U.S. v. Walker

Decision Date07 May 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-4067,90-4067
Citation933 F.2d 812
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Ralph Joseph WALKER, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Dee Benson, U.S. Atty. (Wayne Dance, Asst. U.S. Atty., with him on the brief), Salt Lake City, Utah, for plaintiff-appellant.

James Esparza, Salt Lake City, Utah, for defendant-appellee.

Before SEYMOUR and EBEL, Circuit Judges, and BROWN, Senior District Judge. *

WESLEY E. BROWN, Senior District Judge.*

In this appeal, the Government challenges the district court's order suppressing cocaine found in the defendant's car. 751 F.Supp. 199. The district court granted the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence upon finding that the defendant had been illegally detained and questioned after he was stopped for speeding on a Utah highway. For the reasons set forth herein, we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.

The pertinent facts as found by the district court are as follows. On January 10, 1990, the defendant was traveling west on Interstate 70 in Emery County, Utah, in a 1988 Cadillac. Officer Richard Graham of the Emery County Sheriff's Department was traveling east on the interstate. Officer Graham clocked the defendant's car going 67 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour speed zone. Graham made a "u-turn" and pulled the defendant over.

Before getting out of his car, Graham ran an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) check on the defendant's car and was informed that it had not been reported stolen. Graham approached the defendant's car and told the defendant that he had been clocked speeding. Graham asked the defendant for a driver's license and vehicle registration and also asked the defendant where he was coming from and his destination. The defendant stated that he was coming from Kansas City and was on his way home. The defendant asked permission to get out of his car so he could get his license out of his back pocket. As the defendant stepped out of his car, he gave Graham the vehicle registration. The defendant was nervous. His hands shook. It was difficult for him to retrieve his license from the small compartment in his wallet. He retrieved the license and gave it to Officer Graham.

The license was issued in the defendant's name. It identified him and established his right to operate a motor vehicle. The car was registered in the name of Marian Smith. Officer Graham questioned the defendant about the registration. The defendant told Graham that Marian Smith was his sister and that he was driving the car with her permission. It was later established that the defendant had subleased the vehicle from Ms. Smith. A copy of the sublease agreement was in the glove compartment of the vehicle at the time the defendant was stopped.

While retaining the defendant's license and registration, Officer Graham asked the defendant a number of specific questions unrelated to the traffic stop. He asked if there were any weapons in the vehicle, if there were any open containers of alcohol in the vehicle, and if there was any controlled substance or paraphernalia of any kind in the vehicle. Graham also asked if the defendant were carrying any large quantities of cash. The defendant answered "no" to each question except for stating that he had about $1600.00 in cash in the glove compartment and about $150.00 cash in his pocket. While still holding the defendant's license and registration, and without discussing the speeding violation or writing a citation or informing the defendant that he was free to go, Officer Graham asked the defendant if he could search the vehicle for the items about which he had inquired. The defendant responded, "Sure, go ahead." Officer Graham asked the defendant to stand by the front fender of the car, which he did. Graham patted the defendant down, checking under his sweater, the top of his slacks, and down his legs. Graham then searched the passenger compartment of the car. He found two rolls of cash in the glove compartment. Graham asked for and received the key to the trunk. Upon opening the trunk, he noticed two packages wrapped in clear plastic tape near the back seat. They appeared to be kilogram packages of cocaine. Graham then arrested the defendant. A search warrant was later obtained which led to the discovery of 86 kilogram packages of cocaine in the car.

Relying on United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512 (10th Cir.1988), the district court determined that Officer Graham's continued detention of the defendant in order to ask him intrusive questions unrelated to the traffic stop was a violation of the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. The district court found that the defendant's nervousness did not create an objectively reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would justify the detention. The court further indicated that the defendant had produced sufficient proof showing he was entitled to operate the car such that no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity arose from the fact that the car was not registered to the defendant. Having found that the detention and questioning violated the defendant's constitutional rights, the district court suppressed the evidence found in the car. The court did not address the Government's argument that the search was justified by the defendant's consent.

