US v. Walker

Decision Date27 March 1990
Docket NumberNo. 90-CR-13.,90-CR-13.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Ralph Joseph WALKER, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Utah

Heather Cooke, Asst. U.S. Atty., Salt Lake City, Utah, for plaintiff.

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JENKINS, Chief Judge.

The Constitution of the United States is for everyman. It protects bad men as well as good. It guarantees the rights of individuals "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures...." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Fourth Amendment is binding on the states. Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 27, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 1361, 93 L.Ed. 1782 (1949). Its provisions inhibit overreaching by public officers, well motivated or not. Relying upon this guarantee and the rules of law which give it meaning, defendant in this case brought a motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The motion was heard and evidence was taken in the matter on March 15-16, 1990. Defendant was represented by James Esparza. The government was represented by Heather Cooke, Assistant United States Attorney.

FACTS

Defendant Ralph Joseph Walker is a black man who, on January 10, 1990, was traveling west on Interstate 70 in Emery County, Utah. He was driving a blue 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Officer Richard Graham of the Emery County Sheriff's Department was traveling east on the interstate and noticed defendant's vehicle approaching. The traffic was light. Officer Graham observed that the vehicle was traveling at a faster than posted speed. He aimed his radar gun at defendant's vehicle and clocked defendant at 67 miles per hour—12 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Officer Graham made a U-turn and pulled defendant over.

While coming to a stop behind defendant's vehicle, Officer Graham checked the license plate number on the Cadillac and was informed that the vehicle had not been reported stolen. Officer Graham approached the vehicle and stated that he had clocked defendant speeding. Transcript, Motion to Suppress, March 15-16, 1990 at 48 hereinafter Transcript. He asked defendant for his driver's license and vehicle registration and asked where defendant was coming from and his destination. Transcript at 9, 48. Defendant stated that he was coming from Kansas City and was on his way home. Transcript at 11. Defendant then requested permission to get out of the car in order to obtain his license from the back pocket of his slacks. Transcript at 48. As defendant stepped out of the car, he gave Officer Graham the vehicle registration. 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. Transcript at 9.

The license revealed to Officer Graham that it belonged to defendant, identified him, and established his right to operate a motor vehicle. The Cadillac was registered in the name of Marian Smith. Officer Graham questioned defendant about the registration. Defendant stated that Marian Smith was his sister and that he was driving the car with her permission. Transcript at 11. It was later established that defendant had subleased the vehicle from Ms. Smith. A copy of the sublease agreement was in the vehicle glovebox at the time defendant was stopped.

While retaining defendant's license and registration, Officer Graham asked 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. Officer Graham then asked if the defendant was carrying any large quantities of cash. Transcript at 12. Defendant answered "no" to each question except for stating that he had about $1600.00 cash in the glove box and about $150.00 cash in his pocket. Transcript at 49. When Officer Graham first approached the vehicle, he saw nothing to indicate that defendant was carrying any of the items about which he put questions. Transcript at 21.

While still holding defendant's license and registration, and without informing defendant that he was free to go, further discussing the speeding violation, or writing a citation, Officer Graham asked defendant if he could search the vehicle for the items about which he had inquired. Defendant responded, "sure, go ahead." Transcript at 12-13. Defendant was then asked to stand by the right front fender of the vehicle. He complied. Officer Graham patted defendant down, checked under his sweater, the top of his slacks, and down his legs. He then searched the passenger compartment of the vehicle. In conformity with defendant's statement, Officer Graham found two rolls of cash in the glovebox which were held together with rubber bands. He found nothing else in the glovebox or in the passenger compartment. Officer Graham then asked for and received the key to the trunk. Transcript at 15. Upon opening the trunk, Officer Graham noticed two tan packages wrapped in clear plastic tape located near the back seat. The packages appeared to be kilogram packages of cocaine. Officer Graham informed defendant that he was under arrest and that he should get on his hands and knees and then lie face down on the ground. Transcript at 15-16.

