209 F.3d 464 (6th Cir. 2000), 98-6636, United States v Freeman

Citation:209 F.3d 464
Case Date:March 23, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 464

209 F.3d 464 (6th Cir. 2000)




Nos. 98-6636, 98-6637


March 23, 2000

Argued and Submitted: December 16, 1999

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 97-20138--Julia S. Gibbons, Chief District Judge.

Page 465

Paul M. O'Brien, Asst. U.S. Attorney (briefed), Office of the U.S. Attorney, Memphis, TN, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

April R. Ferguson (argued and briefed), Office of the Federal Public Defender, Memphis, TN, for Defendant-Appellant in 98-6636.

E. E. Edwards III (briefed), Edwards, Simmons & Oliver, Nashville, TN, Wesley M. Oliver (briefed), New Orleans, LA, for Defendant-Appellant in No. 98-6637.

Before: Martin, Chief Judge; Clay, Circuit Judge; Weber, District Judge.[*]

MARTIN, C. J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WEBER, D. J., joined. CLAY, J. (pp. 467-72), delivered a separate concurring opinion.


Boyce F. Martin, Jr., Chief Judge.

Donald W. Adams and Lance M. Freeman seek review of the district court's order denying their motions to suppress evidence seized during an atypical traffic stop. The issue is whether the police had probable cause to stop and search the vehicle driven by Adams and Freeman. Because we find that the police did not have probable cause, we reverse and direct that the evidence be suppressed.

On the July 4, 1997 holiday, Memphis Police Officer David Tate stopped a motor home traveling eastbound on heavily traveled Interstate Forty for violating Section 55-8-123 of the Tennessee Code, after he allegedly observed the vehicle cross the white line separating the emergency lane from the right-hand lane of traffic for an estimated twenty to thirty feet. Section 55-8-123 provides that a vehicle "shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane." Adams was the driver of the motor home and Freeman was the only passenger. Officer Tate and Officer Michael McCord, who arrived on the scene shortly after the initial stop, requested registration and identification, which Adams and Freeman produced. The officers then asked if there were any drugs or weapons in the vehicle. After Adams stated that there were no drugs or weapons, Officer Tate asked for permission

Page 466

to "look around," which Adams reluctantly granted. Without anything further, the officers proceeded with a search of every compartment of the motor home, where they did in fact find marijuana hidden in several compartments.

Freeman and Adams filed motions to suppress the evidence found in the search of their motor home, alleging that Officer Tate lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle and that, even if the stop was lawful, the search was beyond the scope of the initial stop and there was no waiver. The magistrate, whose report was adopted by the district court, concluded that the stop was justified because the motor home's partial entry into the emergency lane constituted probable cause that either a traffic violation had occurred or that the driver was intoxicated. The district court then denied the motions to suppress the evidence from the search. Freeman and Adams pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, reserving the right to revoke their pleas should this Court reverse the district court and suppress the evidence discovered during the search.

When reviewing the district court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence, this Court applies a clearly erroneous standard to the district court's findings of fact while reviewing its conclusions of law de novo. See United States v. Lumpkin, 159 F.3d 983, 986 (6th Cir. 1998). In doing so, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the United States. See United States v. Wellman, 185 F.3d 651, 655 (6th Cir. 1999). Stopping a vehicle and detaining its occupants amounts to a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979). The reasonableness of the stop is ascertained by determining first "whether the officer's action was justified at its inception," and second "whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19-20 (1968). It is in this context that we address the issue of whether Officer Tate had probable cause to justify a stop of the motor home driven by Adams.

It is true that "so long as the officer has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred or was occurring, the resulting stop is not unlawful." United States v. Ferguson, 8 F.3d 385, 391 (6th Cir. 1993). We can not, however, agree that one isolated incident of a large motor home partially weaving into the emergency lane for a few feet and an instant in time constitutes a failure to keep the vehicle within a single lane "as nearly as practicable." See United States v. Gregory, 79 F.3d 973, 978 (10th Cir. 1996) (holding that a similar one-time entry into the emergency lane failed to constitute a violation of a Utah statute nearly identical to Tennessee Code Section 55-8-123). We therefore find that Officer Tate's observation of the motor home briefly entering the emergency lane is insufficient to give rise to probable cause of a traffic violation and warrant an invasion of Adams's and Freeman's Fourth Amendment rights. Because Officer Tate's stop of the motor home was not justified at its inception, the evidence found in the subsequent search must be suppressed.

Just as it does not constitute probable cause that a traffic violation occurred, the motor home's brief entry into the emergency lane does not constitute probable cause that Adams was intoxicated. As stated by the Tenth Circuit, "[i]f failure to follow a perfect vector down the highway or keeping one's eye on the road were sufficient reasons to suspect a person of driving while impaired, a substantial portion of the public would be subject each day to an invasion of their privacy." Gregory, 79 F.3d at 978-79 (quoting United States v. Lyons, 7 F.3d 973, 976 (10th Cir. 1993)). Accordingly, Adams's failure to follow a perfect vector down Interstate

Page 467

Forty did not give Officer Tate probable cause to stop the motor home.

Accordingly, the judgment of the...

To continue reading