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United States v. Pearson

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 28, 2017



          Beverly Reid O'Connell Judge


         Pending before the Court is Randy Earl Pearson's (“Defendant”) Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements obtained during a traffic stop. (Dkt. No. 18 (hereinafter, “Mot.”).) The Court has considered the papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the instant Motion, as well as evidence presented and the oral argument of counsel at the evidentiary hearing held in this matter on April 25, 2017. For the following reasons the Motion is DENIED. This Order supplements the Court's oral ruling on April 25, 2017.


         A. Statement of Facts

         Los Angeles Police Department officers Jeff Rivera and Brandon Purece (the “officers”) were patrolling an area around 5200 Manchester Boulevard, near a strip mall called the “Gateway Center.” (Declaration of Brandon Purece (Dkt. No. 21 at 27) (hereinafter, “Purece Decl.”) ¶ 3; see also Declaration of Richard Goff (Dkt. No. 23 at 12), Exs. C-F (photographs of the area).) Officers Rivera and Purece were patrolling the area outside of a sports bar because “many people who frequent the sports bar can be found loitering in the parking lot of the Gateway Center and consuming alcohol in public prior to entering the bar.” (Purece Decl. ¶ 3.) As they were driving through the Gateway Center parking lot, they noticed a black Chevrolet Cruze (“Cruze”), with license plate number 7PJU030 parked at the east entrance of the parking lot facing westbound. (Purece Decl. ¶ 4.) Because of its position, the Cruze was partially blocking traffic entering the parking lot from Osage Avenue. (Id.)

         The officers turned their car to face the Cruze, at which point they could see the interior of the car from the passenger side. (Purece Decl. ¶ 5.) There was one man seated in the driver's seat (later identified as Brent Osborne), another man in the passenger's seat (later identified as Defendant), and a third man in the back passenger side seat (who the parties do not identify). (Id.) Officer Purece could see Defendant reclined in his seat while Mr. Osborne “was leaning to his left, looking at his lap, and manipulating an object.” (Id.) Though the officers could not see what was in Mr. Osborne's lap, Officer Purece believed he was rolling a marijuana cigarette. (Id.)

         When another vehicle attempted to enter the parking lot, it had to perform a three-point turn, causing Officer Purece to believe that the Cruze was violating California Vehicle Code section 22500 (which, as discussed below, makes it unlawful to block a driveway). (Purece Decl. ¶ 6.) Around the same time, the rear passenger noticed the officers and said something to Mr. Osborne and Defendant who “then looked up quickly in [the officers'] direction and appeared very startled and nervous.” (Purece Decl. ¶ 7.) Mr. Osborne leaned forward at the waist and reached towards the floor “as if trying to conceal an object.” (Id.) Officer Purece believed that the passengers might be engaged in criminal activity. (Id.) The Cruze began driving westbound towards the north exit of the parking lot. (Id.) As the Cruze was leaving the parking lot, a woman standing outside yelled to the officers, “Y'all need to drive through here more often, ” and pointed to the Cruze. (Purece Decl. ¶ 8.)

         The officers exited the parking lot and caught up to the Cruze before it turned onto Manchester Boulevard. (Purece Decl. ¶ 9.) Once the vehicle turned, Officer Purece activated his emergency equipment, including his emergency lights and siren. (Id.) The Cruze did not immediately pull over. (Id.) While the officers were following the Cruze, they could see Defendant lean forward towards the floor board and Mr. Osborne lean to his left. (Purece Decl. ¶ 10.) The rear passenger was looking out the back window while speaking to Mr. Osborne and Defendant. (Id.) Based on his training and experience, Officer Purece believed that Defendant and Mr. Osborne were hiding a weapon or contraband. (Id.)

         Eventually, the vehicle pulled over across from 5539 West Manchester Boulevard and the officers ordered the passengers out of the vehicle. (Purece Decl. ¶ 11.) Officer Purece spoke to Mr. Osborne who provided his name and indicated that he was on parole for a felon in possession of a firearm charge and was a 211 Lynwood Crip. (Purece Decl. ¶ 12.) Meanwhile, Defendant informed Officer Rivera that he was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon and was also a 211 Lynwood Crip. (Declaration of Jeff Rivera (Dkt. No. 21 at 39) (hereinafter, “Rivera Decl.”) ¶ 4.) Officer Purece searched the vehicle and discovered a blue steel pistol hidden behind the plastic in the vehicle's center console (near the passenger's left leg). (Purece Decl. ¶ 13.) The officers called for an additional unit, then proceeded to photograph the scene and remove the firearm. (Purece Decl. ¶¶ 14-15.)

         While searching the vehicle, the officers discovered approximately $420 in counterfeit money in the driver's side door pocket. (Purece Decl. ¶ 17.) Officer Rivera conducted a want/warrant check on the passengers, which returned negative results and spoke to Mr. Osborne's parole officer, Agent Perez-Torres. (Rivera Decl. ¶ 7.) Agent Perez-Torres informed Officer Rivera that Defendant and Mr. Osborne were both on parole, provided a 3056 PC/parole hold, and provided a list of Defendant's convictions. (Id.) The officers then brought Mr. Osborne and Defendant back to the police station. (Rivera Decl. ¶ 8.) Upon checking Defendant's rap sheet, they confirmed that he had suffered four convictions: (1) possession of marijuana for sale in violation of California Health and Safety Code section 11359 in 1995; (2) accessory to murder in violation of California Penal Code section 32 in 1996; (3) ex-felon in possession of a firearm in violation of California Penal Code section 12021 in 2000; and, (4) assault with a deadly weapon with a firearm in violation of California Penal Code section 245(A)(2) in 2013. (Id.) Accordingly, Defendant was placed under arrest for violation of California Penal Code section 29800(A)(1) as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. (Rivera Decl. ¶ 9.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On January 27, 2017, the Government filed a one-count indictment against Defendant, charging him as a felon knowingly possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (See Dkt. No. 1.) Defendant filed the instant Motion to Suppress on March 28, 2017. (See Mot.) The Government filed its Opposition on April 4, 2017. (See Dkt. No. 21 (hereinafter, “Opp'n”).) Defendant replied on April 11, 2017. (See Dkt. No. 23 (hereinafter, “Reply”).)


         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals “against unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires a warrant supported by probable cause before law enforcement may search or seize an individual or his belongings. U.S. Const. amend. IV. However, law enforcement may “stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity ‘may be afoot, ' even if the officer lacks probable cause.” United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989). The level of suspicion required to justify an investigative stop “is considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence, ” though the officer “must be able to articulate something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968)).

         “The concept of reasonable suspicion, like probable cause, is not ‘readily or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.'” Id. (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983)). “But the essence of all that has been written is that the totality of the circumstances-the whole picture-must be taken into account. Based upon that whole picture the detaining officers must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981).

         “Evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, including any ‘fruit of the poisonous tree, ' may not be used in a criminal proceeding against the victim of the illegal search and seizure.” United States v. Cervantes, 703 F.3d 1135, 1143 (9th ...

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