United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
D. Crabtree United States District Judge
matter comes before the court on defendant Bruce Mayo
Nichols, II's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 17). In his
motion, Mr. Nichols asserts that law enforcement officers
violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. He asserts
that Topeka Police officers violated his Fourth Amendment
rights by unlawfully seizing him during a traffic stop and
then, searching him and the truck he was driving. He also
asserts that officers violated his Fifth Amendment rights by
eliciting incriminating statements from him without first
informing him of his Miranda rights. Mr. Nichols's
motion thus seeks to suppress any evidence derived from the
unlawful seizure and searches. The motion also seeks to
suppress evidence of any incriminating statements Mr. Nichols
made before law enforcement officers informed him of his
Miranda rights. The court took this motion under
advisement after a hearing on November 17, 2017. For reasons
explained below, the court now denies the request to suppress
evidence derived from the seizure and searches, but grants
the request to suppress evidence of incriminating statements.
late afternoon, on November 29, 2016, three members of the
Topeka Police Department Bicycle Unit-Officer James
Schneider, Officer Justin Long, and Sergeant Jayme Green-were
stationed behind a hedgerow at the entrance to the strip mall
at the corner of 17th and Washburn Streets in Topeka, Kansas.
While positioned there, Officer Schneider saw the driver of a
red Chevrolet pickup truck with a bed topper driving without
a seatbelt. He also saw that the truck had expired
registration. Tr. of Nov.17, 2017 Mot. Hr'g at 51
[hereinafter Tr. of Hr'g]. He informed Officer Long and
Sergeant Green of his observation, and the officers initiated
a traffic stop. Id. at 9-10. The three officers
pedaled after the red truck and caught it as the truck
parked. As Officer Long reached the driver's-side door,
the driver-who they soon learned was Mr. Nichols, the
defendant here-started to get out of the truck. Officer
Schneider reached the passenger's-side door of the truck
a moment or two later. And almost immediately, he came around
the truck to assist Officer Long at the driver's-side
door. Sergeant Green arrived as Officer Schneider walked
around the truck to assist Officer Long.
was some confusion as the officers' interaction with Mr.
Nichols began because Mr. Nichols already had started to
leave the vehicle when Officer Long arrived. So Officer Long
ordered him back in the vehicle. Officer Long's body
camera captured a situation that was unclear for several
moments. Ex. 1 (video identified on Ex. 1 as Long #1.mp4 at
00:30-00:39). It appeared that Mr. Nichols was unsure whether
Officer Long wanted him to get back into the truck or remain
outside it. Id. Officer Long testified that he
viewed Mr. Nichols's conduct as non-compliant so he
handcuffed him. Tr. of Hr'g at 16-17. Nine seconds passed
between Officer Long's order for Mr. Nichols to get back
into the truck and Officer Long handcuffing him.
point, Mr. Nichols began asking why he was being handcuff.
Officers Long and Schneider responded nearly simultaneously:
“Because you don't want to listen,
” and “Because you were getting out of
your car when we wanted to talk to you.” Ex. 1 (Long
#1.mp4 at 00:39-00:46). Then they began to search Mr.
Nichols. And they quickly determined he did not have
identification on him. During this period, Mr. Nichols asked
the officers to close the truck's door on the
driver's side 10 times. They refused. While Officers Long
and Schneider searched Mr. Nichols, two more officers from
the bicycle unit-Officers Jones and Ralston- arrived. Five
officers were now on-scene. When Officers Long and Schneider
finished searching Mr. Nichols, Officer Long directed him to
sit on the curb next to his truck.
Mr. Nichols sat on the curb, Officer Jones stood over him as
Officer Schneider asked him his name. Later, after Mr.
Nichols said and spelled his name several times, Officer
Schneider finally recorded “Bruce Mayo Nichols,
II.” While Officer Schneider was trying to get Mr.
Nichols to supply his name, Sergeant Green picked up Mr.
Nichols's keys and opened a container attached to the
keys. Ex. 1 (J. Green #2.mp4 at 02:30-03:05). Sergeant Green
testified that the container smelled like marijuana. Tr. of
Hr'g at 103-04. And he saw crumbs of green, leafy
vegetation inside it. Id. Sergeant Green handed the
container to Officer Long, and he testified that he smelled
marijuana also. Tr. of Hr'g at 22.
Officer Long smelled the container, he walked over to Mr.
