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United States v. Britton

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 9, 2020

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Timothy Britton, also known as Kelvin Sanders, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michael R. Barrett United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress evidence and statements (Doc. 18) and the Government's Response thereto (Doc. 21). The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on November 20, 2019, (Doc. 32) and the parties submitted post-hearing briefing (Docs. 34, 35, 36).

         I. FACTS

         The following facts were revealed at the evidentiary hearing. Cincinnati Police Officer Caleb Sarchet testified that, on October 29, 2018, at approximately 7:30 PM, he observed Defendant driving a black Chevrolet Impala down Poplar Street and then observed Defendant turn his car from Poplar Street right onto Linn Street, without activating his signal until he was already in the intersection. (Doc. 33 at PageID 75-76, 82). Following the alleged improper use of Defendant's turn signal, Officer Sarchet executed a traffic stop of Defendant's car at 508 Findlay Street. (Id. at PageID 76-77). According to Officer Sarchet's testimony, the sole basis for the stop was that Defendant failed to activate his turn signal prior to one hundred feet of the intersection. (Id. at PageID 30).

         The parties agree on the following facts in their briefing. Compare (Doc. 18 at PageID 31-32), with (Doc. 21 at PageID 40-41). After initiating the traffic stop, Officer Sarchet approached Defendant's car and requested that Defendant roll down the car's tinted windows. Id. When Defendant ultimately complied, Officer Sarchet allegedly smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the car and observed a digital scale with what looked like drug residue sitting in the cup holder in plain view. Id. Consequently, Officer Sarchet removed Defendant from the vehicle, frisked Defendant for weapons, and placed Defendant in the back of a police cruiser. Id. Officer Sarchet's subsequent search of Defendant's car recovered a digital scale, marijuana inside a plastic container in the center console, a .9mm Taurus pistol with the safety on, and nine rounds of ammunition. Id. While traveling to the Hamilton County Justice Center, Defendant allegedly told Officer Sarchet that the marijuana and pistol were his. Id.

         Defendant was charged in state court with having a weapon under disability, carrying a concealed weapon, improper transportation of a firearm in a motor vehicle, drug paraphernalia, and drug possession. Id. He was also cited for having car window tint in violation of Ohio Revised Code § 4513.241 (“Rules governing materials used in windshields and windows; exceptions; records”) and improper change of course in violation of Cincinnati Municipal Code § 506-80 (“Changing Course of or Stopping Vehicle”). Id. While these states charges were pending, [1] the Government adopted the case for federal prosecution. Id. On February 13, 2019, a Grand Jury indicted Defendant on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1). (Doc. 1). Defendant filed the pending Motion to Suppress. (Doc. 18). On September 11, 2019, a Grand Jury returned a single-count superseding indictment against Defendant for violation of the same statute. (Doc. 27).

         Defendant argues that he did not commit a traffic violation, the officer did not have probable cause to stop his car, the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and all evidence seized and statements obtained as fruits of the unlawful stop must be suppressed. (Docs. 18, 34, 36). The Government responds that Defendant's act of turning his car from Poplar Street right onto Linn Street, without activating his signal until he was already in the intersection, which Officer Sarchet observed, violated CMC § 506-80 and gave Officer Sarchet probable cause to initiate the traffic stop. (Docs. 21, 35).

         II. ANALYSIS

         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. An ordinary traffic stop by a police officer is a “seizure” of one's “person” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Jackson, 682 F.3d 448, 453 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Blair, 524 F.3d 740, 748 (6th Cir. 2008). “A police officer legally may stop a car when he has probable cause to believe that a civil traffic violation has occurred.”[2] Blair, 524 F.3d at 748; United States v. Huff, 630 Fed.Appx. 471, 495 (6th Cir. 2015) (Barrett, J., sitting by designation, concurring).[3]The Sixth Circuit defines probable cause as “reasonable grounds for belief, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion.” United States v. Bennett, 905 F.2d 931, 934 (6th Cir. 1990).

         Although “a police officer that observes any traffic violation may stop the driver to issue a citation for the infraction, ” an investigative or pretextual stop is improper if no traffic violation has occurred. United States v. Franklin, No. 18-CR-20492, 2018 WL 6804154, at *2-3 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 26, 2018) (citing Blair, 524 F.3d at 748 and United States v. Huguenin, 154 F.3d 547, 552-59 (6th Cir. 1998)). The inquiry before the Court is whether Officer Sarchet “‘had an objectively verifiable reason' for pulling over Defendant's [car] in light of the facts and circumstances known to [Officer Sarchet] at the time of the stop.” Huff, 630 Fed.Appx. at 496 (quoting United States v. Tullock, 578 F. App'x. 510, 513 (6th Cir. 2014)).

         Cincinnati Municipal Code § 506-80 provides, in pertinent part, that

No person shall turn a vehicle in an intersection unless the vehicle is in proper position upon the roadway as required in Section 506-84 . . . unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety. No. person shall so turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement.
(a) When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.

         Cincinnati Mun. Code § 506-80. Cincinnati Municipal Code § 506-84 (“Turning at Intersections”) provides, in relevant part, that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided, the driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection shall do so as follows: [] Approach for a right hand turn and a right hand turn itself shall be made as close as ...


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