The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Seng United States Magistrate Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS (ECF No. 7)
In this criminal case, Defendant Matthew Arnold is charged with three counts of possession of MDMA, lysergic acid dethylamide (LSD), and hashish, all controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a), one count of possession of marijuana in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 235(b)(2), and one count of operating a bicycle at night without a light in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.30(d)(2). (ECF No.1.) Defendant has consented to jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge for all purposes.
Defendant has moved to suppress all evidence seized and statements made at the time of his arrest on the grounds that they were the product of an unconstitutional search. (ECF No. 7.) The Court held a hearing on Defendant's motion on September 23, 2010. Testimony was taken from Jarred Mitrea and Scott Jacobs, the two National Park Service Rangers involved in the detention and arrest of the Defendant, and physical evidence was admitted. The matter was argued and submitted.
For the reasons explained below, Defendant's Motion to Suppress will be GRANTED.
The facts relevant to this motion are essentially undisputed and summarized as follows:
At approximately 2:00 a.m. on June 24, 2010, Ranger Mitrea was on duty near Clark's Bridge in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, when he observed a bicycle without lights traveling on the roadway over the bridge. Ranger Mitrea, believing the rider was violating 36 C.F.R. § 4.30(d)(2) by traveling at that time without lights, stopped the bicyclist and subsequently identified him as Defendant Matthew Arnold. Ranger Mitrea detected the odor of alcohol emanating from Mr. Arnold who, when asked, admitted that he had consumed "a couple of beers." Ranger Mitrea determined that field sobriety tests should be performed and requested, by radio, another ranger to assist.
Ranger Jacobs arrived soon thereafter and began questioning Mr. Arnold. Ranger Jacobs asked Arnold if he had any weapons and Arnold volunteered that he had a "camping knife".*fn1 Ranger Jacobs then undertook a "Terry frisk", i.e., a pat down of the outer clothing of the person being questioned. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). While performing the Terry frisk, Ranger Jacobs felt a hard square object in Mr. Arnold's pocket. Ranger Jacobs removed the object from Arnold's pocket and handed it to Ranger Mitrea.
The box was admitted into evidence without objection as Government Exhibit 1. It is a smooth, dark, rectangular wooden box with beveled (rounded) outer edges and corners. Its exterior measures 2 7/8 inches at its longest point, 2 inches at its widest point, and 3/4 inches in depth. It is has a decorative diamond pattern running lengthwise across its top and a fabric applied image of a miniature Guinness beer bottle on the bottom. The center of the top slides off lengthwise to reveal an inner compartment approximately 2 1/2 inches long by 1 3/8 inches wide by 1/2 inch deep.
Both rangers testified that upon retrieving the box, and based upon their experience and training, they immediately recognized it as a type universally used as a "stash box" for contraband drugs. The box was opened and found to contain a white powdery substance which the Rangers believed to be either cocaine, heroin or MDMA, in a one inch zip lock bag. The rangers determined that Mr. Arnold would be arrested for possession of a controlled substance and for bicycling at night without a light.
The field sobriety test conducted by Ranger Jacobs did not produce evidence of measurable intoxication. However, in response to the Rangers' questioning after the box had been opened, Mr. Arnold stated that the substance in it was MDMA, that he had consumed some of that drug earlier, and that he also had marijuana in his backpack. Subsequent inventory of Mr. Arnold's backpack revealed that it contained LSD, hashish and marijuana, and additional MDMA. Those discoveries produced the charges in the Complaint in this case. (ECF No. 1.)
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. With few exceptions, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967).
Mr. Arnold challenges the constitutionality of his initial detention by Ranger Mitrea, the Terry frisk by Ranger Jacobs, Ranger Jacobs's removal of the wooden box from Defendant's pocket, the opening of the box and, consequently, the admissibility of the drugs that were discovered as a result of these successive procedures. The Court must independently analyze the constitutionality of each ...