The defendant and vehicle were taken to Castle Dale, Utah. A search warrant for the vehicle was obtained. Further search of the trunk uncovered 86 kilogram packages of cocaine. Three small plastic bags of cocaine were found in defendant's travel bag.

DISCUSSION

There is often misunderstanding as to the nature and purpose of a motion to suppress footed on an alleged constitutional violation. The simple purpose is vindication of fundamental law. When a defendant files a motion to suppress, in a sense, it is as if he had filed a class action for and on behalf of all citizens similarly detained. He speaks not just for himself. He speaks for everyman to the end that government achieve constitutional ends by constitutional means. That, simply put, is the glory of a written constitution and the touchstone of a nation which provides evenhanded law and order for everyman, good or bad.

The narrow but exquisitely important question presented by this case is when may a person stopped for a traffic violation and nothing more be further detained and subjected to questions unrelated to the traffic stop.

It is well established that "the stopping of a vehicle and the detention of its occupants constitutes a `seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment." Colorado v. Bannister, 449 U.S. 1, 4 n. 3, 101 S.Ct. 42, 43 n. 3, 66 L.Ed.2d 1 (1980); see also Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1395, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979). In order to justify a defendant's continued detention, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle is carrying contraband or that a detained defendant has committed a crime. See United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512, 1519 (10th Cir.1988) (citing Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 498-99, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 1324-25, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983)).

Defendant attacks the seizure and search of his vehicle on several grounds. He first contends that the initial stop of his vehicle was pretextual. Defendant's argument focuses on the fact that he is black and was driving a Cadillac on a common drug trafficking route. He contends that these were the reasons he was stopped, not because he was speeding. In the alternative, defendant contends that even if the stop was justified, the officer's detention for further questioning was not justified by the traffic stop. Finally, defendant argues that he did not voluntarily consent to having his vehicle searched. The government contends that the initial stop was not pretextual and that the questioning and search that followed were supported by the required reasonable suspicion. The government further contends that, since the vehicle was leased by Marian Smith, defendant has no expectation of privacy and thus no standing to complain.

Upon review of the evidence, this court finds that, as a sublessee in possession, defendant had a "legitimate expectation of privacy" in the vehicle, and thus has standing to challenge the search. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 430, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). Defendant explained how he had come to possess the vehicle. It was not stolen. There is no evidence that he did not lawfully possess the car. See United States v. Miller, 821 F.2d 546, 548-49 (11th Cir.1987); United States v. Martinez, 808 F.2d 1050, 1056 (5th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1032, 107 S.Ct. 1962, 95 L.Ed.2d 533 (1987).

The initial stop was not pretextual. "A pretextual stop occurs when the police use a legal justification to make the stop in order to search a person or place, or to interrogate a person, for an unrelated serious crime for which they do not have the reasonable suspicion necessary to support a stop." Guzman, 864 F.2d at 1515; see also United States v. Fabela-Garcia, 753 F.Supp. 326 (D.Utah 1988) (granting motion to suppress). In determining whether an officer had legal justification to stop a vehicle, an objective standard is used. Guzman, 864 F.2d at 1517. The court should ask itself whether, under the same circumstances and with the absence of any invalid purpose, a reasonable officer would have made the stop. Id.

A reasonable officer would have stopped defendant under these circumstances. Defendant was traveling twelve miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Police officers routinely stop cars that are traveling at such speeds and issue warnings or citations. This stop was objectively justified, and there is no evidence to suggest that the stop was pretextual.

Having determined that the initial stop was constitutional, the...

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5 cases
  • U.S. v. Walker
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • 7 Mayo 1991
    ...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......
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Utah
    • 26 Enero 1994
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Utah
    • 17 Agosto 1992
    ...Walker had been unconstitutionally detained in light of United States v. Guzman, 864 F.2d 1512 (10th Cir.1988). See United States v. Walker, 751 F.Supp. 199 (D.Utah 1990). In Guzman, the Court of Appeals An officer conducting a routine traffic stop may request a driver's license and vehicle......
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    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
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