendant, the passenger, and the red
car, the officers found: a digital scale with marijuana
residue, an orange pill bottle with Xanax and marijuana, a
glass pipe containing marijuana residue, and a firearm. The
officer then placed the defendant under arrest and provided a
Miranda warning. Defendant then made incriminating
in his motion argues that there was insufficient probable
cause to approach, detain, and search the defendant and his
vehicle. See (#19) at 4. Defendant asserts that the
results of the search as well as the statements and evidence
attributable to the search should be suppressed. Id.
The issues before the court include whether the police had
reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and whether the
defendant and his property were searched unreasonably.
Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable
searches and seizures. One of the well-established exceptions
to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on warrantless
stops and seizures is the so-called “automobile
exception.” See, e.g. Pennsylvania v. Labron,
518 U.S. 938 940 (1996) (per curiam); United States v.
Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1 (1989). Under this rule, police may
stop a vehicle when law enforcement has a reasonable
suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal
activity may be occurring. Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 8.
In determining reasonable suspicion, the court uses a
totality of circumstances approach to determine whether the
officer had a “particularized and objective”
basis for suspecting criminal activity. See United States
v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002).The standard for
reasonable suspicion is less than probable cause and
“considerably less than a preponderance of the
evidence.” See United States v. Branch, 537
F.3d 328, 336 (4th Cir. 2008).
individual's mere presence in a high crime area is not
enough by itself to support reasonable, particularized
suspicion. See United States v. Bumpers, 705 F.3d
168, 171-72 (4th Cir. 2013). Instead, the court must look to
the totality of circumstances, taking activities in context
while also highlighting the importance of the training and
experience of police officers in the field. Branch,
537 F.3d at 336.
case, the defendant in his supporting written argument has
given the ...