U.S. v. Beck

Decision Date06 April 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-4143.,97-4143.
Citation140 F.3d 1129
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Kenneth Wayne BECK, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Mark Alan Jesse, Little Rock, AR, argued, for Defendant-Appellant.

Angela S. Jegley, Asst. U.S. Atty., Little Rock, AR, argued, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before McMILLIAN and FAGG, Circuit Judges, and BENNETT,* District Judge.

BENNETT, District Judge.

Defendant Kenneth Wayne Beck was convicted following a jury trial of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and was sentenced to 121 months imprisonment. He appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized by law enforcement officers during a search of his rental car following a traffic stop.

We reverse.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
A. Lack of Factual Findings

The district court here made only limited factual findings on the record, in all likelihood because the facts of this case are uncontested. Ordinarily, Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires that we remand a case to the district court when the district court has failed to set out its factual findings underlying its decision on a motion to suppress. See generally United States v. Bloomfield, 40 F.3d 910, 913-14 (8th Cir.1994) (en banc), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1113, 115 S.Ct. 1970, 131 L.Ed.2d 859 (1995). However, here, because the relevant facts in this case are undisputed, we need not remand for further findings and may rule based on the record currently before us. See United States v. Ali, 86 F.3d 275, 276 (2d Cir.1996) (holding that remand is unnecessary where "there is an abundance of undisputed facts" regarding the circumstances surrounding defendant's interrogation); United States v. Soto, 988 F.2d 1548, 1554 (10th Cir.1993) (holding that remand unnecessary where the district court made no finding as to evidence was sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion because the relevant facts were undisputed); United States v. Williams, 951 F.2d 1287, 1288 (D.C.Cir.1991) (recognizing that "there are cases in which the facts are so certain, and the legal consequences so apparent, that little guesswork is needed to determine the grounds for the ruling."); cf. Bloomfield, 40 F.3d at 914 (holding remand unnecessary and that this court will uphold a district court's decision on a motion to suppress despite lack of factual findings if, on review of the record, it finds that "any reasonable view of the evidence" supports the district court's decision). We turn next to the uncontested facts of this case.

B. Uncontested facts

The uncontested testimony at the suppression hearing reveals the following. On November 12, 1996, Officer Joe Taylor of the Conway, Arkansas, Police Department was patrolling Interstate 40 when he observed a green Buick with California license plates following another vehicle too closely. Officer Taylor proceeded to pull the green Buick over for the observed traffic infraction. Officer Taylor approached the automobile's passenger side and asked the driver, defendant Beck, for his license and rental agreement. Officer Taylor explained to Beck the reason for his being stopped. While talking to Beck, Officer Taylor observed that Beck appeared nervous since his hands were shaking and he was looking around. Officer Taylor also saw "fast food trash" on the Buick's front passenger floorboard. While Officer Taylor observed a briefcase in the rear of the automobile, he did not see any luggage in the car's passenger compartment. Officer Taylor did not observe any evidence that Beck was under the influence of drugs or intoxicants.

Officer Taylor returned to his patrol car and ran a check on Beck's driver's license and a criminal history check for Beck. These inquiries revealed that Beck's driver's license was valid, and that he had no criminal history. Following these checks, Officer Taylor returned to the passenger side of Beck's Buick and handed back Beck's driver's license and rental agreement. Officer Taylor gave Beck a verbal warning for following another motor vehicle too closely and then told Beck he was free to go. Officer Taylor then turned, started to walk back to his patrol car before stopping and asking Beck if he had any guns, drugs, or knives in his automobile. Beck turned, stared out the window, and said, "No." Officer Taylor then asked Beck if he could conduct a quick search of Beck's Buick. Beck became more nervous and asked Officer Taylor why he wanted to search his automobile. Beck told Officer Taylor that he was just trying to get to North Carolina for a job. Officer Taylor responded by telling Beck that he was just trying to ascertain if Beck had any firearms or drugs in the car. Beck again replied, "No, no." Beck and Taylor engaged in further discussion over why Officer Taylor wanted to search Beck's automobile. Officer Taylor, in Beck's presence, radioed for Officer Tom Knopp, who is a K-9 officer, to assist him at the scene. Officer Knopp, who had been monitoring police radio transmissions, was already on his way to the scene of the stop with his drug dog, King.1

