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United States v. Moody

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

July 31, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARCUS TROY MOODY, and LATOYA PATRICE CARTER Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT G. DOUMAR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On May 15, 2019, a federal grand jury sitting in Newport News named Marcus Troy Moody ("Moody" or "Defendant") and Latoya Patrice Carter ("Carter" or "Defendant") (collectively, "Defendants") in a six-count criminal indictment, charging Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count One); Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count Two); Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking Crime, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (Counts Three and Four); Felon in Possession of a Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Counts Five and Six). ECF No. 1. Moody was charged with Counts One through Six, while Carter was charged with Counts One through Four. ECF No. 1.

         On June 21, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress asking the Court to suppress all evidence seized and information learned as a result of an allegedly "illegal search and seizure of Defendant and his property[, ]" which occurred on December 30, 2018. ECF No. 26 at 1. The Government filed its Response on July 5, 2019. ECF No. 27. On July 13, 2019, Co-Defendant Carter filed a Motion to Adopt Defendant's Motion to Suppress ("Motion to Adopt"), which the Court allowed.[1] ECF No. 28. On July 25, 2019, the Court conducted a hearing on Defendant's Motion to Suppress and DENIED such motion from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing. This Opinion sets forth the Court's reasons for its decision.

         I. FACTUAL FINDINGS[2]

         In the early morning of December 30, 2018, Officer Christian Paulino ("Officer Paulino") (a patrol officer with the Newport News Police Department) was on patrol near 16th Street and Ivy Avenue in the City of Newport News at approximately 3:42 a.m., when he observed a black Volkswagen fail to stop before the solid white line at a traffic signal. The two front wheels of the Volkswagen were in front of the solid white line. The driver of the vehicle was Defendant Carter, while Defendant Moody was the passenger.

         Upon observing this infraction, Officer Paulino activated his body camera and began following the vehicle in order to observe whether further infractions were committed. Officer Paulino then observed (and his body camera recorded) the vehicle: (1) following another vehicle too closely, (2) swerving, and (3) nearly hitting at least one parked vehicle. Officer Paulino proceeded to activate his emergency lights and initiate a traffic stop of the vehicle. Before getting out of his vehicle, Officer Paulino observed Defendant Moody (on the passenger side) reach to the driver's side of the vehicle with both hands more than once, after which Officer Paulino lost sight of Defendant Moody's head. At this stage, Officer Paulino exited his vehicle and approached the vehicle occupied by Defendants.

         Officer Paulino approached the passenger's side of the vehicle because of the movement he observed by Defendant Moody. Upon reaching the vehicle, he introduced himself as a Newport News Police Officer. Officer Paulino then inquired as to why Defendant Moody reached over to the driver's side of the vehicle, to which Defendant Moody responded: "that's my girl." Officer Paulino smelled an odor of marijuana emitting from the vehicle about three or four seconds after approaching the passenger's side. He did not mention the smell to Defendants immediately. Instead, Officer Paulino moved closer to the vehicle to ensure that the odor was coming from the vehicle. After remaining "hunched over for several seconds just to make sure," Officer Pualino inquired as to the source of the marijuana odor. Officer Paulino testified that the Defendants did not indicate that they were smoking. Instead, they indicated that there was someone else in the vehicle who may have smelled like marijuana, but such individual was no longer in the vehicle.

         Before proceeding with a search, Officer Paulino waited for a back-up officer to arrive. Once the back-up Officer arrived, Officer Paulino began his search. First, Officer Paulino searched Defendant Moody, after informing him that he smelled the odor of marijuana coming from Moody's person. During the search of Defendant Moody, Officer Paulino found a cell phone, cologne, and $3, 913.30 in cash. Officer Paulino then searched Defendant Carter, after informing her that he smelled an odor of marijuana coming from her person. The search of Defendant Carter did not produce any contraband. When Officer Paulino asked whether Defendants had come from somewhere that may have smelled like marijuana, Defendant Carter initially claimed that they had come from a club, but shortly after indicated that it was a house. However, Officer Paulino testified that it was difficult to hear Defendant Carter because she was mumbling.

         Officer Paulino proceeded to search the vehicle, beginning with the passenger cabin. In front of the shift knob, Officer Paulino found a loaded firearm magazine. Officer Paulino also found a fully loaded Glock .40 caliber handgun with an extended clip under the passenger seat, in addition to a Glock 9 millimeter handgun with one bullet in the chamber under the driver's seat. Officer Paulino also located a bag that he suspected contained crack cocaine located in the rear seat on the driver's side of the vehicle.[3] No. marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia was recovered from the vehicle or either Defendant.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend. IV. "The suppression or exclusionary rule is a judicially prescribed remedial measure" used to deter Fourth Amendment violations. Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 804 (1984). Suppression of evidence, however, must be the Court's "last resort, not [its] first impulse." Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 591 (2006). "The exclusionary rule generates 'substantial social costs,' . . . which sometimes include setting the guilty free and the dangerous at large." Id. (internal quotation omitted). Therefore, the rule only applies "where its remedial objectives are thought most efficaciously served[.]" Id. (internal quotation omitted).

         Because warrantless searches and seizures are generally presumed to be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the Government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that such search or seizure is lawful. United States v. Napan, 769 F.Supp.2d 969, 971 n.2 (E.D. Va. 2011) (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 455 (1971) ("The burden is on those seeking the exemption [from the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on searches] to show the need for it."))- As such, "[o]nce the defendant establishes a basis for his motion to suppress, the burden shifts to the government to prove the admissibility of the challenged evidence ...." United States v. Bello-Murillo, 62 F.Supp.3d 488, 491-92 (E.D. Va. 2014). "In the course of deciding a motion to suppress, the district court may make findings of fact, as well as rulings of law." United States v. Stevenson, 396 F.3d 538, 541 (4th Cir.2005); see also Beno-Murillo, 62 F.Supp.3d at 492 ("At a hearing on a motion to suppress, the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge.") (internal quotations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In the instant Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 26, Defendants argue that the traffic stop of the Volkswagen on December 30, 2018, constituted an illegitimate stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that all evidence obtained as a result of such stop must be suppressed. Defendants also argue that, even if the traffic stop was initially justified, "there was no reasonable suspicion of a serious crime and that the search of ...


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