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United States v. Pankey

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

November 8, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL PANKEY

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (Docket No. 13) . For the reasons stated below, Defendant's MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (Docket No. 13) will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 24, 2016, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Virginia State Trooper Homiak ("Homiak") observed a vehicle travelling at a speed that he believed was substantially above the 70 mile per hour limit.[1] Homiak pulled onto the road, paced the vehicle, and concluded based on comparison with his own speedometer that the vehicle was travelling 78 miles per hour. Homiak initiated a traffic stop.

         The driver of the vehicle identified himself as Michael Pankey ("Pankey"). Pankey was driving a rental vehicle that was rented in a female's name, although Pankey was listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement. The rental vehicle was overdue, but Pankey stated that he had paid for an extension. When talking to Pankey through the open window of the automobile, Homiak smelled marijuana emanating from inside the vehicle. In Homiak's view, Hankey showed substantial physical signs of nervousness. Homiak asked Pankey: "Who had been smoking marijuana in the vehicle?" Pankey denied that anyone had been smoking in the vehicle.

         Having reasonable suspicion of the presence of marijuana in the car, [2] Homiak opened the car door and looked into the passenger compartment. He saw residue that appeared to be marijuana and some marijuana leaves. He then searched the passenger compartment and found two cell phones, one of which was located in the passenger side door panel. Thinking that he had probable cause to search the vehicle for marijuana, Homiak then searched the trunk "and located a blue Nike book bag on top of a large duffel bag. The officer unzipped the Nike bag and found a large quantity of cocaine and heroin." Pankey subsequently made incriminating statements.

         STANDING

         Although the parties did not raise standing in their briefs or at the evidentiary hearing, the Court pauses a moment to ensure that Pankey has standing to object to the search of the vehicle. The record shows that the vehicle had been rented by a female, but that Pankey was an authorized operator of the vehicle. According to the rental agreement, the vehicle was overdue, although Pankey stated that he had paid for an extension. Neither party presented evidence about whether Pankey had, in fact, paid for an extension.

         Even if Pankey did not pay for an extension, the fact that the rental vehicle was overdue does not undermine Pankey's standing as an authorized driver of a rental vehicle. The Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have held that, although keeping a rental car past its due date may be a breach of contract, it does not diminish an otherwise authorized driver's reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle for Fourth Amendment purposes. United States v. Henderson, 241 F.3d 638 (9th Cir. 2000), as amended (Mar. 5, 2001); United States v. Cooper, 133 F.3d 13.94, 1395 (11th Cir. 1998).[3] The Court, considering the persuasive logic in Henderson and Cooper, concludes that an overdue rental agreement would not impact Pankey's standing.

         ANALYSIS

         Pankey makes three arguments: (1) that Homiak lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop of Pankey's vehicle; (2) that Homiak did not have probable cause to search Pankey's vehicle generally, or the trunk specifically; and (3) that Pankey's statements must be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree.

         A. Officer Homiak Had Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion to Conduct a Traffic Stop

         In his brief, Pankey contested the validity of the traffic stop.

[T]he defense does not concede that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop of Mr. Pankey's vehicle based on the officer's purported reason of speeding ... a stop for a traffic violation must be based upon at least a reasonable suspicion "that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law." ... Officer Homiak purportedly determined that Mr. Pankey ...

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