229 F.3d 931 (10th Cir. 2000), 99-7150, United States v Holt

Docket Nº:99-7150
Citation:229 F.3d 931
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DENNIS DAYTON HOLT, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 24, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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229 F.3d 931 (10th Cir. 2000)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant,


DENNIS DAYTON HOLT, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 99-7150

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

August 24, 2000

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 99-CR-77-B)

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Richard A. Friedman, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, Department of Justice, of Washington D.C., (Bruce Green, United States Attorney, and D. Michael Littlefield, Assistant United States Attorney, with him on the brief) for the appellant.

Michael A. Abel, Assistant Federal Public Defender, (Stephen J. Knorr, Federal Public Defender, with him on the brief), of Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the appellee.

Before EBEL, McKAY, and BRISCOE, Circuit Judges.

BRISCOE, Circuit Judge

In this interlocutory appeal, the United States challenges the district court's orders granting defendant Dennis Holt's motions to suppress evidence obtained during a search of his vehicle incident to a traffic stop and a search of his residence shortly after the vehicle search. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 3731. Although we agree with the district court that Holt's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was questioned about the presence of weapons in his vehicle, we reverse with directions to the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Holt's consent to search his vehicle was nevertheless voluntary.


On the evening of September 15, 1999, officers from the Muldrow, Oklahoma police department, accompanied by Damon Tucker, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer, established a checkpoint on Treat Road within the city limits of Muldrow. The impetus for establishing the checkpoint was the officers' suspicion that Holt, who lived in the area, was transporting illegal drugs along Treat Road.1

At the checkpoint, the officers stopped all vehicles traveling along Treat Road and checked drivers' licenses. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Tucker observed a Ford Ranger truck approach the checkpoint. Tucker noted that the driver of the truck, defendant Holt, was not wearing a seatbelt. After asking to see Holt's driver's license, Tucker asked Holt why he was not wearing a seatbelt. Holt stated that he lived in the area and pointed toward his house. At some point thereafter, officers from the Muldrow police department informed Tucker that Holt was the person they were seeking. Tucker asked Holt to pull over to the side of the road and join Tucker in his patrol car.

After Holt got into the patrol car, Tucker asked for Holt's driver's license and proceeded to write a warning for the seatbelt violation. While doing so, Tucker asked Holt if "there was anything in [Holt's] vehicle [Tucker] should know about such as loaded weapons." App. at 40. According to Tucker, he asks that question "on a lot of [his] stops." Id. Holt stated there was a loaded pistol behind the passenger seat of his vehicle. Holt did not indicate whether he had a permit to carry a loaded gun (which was required under Oklahoma law), and Tucker did not ask whether Holt possessed such a permit. Tucker asked Holt if "there was anything else that [Tucker] should know about in the vehicle." Id. at 42. Holt stated, "I know what you are referring to" but "I don't use them anymore." Id. Upon further questioning by Tucker, Holt indicated that he had previously used drugs, but "hadn't been involved with them in about a year or so." Id. at 43. Tucker then asked Holt for consent to search his vehicle. Holt agreed. It is unclear from the record whether Tucker issued the warning to Holt for the seatbelt violation at that point, or if Tucker ever returned Holt's driver's license to him. It is undisputed that Tucker had Holt's driver's license in his possession during the above-outlined questioning. According to Tucker, approximately three to four minutes elapsed between the time he and Holt got into the patrol car and the

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time that Holt consented to the search of his vehicle.

Tucker and Holt got out of the patrol car and Tucker again asked Holt if there was anything else in the vehicle. Holt responded that the gun was all that Tucker would find. Tucker proceeded to search the cab of the truck and, as described by Holt, found a loaded pistol behind the passenger seat. One of the Muldrow police officers, when informed by Tucker that Holt had given consent to have his vehicle searched, began looking through a camper shell on the back of the truck. During the course of his search, this officer found a small bag containing spoons, syringes, loose matches, and a white powdery substance in separate bags. Based upon the discovery of this evidence, Tucker arrested Holt and transported him to the Muldrow jail.

Shortly after Holt's arrest, Tucker contacted an assistant district attorney for Sequoyah County regarding the possibility of obtaining a search warrant for Holt's residence based upon the evidence recovered from Holt's vehicle. The assistant district attorney concluded the evidence was not sufficient to support a search warrant for Holt's residence. He did, however, advise Tucker to utilize "a knock and talk" technique. Id. at 48. In accordance with this advice, police officers went to Holt's residence and Holt's mother gave verbal consent to search the premises. During the search, officers found chemical glassware in a room where Hall stayed, as well as drugs and various drug-making equipment in an outbuilding.

Holt was indicted in federal court on October 14, 1999, on two counts of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), one count of manufacturing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), and one count of possession of a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Holt moved to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion and both Tucker and Holt testified. The district court subsequently issued a written order granting the motion to suppress. Shortly thereafter, Holt filed a supplemental motion to suppress the evidence seized from his residence. That motion was granted by the district court pursuant to the government's concession.


In reviewing a district court order granting a motion to suppress, we accept the district court's factual findings unless clearly erroneous, and we view the evidence in the light most favorable to those findings. United States v. Little, 60 F.3d 708, 712 (10th Cir. 1995). We review de novo the ultimate determination of Fourth Amendment reasonableness. Id.

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. "A traffic stop is a 'seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, 'even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.'" United States v. Hunnicutt, 135 F.3d 1345, 1348 (10th Cir. 1998) (quoting Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979)). Because a routine traffic stop is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest, such stops are analyzed under the standards announced for investigative detentions in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). See Hunnicutt, 135 F.3d at 1348. "To determine the reasonableness of an investigative detention, we make a dual inquiry, asking 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.'" Id. (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 20). Here, there is no dispute that the traffic stop at issue was justified at its inception because Tucker observed Holt driving

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without a seatbelt. Thus, the parties focus their energies on whether Tucker's questioning of Holt regarding the presence of weapons in his vehicle was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.2

The Supreme Court has indicated that although the permissible scope of an investigatory detention depends on "the particular facts and circumstances of each case," it must in any case "last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop" and "be carefully tailored to its underlying justification." Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983). Thus, "[a]n officer conducting a routine traffic stop may run computer checks on the driver's license, the vehicle registration papers, and on whether the driver has any outstanding warrants or the vehicle has been reported stolen." United States v. Mendez, 118 F.3d 1426, 1429 (10th Cir. 1997). "However, once the computer checks confirm that the driver has produced a valid license and proof of entitlement to operate the car, the driver must be permitted to proceed on his way, without further delay by police for additional questioning." Id.

The government suggests that only the length of an investigatory detention is important for purposes of analysis under the Terry framework.3 Thus, the government argues, it was not unlawful for Tucker to question Holt about contraband in his vehicle because this questioning occurred while Tucker was in the process of writing the citation and did not extend the length of the detention. In support of its arguments, the government relies on United States v. Shabazz, 993 F.2d 431 (5th Cir. 1993). In Shabazz, police officers stopped a vehicle for speeding. One officer asked the driver to get out of the vehicle and produce his driver's license. While the officer ran a computer check on the license, he asked the driver a series of questions about his recent whereabouts. During the same time period, a second officer posed similar questions to the driver's companion, who remained in the vehicle. After comparing notes and determining they had been...

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