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United States v. Ward

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 1, 2017

MICHAEL WARD, Defendant.


          JON S. TIGAR United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Michael Ward's motion to suppress. The Court will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 26, 2016, two uniformed Antioch police officers, Officer Meads and Officer Vanderpool, observed a parked Dodge Intrepid with expired registration tabs on the rear license plate in violation of California Vehicle Code section 4000(a). ECF No. 15-1 at 8. The officers pulled over in front of the Dodge and approached on foot. Id. Officer Meads made contact with the driver, Defendant Michael Ward, and asked him for his name and identification. Id. Ward stated his name and handed over a credit card with his name on it and a paper photocopy of his license. Id.; ECF No. 17-1 at 17. According to Officer Meads, Ward “appeared to be very nervous” and was “extremely careful” when opening his wallet “as if he did not want [Officer Meads] to see the contents.” ECF No. 15-1 at 8. Officer Meads “ran [the name on the credit card] to see if it corresponded with the individual in the car” and “it appeared to check out.” ECF No. 17-1 at 17.

         Either before or after running Ward's name-the timing is unclear-Officer Meads “made small talk with Ward.” ECF No. 15-1 at 8. Officer Meads learned that Ward was temporarily living out of his car and was in the area to visit a friend. Id. Then, according to Officer Meads, the following exchange occurred:

I asked Ward if he was on probation or parole. Ward told me that he was not, but that he used to be on parole. Ward went on to say that he hasn't been in trouble for several years and was doing well. I asked Ward if he had anything illegal in his possession to which he replied, “No”. I then said, “Can I search you and your car to make sure?” Ward said, “Sure, if you want to.”


         Officer Meads then “had Ward step out of the car and asked him to place his hands on the bank of his head so that [Meads] could conduct a search.” Id. Ward, “his voice trembling, ” said twice, “Man why do you have to do all this?” Id. Believing, “[b]ased on Ward's behavior, ” that “he had some sort of contraband concealed on his person, ” Officer Meads “grabbed a hold of Ward's arms so that he could not reach into his pockets.” Id. Officer Meads asked Ward to tell him “what contraband he had on him, ” and when Ward did not respond, Officer Meads “brought Wards [sic] arms to the top of his head and placed him into a standing modified search position.” Id. Concerned about Ward's “nervous behavior, ” Officer Mead “told Wards that he was not under arrest, but that [he] was going to detain him in handcuffs until [he] could verify that he was not armed.” Id. During the search of Ward's person, Officer Meads discovered a loaded firearm in Ward's pocket. Id. at 9.

         On December 1, 2016, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Ward with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922 (g)(1). ECF No. 16 at 3.

         Ward now moves to suppress the evidence-namely, the gun-found during the search because: 1) the prolonged stop of Ward violated the Fourth Amendment, 2) Ward's arrest violated the Fourth Amendment, and 3) the search of Ward's person and his car violated the Fourth Amendment. See ECF No. 15.


         A. Length of Traffic Stop

         Recently, in Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court clarified the “the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context.” 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). In that case, after pulling Rodriguez over for driving on a highway shoulder and issuing him a ticket, police conducted a dog sniff of Rodriguez's car without his consent. Id. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs and a search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine. Id. Although the dog sniff lasted no more than seven or eight minutes, the Court held that the drugs had to be suppressed because the length of the search violated Rodriguez's Fourth Amendment rights. Id.

         The Court explained that “[b]ecause addressing the infraction is the purpose of the stop, it may last no longer than is necessary to effectuate that purpose.” Id. at 1614. In other words, officers may determine “whether to issue a traffic ticket” and conduct “ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop . . . [such as] checking the driver's license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance.” Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). These checks do not impermissibly prolong a traffic stop because they “serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.” Id. But officers may not take “measure[s] aimed at ‘detect[ing] evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, '” because those efforts are not ...

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