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United States v. Lawrence

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 25, 2016



MARK L. WOLF, District Judge.

This memorandum is based on the transcript of the decision rendered orally on August 27, 2015, denying defendant Jeremy Lawrence's Motion to Suppress Evidence Seized During Warrantless Search of an Automobile and Person (Docket No. 28) (the "Motion"). See Aug. 27, 2015 Transcript. This memorandum adds background information and citations, clarifies some language, and refines some discussion.

* * * *


On June 21, 2013, defendant Jeremy Lawrence was stopped by Braintree Police Detective Michael Reynolds for a traffic violation. During the stop, Reynolds discovered twenty-one bags of cocaine in Lawrence's possession. On August 14, 2013, Lawrence was indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยง 841(a) (1).

On April 4, 2014, Lawrence filed a motion to suppress all evidence and information obtained incident to the traffic stop. Lawrence argues that the stop was unlawful because he had not committed any traffic violation. He further argues that the ensuing search of his car and person was improper because the drugs discovered were not in plain view. The government responded that the stop was justified because Lawrence did commit a traffic violation and that the search was proper for three reasons. First, other evidence in plain view gave the Detective probable cause. Second, the search was incident to a lawful arrest for driving without a license. Third, the defendant committed intervening criminal acts that purged the taint of any impropriety in the initial traffic stop.

For the following reasons, Lawrence's motion to suppress is being denied.


Where a warrantless stop and search were conducted, the burden is on the government to prove that the stop and search were reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See Florida v. Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050, 1055 (2013). The applicable standards relating to the Fourth Amendment include the following.

"[A] traffic stop constitutes a seizure of both the stopped vehicle and its occupants for Fourth Amendment purposes. Consequently, a traffic stop must satisfy a standard of objective reasonableness." United States v. Arnott, 758 F.3d 40, 43 (1st Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). "[P]olice officers conducting an investigatory stop must have reasonable suspicion.'" United States v. Jones, 700 F.3d 615, 621 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968)). "Reasonable suspicion requires more than a naked hunch, but less than probable cause." Arnott, 758 F.3d at 44 (citations omitted). A traffic violation is an objectively reasonable basis for a traffic stop. Id. at 44 n.5 (defendant "roll[ing] through a stop sign" provided "independently sufficient ground for stopping the car").

"[R]easonable suspicion can rest on a mistaken understanding of the scope of a legal prohibition, " if the mistake was objectively reasonable. Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 536 (2014). "The constitutional reasonableness of traffic stops" does not "depend[] on the actual motivations of the individual officers involved." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996). If there was an objectively reasonable proper basis for the stop, the fact that something else may have motivated the officer to exercise his discretion to make the stop is legally not relevant.

An initial stop can be extended in time and scope to the extent reasonable based on the information the officer has in an evolving situation. There must be a lawful basis for such an expansion. More specifically, "while an officer's actions must bear some relation to the purpose of the original stop, he may shift his focus and increase the scope of his investigation by degrees if his suspicions mount during the course of the detention." United States v. Chhien, 266 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2001). "An officer's subsequent actions must be responsive to the emerging tableau - the circumstances originally warranting the stop, informed by what occurred, and what the officer learned, as the stop progressed.'" United States v. Am, 564 F.3 25, 32 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Coplin, 463 F.3d 96, 100 (1st Cir. 2006)).

The officer's mounting suspicions must be informed by evidence obtained lawfully. See Chhien, 266 F.3d at 10 (continued detention permissible where trooper's suspicions elevated by "lawfully learn[ing] about" new evidence). An officer may not extend the traffic stop beyond its original purposes without reasonable suspicion. "An officer... may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But... he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual." Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615 (2015).

With regard to searches incident to arrest, "the search-incident-to-arrest exception permits an arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction.'" United States v. Wurie, 728 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763 (1969)). "The probable cause justifying a lawful custodial arrest, and therefore a search incident to that arrest, need not be for the charge eventually prosecuted." United States v. Bizier, 111 F.3d 214, 218 (1st Cir. 1997). The exact sequence of the search and arrest is not determinative. "[W]hether a formal arrest occur[s] prior to or follow[s] quickly on the heels' of a challenged search does not affect the validity of the search so long ...

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