After calling for Officer Knopp, Beck and Officer Taylor resumed their colloquy concerning Beck's consent to a search of his automobile, with Beck wanting to know what would happen if he refused to consent. Officer Taylor answered Beck's question by telling him that while no search would occur, a drug dog would be led around the outside of Beck's Buick. Beck then replied, "Well, no." At this juncture, Officer Knopp and his drug dog arrived on the scene. Officer Taylor motioned to Officer Knopp that he wanted Officer Knopp to get King out. Officer Taylor then instructed Beck to get out of his automobile and to stand to the side of the car. Beck complied with Officer Taylor's instructions and exited the Buick. Officer Knopp removed King from his patrol car and permitted the dog to have a drink of water and to relieve himself along the roadway before bringing him to Beck's Buick. King was led around Beck's automobile and he alerted to the rear door on the passenger side of the Buick. Officer Taylor informed Beck of his constitutional rights, as required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and inquired whether Beck had anything illegal in the car. Beck answered "yes," and indicated toward his briefcase. A search of Beck's briefcase revealed several plastic baggies that contained a whitish-tan residue on them which subsequently tested positive for methamphetamine. Beck was placed under arrest and a search of his person revealed a small plastic baggie which appeared to contain methamphetamine.

The officer then removed the contents from the Buick's trunk and placed King inside the trunk. King did not alert in the trunk nor to the items removed from the trunk. Due to inclement weather, Officer Taylor had the Buick removed from the side of the highway to a wrecker yard. At the wrecker yard, during a search of the Buick and its contents, the police discovered additional quantities of methamphetamine in the briefcase and hidden in the car's trunk.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Procedural Background

Defendant Beck timely moved to suppress the methamphetamine. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Beck's motion to suppress from the bench. The district court concluded that Beck was not detained after being told by Officer Taylor that he was free to go. The district court further found, although "barely so," that Officer Taylor, from his observations of both Beck and his rental car, developed reasonable suspicion to detain Beck.

On appeal, Beck challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the methamphetamine should have been excluded because the search that uncovered it was the tainted fruit of an unreasonable detention. Appellee United States counters that the district court was correct in its denial of the defendant's motion to suppress because Officer Taylor, who had stopped the defendant's automobile for a routine traffic infraction, developed reasonable suspicion to detain Beck in order to permit a dog sniff of his automobile. Defendant Beck further asserts that the inventory search of his automobile was invalid. The United States contends that this issue was not properly preserved for appeal and that there was no plain error in the district court's admission of evidence found in Beck's automobile during the inventory search.

Thus, in this appeal, we must initially determine whether asking Beck to step from his motor vehicle, after the completion of a valid stop for a traffic violation, in order to await a drug dog sniff of his automobile, constitutes a seizure within the purview of the Fourth Amendment. If such actions do give rise to a seizure within the scope of the Fourth Amendment, we are also called upon to determine the issue of whether the law enforcement officers here possessed reasonable suspicion to detain Beck in order to conduct the dog sniff of his automobile. We begin by addressing the constitutionality of Beck's detention.

B. Seizure Question

We review district court's findings of historical fact for clear error and determinations of reasonable suspicion and probable cause de novo. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 698-700, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 1663, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996); United States v. Juvenile T.K., 134 F.3d 899, 902 (8th Cir.1998); see United States v. Carrate, 122 F.3d 666, 668 (8th Cir.1997); United States v. Payne, 119 F.3d 637, 642 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 118 S.Ct. 454, 139 L.Ed.2d 389 (1997). Beck does not contend that the initial stop of his automobile was in violation of the Constitution, nor could he do so here. We have previously observed "`[i]t is well established that a traffic violation — however minor — creates probable cause to stop the driver of a vehicle.'" United States v. Barry, 98...

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