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United States v. Sims

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 28, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
TRAVIS EUGENE SIMS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HOLLY L. TEETER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant, who is charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, moves to suppress the gun found during the traffic stop of the truck in which he was riding and statements he made during the stop. Doc. 17. He argues the traffic stop was not justified at its inception, making the gun and statements poisonous fruit of a Fourth Amendment violation. Alternatively, he argues that his statements were the product of un-Mirandized, custodial interrogation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Id. The Court finds that law enforcement did not violate Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. But the Court agrees with Defendant that law enforcement violated his Fifth Amendment rights by asking if he was a felon. The Court therefore suppresses Defendant's unintelligible response to this single question and denies the rest of the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On January 14, 2019, at approximately 9:35 p.m., Topeka Police Department (“TPD”) Officers Jason Oyler and Michael Nelson were traveling behind a pick-up truck that had “Chevrolet Silverado” advertised on the rear tailgate. Officer Oyler, who was driving, observed that the left side of the truck's license plate was hanging down behind the bumper, partially obscuring the left numbers. Officer Nelson was only able to read the left two digits after the officers stopped directly behind the truck at a stop sign. He confirmed the numbers when both vehicles stopped at a second stop sign. Officer Nelson believed the plate was in violation of Kansas traffic regulations, so he entered the license plate number into the National Crime Information Center database and saw that it was registered to a GMC Sierra truck. This caused the officers to suspect that the truck was stolen. A few seconds later, Officer Oyler activated his emergency lights and relayed the license plate number to dispatch. Officer Oyler told dispatch that he did not need the tag to be checked because he knew it was not going to match the truck.

         After pulling the truck over, the officers exited their cruiser and ordered the truck occupants to put their hands on the dash. Officer Oyler then explained to the female driver, Kelsey Kaberline: “The reason I stopped you was that the tag didn't come back to the truck, and it's only affixed with one screw.” Officer Oyler smelled raw marijuana by this point, so he ordered Ms. Kaberline out of the vehicle, handcuffed her, and placed her in the back of the cruiser. Officer Nelson handcuffed Defendant, who was the passenger, and led him to the front of the cruiser. Officer Nelson then left Defendant with Officer Oyler, returned to the truck, and reported its vehicle identification number to dispatch. Officer Nelson searched the truck and found a Smith and Wesson pistol in the passenger side door. Officer Oyler, who was still standing at the front of the cruiser with Defendant, requested a check for felony convictions for both suspects. He then asked Defendant, “You a felon?” to which Defendant muttered something unintelligible. Officer Oyler then placed him in the back of the cruiser with Ms. Kaberline. Dispatch reported that Defendant had a felony conviction for attempted aggravated battery.

         Meanwhile, Officer Nelson learned that the truck was a GMC Sierra by looking at the front of the truck. He continued searching the truck and opened a purse Ms. Kaberline had tried to reach for as she exited the truck. In the purse, he found methamphetamine and a glass pipe. About ten minutes after Officer Oyler asked Defendant whether he was a felon, Officer Oyler opened the rear door of the cruiser and requested the truck owner's phone number. Then, he pointed at Ms. Kaberline and stated: “Well, we found meth in your purse.” He then pointed at Defendant and said, “And you are a convicted felon. So that's kinda where we're at right now, alright.” Ms. Kaberline said the methamphetamine was not hers, and Defendant mumbled something. Officer Oyler asked “What?” and Defendant replied, “It's all mine.” He then claimed to have put the methamphetamine in Ms. Kaberline's purse. Officer Oyler advised Defendant of his Miranda rights, [2] and Defendant invoked them.

         Based on the evidence collected, a grand jury indicted Defendant on August 29, 2019, for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Doc. 1. Defendant subsequently moved to suppress the gun, his response to Officer Oyler's inquiry of whether he was a felon, and his statements that “It's all mine” and that he put the methamphetamine in Ms. Kaberline's purse. Doc. 17.

         II. STANDARD

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Fifth Amendment provides that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Id. at amend V. Both amendments have been incorporated against the states. See Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655-56 (1961) (Fourth Amendment); Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467 (1966) (Fifth Amendment). Evidence obtained in violation of these rights is subject to suppression under the “exclusionary rule.” Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 484-85 (1963); Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant contends that law enforcement violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights during the January 14, 2019 traffic stop. The Court addresses each argument below.

         A. Fourth Amendment

         Defendant argues that law enforcement violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the stop was not justified at its inception. Doc. 17 at 4-6. He contends that this violation mandates suppression of the gun and his inculpatory statements. In response, the government argues that the truck's partially obscured license plate justified the stop.

         Because a traffic stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, it must be reasonable. United States v. West, 219 F.3d 1171, 1176 (10th Cir. 2000). To determine whether a traffic stop is reasonable, a court must consider: (1) whether the stop was justified at its inception, and (2) whether the officer's actions during the stop were “reasonably related in scope” to the circumstances justifying the stop at its inception. United States v. Morgan, 855 F.3d 1122, 1125 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting United States v. Bradford, 423 F.3d 1149, 1156 (10th Cir. 2005)). A traffic stop is justified at its inception if it is based on ...


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