Nichols and asked him: “Is there any weapons in the car
I need to be concerned about? For my safety is there any
weapons I need to know about?” Ex. 1 (Long #1.mp4 at
03:27-03:40). Mr. Nichols did not respond. Meanwhile,
Sergeant Green started searching the truck. And Officer Long
began to search as well. During their search of the truck,
officers testified, they found two loaded guns, drugs, and
drug paraphernalia. Tr. of Hr'g at 24.
Sergeant Green and Officer Long searched the truck, Officer
Jones began asking Mr. Nichols more questions. First, he
asked: “Bruce, it's just an expired tag, man. What
is there to be upset about?” Then, he asked who the
truck belonged to and whether Mr. Nichols was on probation or
parole. Mr. Nichols responded that he was on probation, but
he was going to go back. Officer Long then asked, “What
do you think you're going back for?” When Mr.
Nichols explained that he was around things he wasn't
supposed to be, Officer Long resumed questioning: “Are
you talking about firearms or are you talking about
drugs?” Mr. Nichols responded that he was talking about
guns. Ex. 1 (Jones #1.mp4 at 02:20-03:45). During these
questions, Officer Ralston stood nearby. Officer Jones asked
one more question and then walked back to the truck to tell
Sergeant Green and Officer Long: “[Mr. Nichols] says
there are two firearms in the vehicle.” Id. at
Officer Jones walked back to Mr. Nichols, Mr. Nichols started
talking about drugs in the truck. Officer Jones continued to
prompt Mr. Nichols with clarifying questions. Id. at
04:00-06:11. Officer Jones continued that questioning for
another two minutes. Id. Officers never informed Mr.
Nichols of his Miranda rights during this
interaction, which lasted almost 30 minutes.
Nichols's motion now seeks to suppress all evidence
derived from the officers' search of the truck and the
container attached to his keys. He also seeks to suppress
evidence of any incriminating statements that Mr. Nichols
made before he was informed of his Miranda rights.
Nichols asserts that the officers violated his Fourth and
Fifth Amendment rights. The court addresses the officers'
alleged transgressions below.
Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and
seizures. California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390
(1985). If the defendant challenges the reasonableness of a
search or seizure, the government bears the burden to prove
the reasonableness of that search or seizure by a
preponderance of the evidence. United States v.
Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177 (1974); United States v.
Zubia-Melendez, 263 F.3d 1155, 1160 (10th Cir. 2001). If
the court determines that a search or seizure violated the
constitution, the exclusionary rule prohibits admission of
the fruits of all evidence seized illegally. See Wong Sun
v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 487-88 (1963).
Nichols asserts that the court should suppress evidence of
drugs found in the container on his keychain because it was
an improper warrantless search. Doc. 18 at 6-10. Mr. Nichols
also asserts that the court should suppress evidence of the
drugs, drug paraphernalia, and guns found in the truck that
Mr. Nichols was driving because the police officers lacked
probable cause to arrest Mr. Nichols or search his vehicle.
Id. at 10-16. The court concludes that officers had
probable cause to arrest Mr. Nichols and this allowed them to
search the container. The result of the search of the
container gave them probable cause to search the truck.
Probable Cause to Arrest
with Mr. Nichols's seizure, probable cause justified that
seizure. “An officer has probable cause to arrest if,
under the totality of the circumstances, he learned of facts
and circumstances through reasonably trustworthy information
that would lead a reasonable person to believe that an
offense has been or is being committed by the person
arrested.” United States v. Munoz-Nava, 524
F.3d 1137, 1144 (10th Cir. 2008). Officers Long and Schneider
stopped Mr. Nichols for failing to have valid registration
and not wearing a seatbelt. In Kansas, failing to have valid
registration is a misdemeanor offense, Kan. Stat. Ann. §
8-149, and law enforcement officers have discretion to arrest
a driver for a misdemeanor offense, id. §
8-2104(b). Officer Schneider saw Mr. Nichols driving the car
with an expired registration and thus had probable cause to
believe that he had violated § 8-149. Officer Schneider
relayed his observation to Officer Long before the stop,
giving him probable cause to believe a violation had occurred
as well. It was within their discretion to arrest Mr.
Search Incident to Arrest
there is a valid arrest, law enforcement may search incident
to that arrest. The Supreme Court has found that:
When an arrest is made, it is reasonable for the arresting
officer to search the person arrested in order to remove any
weapons that the latter might seek to use in order to resist
arrest or effect escape. Otherwise, the officer's safety
might well be endangered, and the arrest itself frustrated.
In addition, it is entirely reasonable for the arresting
officer to search for and seize any evidence on the
arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or
destruction. And the area ...