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United States v. Egins

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Beaumont Division

April 9, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WAYNE EGINS, JR.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE ON THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE

          ZACK HAWTHORN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the undersigned is a “Motion to Suppress” (Doc. No. 22) filed by the Defendant, Wayne Egins, Jr. (“Egins”).[1] The United States filed a response to the Defendant's motion (Doc. No. 25), and the undersigned magistrate judge heard testimony and oral argument on March 21, 2018. The undersigned finds that the search and seizure were lawful. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends denying Egins' “Motion to Suppress.”

         I. RELEVANT FACTS

         During the hearing on the instant motion held on March 21, 2018, Detective Michael Roberts (“Roberts”) and Detective Ronnie Freeman (“Freeman”) with the Narcotics and Vice Division of the Beaumont Police Department testified to the following facts and supporting exhibits: on December 27, 2016, at approximately 8:30 p.m., Roberts was conducting surveillance of a suspected drug house on Elder Street in Beaumont, Texas. At 8:58 p.m., Roberts saw a green Saturn Ion car driven by Egins leave the location. Freeman, who was working in conjunction with Roberts, began to follow Egins on Cleveland Street in an unmarked grey Nissan SUV. Freeman observed Egins turn on his turn signal only 10-15 feet before the stop sign to take a left on Fillmore Street. Freeman testified that Egins committed a traffic violation because he failed to signal 100 feet before the turn. Freeman used his police radio to notify another officer in the area of the violation-Officer Kelly Kvarme (“Kvarme”).

         Kvarme, in a marked patrol car, then began to follow Egins and Freeman, but Freeman continued straight instead of turning on Fillmore to follow Egins. According to a dash cam video (located in Kvarme's patrol car), corroborated by Kvarme's testimony in court, while following Egins on Fillmore Street, he observed Egins veer to the left side of the street and then drive through the intersection of Fillmore Street and Ironton Avenue on the wrong side of the road. (See Govt. Ex. 9.) Kvarme then activated his lights and Egins veered back to the right side of the road and almost struck a parked truck before stopping at the next intersection. (Id.) Kvarme testified that driving on the wrong side of the road and also traveling on the left side of the road within 100 feet of an intersection are both traffic violations.

         Kvarme activated his emergency lights, and Egins pulled over. As he approached the vehicle, Kvarme noticed an odor of marijuana, and when he asked Egins for his driver's license, Egins stated, “you might as well put me in handcuffs.” Upon exiting the vehicle, Kvarme noticed in plain view a digital scale commonly used in the distribution of illegal narcotics. (Govt. Ex. 3.) Egins also voluntarily told the officers that there was “weed” in the car. Kvarme and his partner then performed a search of Egins' car and discovered synthetic marijuana, marijuana, methamphetamine, and a loaded .40 caliber firearm. (See Govt. Exs. 4-8.) On December 6, 2017, Egins was charged in a two-count indictment for possession of a Schedule II controlled substance (methamphetamine) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Doc. No. 2); 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

         In his motion, Egins asks to suppress all the evidence seized as a result of a violation of his rights under the Fourth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Doc. No. 22.) Specifically, Egins argues the traffic stop was an unreasonable seizure because it was not based upon a reasonable suspicion that Egins committed a traffic violation.

         II. RELEVANT LAW AND DISCUSSION

         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Traffic stops are considered seizures within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979). Because traffic stops are considered more similar to investigative detentions than formal arrests, the legality of traffic stops for Fourth Amendment purposes is analyzed under the standard articulated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Terry requires that courts apply a two-step “reasonable suspicion” inquiry to:

1) determine whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and
2) determine whether the search or seizure was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop in the first place.

United States v. Zamora, 661 F.3d 200, 204 (5th Cir. 2011). The government bears the burden of establishing the two elements under Terry by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. McMahan, No. 3:07-CR-152, 2007 WL 2470999, at *4 (N. D. Tex. Aug. 30, 2007) (citing United States v. Sanchez-Pena, 336 F.3d 431, 437 (5th Cir. 2003)).

         A. First Prong of Terry

         In United States v. Lopez-Moreno, 420 F.3d 420, 430 (5th Cir. 2005), the Fifth Circuit succinctly ...


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