The appellant United States makes several arguments on appeal. First, appellant argues that the district court erred by finding that the officer had to have reasonable suspicion before asking questions of the defendant unrelated to the traffic stop. Appellant contends that Officer Graham's conduct was reasonable when judged by the totality of the circumstances. Alternatively, appellant contends that Officer Graham's detention and questioning of the defendant were based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and were therefore lawful. Finally, appellant contends that the district court erred by failing to address the issue of consent. We affirm the district court insofar as it found that the detention violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights; however, we find that under Guzman the district court must address the issue of whether the search was nonetheless justified by the defendant's consent.

In reviewing appellant's claims, we do not substitute our judgment for the factual findings of the district court unless those findings are clearly erroneous. United States v. Werking, 915 F.2d 1404, 1406 (10th Cir.1990). At a hearing on a motion to suppress, the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge. Id (citing United States v. Pappas, 735 F.2d 1232, 1233 (10th Cir.1984)). Accordingly, we review the evidence in a light favorable to the district court's determination. Id. The ultimate determination of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment, however, is a determination of law that we review de novo. United States v. Pena, 920 F.2d 1509, 1513-14 (10th Cir.1990).

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The stopping of a vehicle and the detention of its occupants constitute a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. An ordinary traffic stop is a limited seizure, however, and is more like an investigative detention than a custodial arrest. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3149, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984) ("[T]he usual traffic stop is more analogous to a so-called 'Terry stop' ... than to a formal arrest.") Accordingly, we have judged the reasonableness of traffic stops under the principles pertaining to investigative detentions announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512, 1519 (10th Cir.1988).

The Supreme Court has adopted a dual inquiry for evaluating the reasonableness of investigative detentions. Under this approach, the court determines "whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place." Terry, 392 U.S. at 20, 88 S.Ct. at 1879. As the district court here recognized, we applied this inquiry in United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512 (10th Cir.1988), a case involving a routine traffic stop. In Guzman, a state police officer stopped a vehicle because the driver and a passenger in the car were not wearing their seat belts. The driver produced documents that satisfied the officer as to the driver's right to operate the vehicle. Although the officer had no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity other than a seat belt violation, he decided to conduct a further investigation and proceeded to ask the occupants a series of intrusive questions unrelated to the traffic stop. He did not return the defendant's driver's license. We concluded that the officer's detention of the occupants to ask these intrusive questions was unreasonable. We stated:

An officer conducting a routine traffic stop may request a driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation. * * * When the driver has produced a valid license and proof that he is entitled to operate the car, he must be allowed to proceed on his way, without being subject to further delay by police for additional questioning.

Id. at 1519 (citations omitted). We noted that although the detention was of a relatively short duration, "it nevertheless unreasonably extended beyond the length necessary for its only legitimate purpose--the issuance of a citation for a seat belt violation." Id. at 1519 n. 8.

There is no question that the initial stop of the defendant's vehicle in the instant case was justified. The district court concluded that the defendant had been lawfully stopped for speeding. After being stopped, ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
143 cases
  • U.S. v. Garcia Hernandez
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Utah
    • December 17, 1996
    ...v. Gonzalez, 763 F.2d 1127, 1130 (10th Cir. 1985); United States v. Recalde, 761 F.2d 1448, 1455 (10th Cir.1985); United States v. Walker, 933 F.2d 812, 816 (10th Cir.1991); United States v. Pena, 920 F.2d 1509, 1514 (10th Cir.1990); United States v. Soto, 988 F.2d 1548, 1554 (10th Cir.1993......
  • Wilson v. State
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1994
    ...run a NCIC computer check to determine if the vehicle is stolen and the license is valid, and issue a citation. United States v. Walker, 933 F.2d 812, 816 (10th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1093, 112 S.Ct. 1168, 117 L.Ed.2d 414 (1992); United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512, 1519 (10th......
  • U.S. v. Owens
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • September 11, 1998
    ...defendants' vehicles was reasonable during time that officers completed inspections of defendants' documents); United States v. Walker, 933 F.2d 812, 816 n. 2 (10th Cir.1991) (suggesting in dicta that length of detention would have been reasonable if police were waiting for results of an NC......
  • State v. Kovach
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • September 4, 1992
    ...a custodial arrest. Thus a Terry-stop analysis is appropriate. U.S. v. DeWitt, 946 F.2d 1497, 1501 (10th Cir.1991); U.S. v. Walker, 933 F.2d 812, 815 (10th Cir.1991). See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3150, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984). An officer making a traffic stop ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT